SCA: Coastal communities keep their kelp

Kelp forest
                      Kelp forest at Loch Laxford © George Stoyle – SNH Flickr


Scottish Community Alliance (SCA) is a network of national networks, all of which have community-based memberships.  The most recent network to become a member of SCA is the Coastal Communities Network.  CCN draws together a diverse group of communities from around Scotland’s coastline, all of which are dedicated to protecting their marine environment.

An example of the work that CCN support was contained in the recent amendment to the Crown Estates Bill (in the Final Stage so no small achievement!) which now bans the commercial removal of entire kelp plants from the seabed – a victory for people power over commercial interests.

The following article comes from Jack O’Donovan,MCS:

During the final stage of the Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill progressing through the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted to ban the removal of entire kelp plants from Crown Estate seabed for commercial use. However, concerns were raised over the legitimate level of protection due to the lack of definition of the term ‘commercial use’ and the loosely defined nature of the amendments put forward.

Kelp forests are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on planet Earth and have often been compared to rainforests by those including Sir David Attenborough and Charles Darwin, for the life they support.

An application to mechanically harvest Scotland’s wild kelp came as a great concern to the team at MCS. Local campaign groups immediately began to lobby Members of Scottish parliament and raise awareness over the destruction this mechanical harvesting would cause.

Prohibiting mechanical kelp dredging was brought to the attention of parliament after more than 10,000 people signed a petition calling for a ban.

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland noted: “Sustainable hand-gathering of kelp has very careful measures in place that require the base to remain attached to the reef. Mechanically stripping swathes of pristine kelp forest clean from the reef at the scale proposed simply cannot be considered sustainable.”

In the parliamentary session, one of the most debated items on the agenda was over proposed amendments to introduce specific regulations for kelp harvesting in Scotland.

Amendments to the historic Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill, which is devolving the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets to Scotland, were put forward by Mark Ruskell MSP, supported by Claudia Beamish MSP and ultimately backed by Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

However, as the debate unfolded it also became clear that these welcome amendments will not fully protect all of Scotland’s last great wilderness.

Tireless community efforts

These issues arrived in Parliament thanks to the tireless efforts of local campaigners including kelp hand-gatherer Ailsa McLellan, #HelptheKelp, Ullapool Sea Savers and many others, along with the energy and support of concerned and empowered individuals.

This ban does not mean no mechanical harvesting can ever occur. It simply means that entire plants cannot be removed in the harvest process such that they could not regrow.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham stressed the need for detailed scientific study into Scotland’s kelp forests. A full review of kelp harvesting will be conducted, a steering group on the matter will be set up and the views and advice of academics, NGOs and campaign groups will all be taken into account.

The Environment Secretary continued that further scientific research is needed as there are five different types of kelp harvesting, all to be investigated, some with greater environmental impacts than others. This will be assessed in scoping studies into local areas to determine where future kelp industries may emerge.

Some uncertainty still linger over aspects of the future protection of Scotland’s native kelp forests. We hope the review promised today will provide greater clarity on the long-term future of kelp conservation and sustainable kelp harvesting in Scottish waters.

However, this is a hard-won victory for people power. The cross-party consensus on the need to protect kelp forests through the ban on the removal of entire kelp plants is a large step in the right direction.

The positive response to the #nokelpdredge campaign from the Scottish Government is another indication of the growing awareness of the importance of Scotland’s seas, the life that lives in them and their importance to sustainable coastal livelihoods.

This article was shared from the Scottish Community Alliance‘s Local People Leading newsletter on 12th December 2018.

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