FFI: Scotland’s kelp forests

Scotland Kelp forests FFI

As we move towards the end of 2018, here’s a look back at one of the biggest community campaigns of the year – protecting Scotland’s kelp forests – and the momentous outcome.

On the 21st November 2018 the Scottish parliament voted to back an amendment that will ensure the effective protection of kelp from destructive harvesting. This follows a dramatic U-turn by the Scottish Government the day before, when it suddenly announced its support for an amendment that it was previously planning to vote down.

All this follows four months of concerted appeals from local communities and Scottish NGOs for protection of Scottish kelp forests, in the face of a proposal for commercial kelp dredging to be undertaken in Scotland for the first time.

This has involved members of the Coastal Communities Network that Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has helped to facilitate and actively supports. Of particular note is Ailsa McLellan, who launched a community-led campaign (No Kelp Dredging) to challenge commercial dredging of kelp, a plant that – as a hand-harvester – she is uniquely positioned to understand.

Furthermore, a group of community organisations within the network provided a coordinated response in opposition to kelp dredging proposals. In parallel, the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust, a Scottish NGO with which FFI has worked closely since 2011, led a wide-reaching social media and advocacy campaign under the banner “Help the Kelp”.

FFI also brought the issue to the attention of our vice-president, Sir David Attenborough. Sir David is someone who truly understands the value of kelp ecosystems, and he made a clear public statement in support of kelp protection in Scotland. His comments gained widespread media coverage across the Scottish press.

Nationally Important Kelp Beds

Scotland holds a significant proportion of the UK’s kelp beds and the habitat is therefore considered to be nationally important. The beds are known to provide vital nursery grounds for many species of juvenile fish. They are also highly valued for their carbon storage capacity, and protecting these and other repositories of ‘blue carbon’ is essential for healthy seas and for action against climate change.

In addition, kelp forests perform a critical role in coastal protection, buffering against coastal erosion and the impacts of storm damage through absorption of wave action. The targeted, wholesale removal of large, old-growth fronds from these kelp beds would substantially reduce their ability to provide these vital, free ecosystem services.

The vote in favour of protecting a crucial marine ecosystem was a victory for common sense. It also clearly demonstrated the value of concerted pressure, most importantly from the local communities who would suffer the direct impact of the destruction of kelp beds.

There has been united opposition to kelp dredging not only among coastal communities and environmentalists, but also from the fishing industry, including creelers and trawlers, who recognise the essential role played by kelp beds as a nursery for young fish.

Dr Abigail Entwistle, Director, Conservation Science & Design at FFI, said: “We are delighted to see the Scottish Government’s decision on this, and congratulate it for taking this positive stance for a vital component of marine biodiversity.”

This article was originally published as Huge relief after momentous decision on the future of Scotland’s kelp forests by Fauna & Flora International on 21/11/18.

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