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12 February 2024
Green Economy

2024 Planting Begins on the UK’s Pioneering Seagrass Restoration Project, in North Wales

Fish (presumed Juvenile pouting (Trisopterus luscus)) swimming through eelgrass (Zostera marina) seagrass bed in Porthdinllaen on the Llyn Peninsula, north west coast of Wales, UK. It is home to vital seagrass beds. Seagrass is a vital marine habitat for a variety of species and an incredible carbon sink. Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Swansea University are launching the biggest seagrass restoration project ever undertaken in the UK. Seagrass Ocean Rescue involves the collection of one million seeds from various locations in England and Wales, including Porthdinllaen, on the Llŷn Peninsula in Wales, where we captured a team of volunteers gathering seeds. The plan is to plant the seeds over two hectares later in the year in Wales, following consultations with local stakeholders. It is hoped that Seagrass Ocean Rescue will lead the way for the mass recovery of seagrass in the UK, where we have lost up to 92 per cent of our seagrass in the last century. Seagrass can help to answer some of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns, including the climate emergency and declining fish numbers. Seagrass captures a huge amount of carbon and is a nursery for marine life.
Copyright Credit © Lewis Jefferies WWF-UK

Seagrass Ocean Rescue, managed by WWF in partnership with Project Seagrass, Swansea University, North Wales Wildlife Trust, and Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau SAC, are working with communities to deliver this ambitious seagrass restoration project in Pen Llŷn and Ynys Môn. The local community are at the heart of the project’s design and delivery and the sites selected based on input from local people and ecological considerations.

Seagrass Ocean Rescue collected 1.2 million seagrass seeds at Porthdinllaen last Summer with the help of local volunteers. This month we will start using some of those seeds to restore seagrass meadows at Penychain and Carreg y Defaid following a successful planting season in February 2023 which has already started attracting marine life to the area, as inter alia pipefish and dogwhelk eggs have been spotted on or near the newly planted seagrass. The restored meadows will eventually create a thriving habitat which will see plenty more diverse marine life attracted to the North Wales coast. Restoration will continue at selected sites on the coast of Pen Llŷn and Ynys Môn this spring.

Instrumental in the success of the project so far has been the involvement of young people from the community who will be joining the planting again this year. The Ocean Rescue Champions programme helps young people (11-16 yrs) from North Wales develop skills to be leaders in their communities for practical conservation and community engagement. They will take an active part in creating, and in time, safeguarding the restored seagrass meadows for future generations.

Planting takes place on International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11th February). Ten young women and girls are involved in the Ocean Rescue Champions programme which will help them develop skills and confidence to potentially one day be key figures in advancing scientific progress. These skills will help them follow in the footsteps of Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, CEO and charity co-founder at Project Seagrass who was recently recognised as one of the world's most influential women of 2023 for her efforts restoring Seagrass to tackle the climate crisis.

Seagrass Ocean Rescue can deliver this vital restoration thanks to National Lottery players and a £1 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The National Lottery Heritage Fund is one of several funders which also include Garfield Weston Foundation.

Penny Nelson, Ocean Recovery Advocacy and Policy Manager at WWF Cymru, said:

“We are delighted that the project is on track to bring this vital habitat back to Welsh seas so it can help us mitigate the impact of the climate and nature crisis. We look forward to seeing the plants develop into thriving meadows within the next decade to provide a home for our coast’s spectacular marine wildlife.”

“The UK has lost up to 92% of its seagrass meadows in the past century but excitingly, we are already seeing our pioneering project mirrored across the UK. We hope that, alongside much needed policy change, these on the ground projects could soon begin to see much of this lost seagrass restored – which will have a hugely positive impact on our marine environment.”

Dr Richard Unsworth, Chief Scientific Officer on the project at Swansea University and Director of the conservation charity Project Seagrass, said: 

“We are so grateful for the support of the local community and volunteers. It is vital to the success of the project to choose sites that not only work from an ecological perspective but also have local support.

We hope local people will become custodians of a future thriving seagrass meadows which will in turn benefit the community. Healthy Seagrass meadows can help protect communities from the impacts of coastal erosion and flooding and help improve water quality.

Volunteer snorkelers from Project Seagrass collect seagrass seeds from the seabed. Much of the seagrass - eelgrass (Zostera marina) - lies in shallow water allowing the seeds to be easily harvested from the surface. Porthdinllaen, Wales. UK. Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Swansea University are launching the biggest seagrass restoration project ever undertaken in the UK. Seagrass Ocean Rescue involves the collection of one million seeds from various locations in England and Wales, including Porthdinllaen, on the Llŷn Peninsula in Wales, where we captured a team of volunteers gathering seeds. The plan is to plant the seeds over two hectares later in the year in Wales, following consultations with local stakeholders. It is hoped that Seagrass Ocean Rescue will lead the way for the mass recovery of seagrass in the UK, where we have lost up to 92 per cent of our seagrass in the last century. Seagrass can help to answer some of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns, including the climate emergency and declining fish numbers. Seagrass captures a huge amount of carbon and is a nursery for marine life.

Nia Hâf Jones, Living Seas Manager at North Wales Wildlife Trust, said:

“It’s fantastic to know that so many of the seeds that have been collected by young people and community groups over the last few summers will be planted over the next few months. It’s been incredible to see how the young people already involved in the programme have so quickly become confident advocates for seagrass and conservation. We’re excited to see how many of them will take these skills forward to advance marine conservation in their local area and potentially further afield.

Charlotte Keen, Blue Carbon Engagement Officer at North Wales Wildlife Trust, said:

“The Ocean Rescue Champions programme delivered by North Wales Wildlife Trust is giving young people of North Wales the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge, skills and confidence to be passionate advocates for seagrass. The young people are not only helping with the practical seed collection and planting but also in engaging local communities as well.”

Alison Palmer Hargrave , Swyddog ACA / SAC Officer, Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau….

“Working with community groups, schools and volunteers has been a privilege. To see their enthusiasm and commitment to seagrass is fantastic. We look forward to continuing this work with all these amazing groups, protecting and restoring seagrass across these sites. It is a great opportunity for us all to learn from one another.”

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