Scottish seagrass and oyster restoration project to benefit Forth marine life and tackle climate change

Pioneering work to create thriving seagrass meadows and native oyster populations in the Firth of Forth has begun.

The £2.4 million project, Restoration Forth, will improve the local marine ecosystem and help to tackle climate change.

It kicks off just days before world leaders are due to gather in Glasgow for the United Nations climate summit COP26, which is seen as the most important international negotiations yet in the battle against environmental breakdown.

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Seagrass, often described as the ocean’s unsung hero, provides important habitat for marine life and is an efficient store for climate-warming carbon emissions.

Scientist Richard Lilley is one of the team working on a new £2.4 million project to restore seagrass and wild oyster populations in the Firth of Forth

Oyster reefs, which once flourished in the Forth estuary before being fished to extinction, remove pollutants from the water and provide sanctuary for a wide variety of sea life.

Restoring the two species is predicted to have multiple benefits, including enhancing the coastal environment, offering nature-based methods of soaking up greenhouse gases and encouraging local people to connect with the sea.

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Over the course of the project, which runs over three years, around four hectares of seagrass meadows will be restored and 30,000 oysters introduced in the Forth.

Partners collaborating with wildlife charity WWF to deliver the Restoration Forth initiative, which is supported by a £600,000 grant from the ScottishPower Foundation's new Marine Biodiversity Fund, include Edinburgh Shoreline Project, Fife Coast & Countryside Trust, Heriot Watt University, Marine Conservation Society, Project Seagrass, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scottish Seabird Centre, The Ecology Centre, The Heart of Newhaven Community and Wardie Bay Beachwatch

Support for the scheme has come from the ScottishPower Foundation’s new Marine Biodiversity Fund, which was set up to mark COP26 coming to Scotland.

The grant – totalling £600,000 over three years – is the first award from the fund and the biggest ever provided by the ScottishPower Foundation.

Restoration Forth will be managed by conservation group WWF, in partnership with scientists, charities and local community groups.

“Coastal habitats like seagrass meadows and oyster reefs are vital to a thriving marine environment, but across the UK we’ve seen their steep decline over the last century,” said Ricardo Zanre, ocean restoration programme manager for WWF.

“This is a concerning loss in so many ways – for the homes they provide for marine life, their value in absorbing carbon dioxide and improving water quality and their importance as heritage for coastal communities.

“The Forth is an amazing example of a place where local communities working to restore coastal habitats can not only help to bring back these benefits, but also to strengthen the connection between nature and community.

“We’re hugely grateful to the ScottishPower Foundation for sharing this vision and their support in helping to achieve it.”

Melanie Hill, executive officer and trustee of the ScottishPower Foundation, said: “We’re really excited that Restoration Forth is the first project supported by our Marine Biodiversity Fund.

“With COP26 about to get under way, the climate emergency is very much at the forefront of all our thoughts and there is no time to waste.”

She added: “This incredible work in the Firth of Forth will provide a blueprint for restoring ecosystems through a collaborative community approach.

“It has the potential to be used as a model for marine biodiversity restoration projects across Scotland and around the world, ensuring the foundation will help create a positive climate legacy for years to come.”

Partners supporting WWF to deliver Restoration Forth include Edinburgh Shoreline Project, Fife Coast & Countryside Trust, Heriot Watt University, Marine Conservation Society, Project Seagrass, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scottish Seabird Centre, The Ecology Centre, The Heart of Newhaven Community and Wardie Bay Beachwatch.

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