‘Seed bags’ to be planted to restore seagrass meadows in UK

England’s largest seagrass meadows planting project, led by Natural England, will begin planting in the Solent this week.

It is part of the 4-year (LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES) project being led by Natural England (NE) to help protect and restore the marine environment. Thus, the planting project’s restoration lead, the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT), intend to restore the seagrass meadows population.

What are the benefits of seagrass meadows?

At least 44% of the UK’s seagrass has been lost since 1936, but seagrass meadows provide homes for juvenile fish and protected creatures like seahorses and stalked jellyfish. Additionally, they also play an integral role in stabilising the seabed, cleaning the surrounding seawater, and capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon.

How will the seagrass meadows be restored?

The project’s new seagrass restoration site is west of the Beaulieu River mouth, next to the North Solent National Nature Reserve shoreline.

The OCT is preparing to carry out one hectare of planting there this week. Around 20,000 biodegradable hessian bags of seed are being packed by Natural England staff and by volunteers at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, North Solent National Nature Reserve, University of Portsmouth, and National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. The bags will be taken out onto the water by barge and dropped down long pipes to land on the seabed.

Volunteers packing seagrass seed bags.
Photo from the Ocean Conversation Trust.

Fiona Crouch, Natural England Project Manager for ReMEDIES, explained: “Seagrass meadows are an important but threatened habitat. Restoring them means restoring the benefits they bring to people and nature – vital homes for wildlife, enhanced water quality, carbon storage, and so much more.

“We are very proud of our partners, funders, and the many volunteers who have given their time to pack seed bags.”

Mark Parry, Development Officer at the Ocean Conservation Trust, added: “After the success of our previous planting efforts in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, we are excited to be getting underway in the Solent.

“These events are only made possible by the hard work of our partners in the LIFE ReMEDIES Project and the hundreds of volunteers who are willing to dedicate their time to help restore such an important habitat.”

What additional steps will NE take help the preservation of this habitat beyond this project?

Seagrass is delicate and can be damaged by activities such as the anchoring, mooring, and launching of leisure boats, as well as other shore and water-based activities.

Thus, in addition to planting new seagrass meadows, ReMEDIES is working to protect existing beds by helping recreational users to reduce impacts on these sensitive habitats.

This has involved trialling and installing Advanced Mooring Systems (AMS) at popular boating locations including the area around Yarmouth Harbour on the Isle of Wight. These AMS are specially designed to minimise interaction with the seabed.

Furthermore, ReMEDIES will also be working with local schools around the Solent to introduce pupils to the importance of seabed habitats, as well as collaborating with other organisations including Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, World Wildlife Fund, Isle of Wight Estuaries Officer, and Project Seagrass.

Together, they intend to visit and assess every seagrass bed in the Solent, in order to build a thorough picture of its health and extent so that restoration efforts can have the greatest impact.

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