Rewilding the Sussex Seas

, 08 July 2021
Rewilding the Sussex Seas
© Big Wave TV

A pioneering marine rewilding project, The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project, has launched to restore almost 200 square kilometres of lost kelp forest along the coast of Sussex. 

This ambitious project has inspired the involvement of thousands of people and many organisations, based around the pioneering work of the local fisheries managers (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority - IFCA) and championed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The recently confirmed Nearshore Trawling Byelaw means the nearshore seabed off the Sussex coast is now protected from bottom-towed trawling gears after successful campaigning from the Help Our Kelp partnership, supported by Sir David Attenborough. 

Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project has been established to ensure the successful restoration of a crucial marine ecosystem along the Sussex Coast from Chichester to Rye. At the heart of the project are the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Sussex IFCA, Blue Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Big Wave Productions and the University of Portsmouth.

Kelp (a large seaweed) once grew in abundance along 40 kilometres of the West Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham-by-Sea, forming an underwater forest that extended at least four kilometres out to sea. However, within living memory, kelp in Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. Storm damage, trawling and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging activity have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat. The wildlife associated with it has all but disappeared and the vital ecosystem services it provided have been lost. The implementation of the Nearshore Trawling Byelaw has now alleviated the primary pressure from the area where kelp grows, giving it a chance to recover.

Kelp are large brown canopy forming seaweeds that form extensive aggregations called forests. These underwater forests are highly productive and diverse habitats that are crucial to supporting a healthy functioning ecosystem. The kelp draws down carbon into the developing ecosystem, increases biodiversity and provides an important nursery habitat for juvenile fish species. Enabling the kelp forest to regenerate at scale could also help alleviate coastal flood risk.

Coinciding with the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project will collect evidence to demonstrate the importance of restoring marine ecosystems including the economic and social benefits to fisheries and local communities. Sussex Wildlife Trust will be working with a local film-maker to inspire, engage and communicate the importance of the Sussex kelp. This will be broadcast at a special Sussex summit on kelp in November.

Research is underway to map and monitor the seabed and biodiversity alongside the natural regeneration of kelp. Using cutting edge science and technology the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project research is collecting environmental DNA for analysis to create a biodiversity baseline. An underwater drone will be used to explore this incredible underwater world and give the public the opportunity to watch as the seabed transforms over the years into a thriving restored ecosystem supporting productive fisheries and contributing to the local economy. 

Other factors that may be limiting the kelp restoration will be investigated such as sedimentation, habitat favourability and climate change. The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project will also be studying the need for and feasibility of active restoration.

IL042673 Sally Ashby, Sussex Kelp Lead said, 

“The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project is an ambitious and hope-filled project that aims to heal the Sussex marine environment, build climate change resilience and restore healthy productive seas for future generations.”

Find out more about the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project


Leave a comment


  • Phillip Stovold:

    What an amazing project, and I really hope it receives the support it needs and is very successful.

    08 Jul 2021 11:31:00

  • Julie Hayden:

    So pleased this wonderful project has got off the ground. I am Sussex born and bread and have swum in these waters all my life. I wish everyone the very best and hope for more protection of our seas all around the UK. Also more protection for Sussex from the development the is never ending. Keep up the good work.

    08 Jul 2021 11:43:00

  • Phillip ELLIS:

    Not anti but who is going to pay for removing it if it returns to our beaches? I remember heaps of smelling seaweed covered in flies. Needs to be monitored and possibly managed to prevent Worthing becoming a smelly town again.

    ANSWER: Sussex Wildlife Trust will be working with local councils and stakeholders to ensure it doesn’t become an issue. We are looking into active solutions so that seaweed washed up on the beach is both removed and then used for something like fertilizer.

    08 Jul 2021 12:09:00

  • Fred Rayment:

    Great work getting this bylaw implemented. However, the narrow 0.75km prohibited area from Beachy Head to Fairlight has resulted in trawlers relocating from Brighton to Sovereign Harbour thus increasing fishing pressure on this area.

    08 Jul 2021 12:45:00

  • Pat Winter:

    From a childhood wading about in Langstone Harbour, Bembridge (Isle of Wight), and the rocky coast of Clare (where beached seaweed was collected to fertilise the land), I’m heartened and delighted by this project to bring life back to Sussex coastal waters, and I’ll be on the lookout for updates on its progress.

    08 Jul 2021 15:44:00

  • Lynn Parkin:

    Great project! Is there any voluntary work associated with this?

    ANSWER: Yes, you can involved via Seasearch and Shoresearch

    09 Jul 2021 14:52:00

  • Thank you for starting this project. We are very excited about re-wilding the seas.

    09 Jul 2021 21:29:00

  • Janet Crosley:

    How will the proposed Rampion2 Windfarm from Worthing to Selsey with its 116 turbines the height of Eiffel tower, and only 8 miles from shore, so inshore not off shore, effect this project? And migrating birds and insects also?

    11 Jul 2021 07:12:00

  • D Bright:

    Happy memories of collecting beached kelp with my grandfather in the 70s. For his compost heap. Good luck with the project.

    14 Jul 2021 14:58:00

  • Louise:

    This is wonderful news! Will the kelp forest extend all the way to Rye Harbour too?

    14 Jul 2021 17:42:00

  • D Bright:

    Happy memories of collecting beached kelp with my grandfather in the 70s. For his compost heap. Good luck with the project.

    22 Jul 2021 14:22:00

  • Wendy Allen:

    A very exciting and worthwhile project with multiple benefits. Good luck with it!

    24 Jul 2021 08:51:00

  • Philip:

    A brilliant project. We need more of these.

    25 Jul 2021 06:56:00

  • Pascale:

    Amazing project and we already are noticing more wildlife coming to our local beach! I was wondering how far into the sea the protected area is extending?

    08 Sep 2021 10:34:00

  • Pete Brighton:

    Hi, Amazing project! Is there an update on this project? Has anything been physically done to Help the Kelp restore itself?
    I am aware that the no fish zone is not at present permanent and will be reevaluated after the prescribed deadline

    30 Sep 2021 13:45:00