Sir David Attenborough has helped highlight the vital role Sussex can play in reducing the impact of climate change by supporting a pioneering campaign to restore the vast underwater kelp forest off the coast.
Help Our Kelp, led by Sussex Wildlife Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society, is the first marine kelp rewilding initiative and the stunning underwater campaign film is voiced by Sir David.
This film, shown on The One Show on BBC One last night, explores the magical underwater forests off the coast of Sussex, a striking world of giant seaweed, known as kelp.
Kelp is important in reducing the impact of climate change as according to one estimate, globally it can absorb about 600 million tonnes of carbon a year, twice as much as UK emits annually.
Sir David said: “The loss of the Sussex kelp forests over the past 40 years is a tragedy. We’ve lost critical habitat that is key for nursery grounds, for water quality and for storing carbon.
“This marine rewilding project, if approved, will ensure the Sussex seas remain healthy for generations to come and could have far-reaching impact for other parts of the UK coast.”
The Help Our Kelp nature film showcases the wealth of wildlife to be found in this diverse habitat and the substantial environmental benefits it can bring.
Kelp once stretched along 40km off the West Sussex coastline, from Selsey to Shoreham, forming an underwater forest that extended at least 4km seaward.
It provided a vital habitat, nursery and feeding ground for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass. It also locked up huge quantities of carbon, helping us to fight climate change, while improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves.
However, within living memory, kelp in the Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. Storm damage, changing fishing practices and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging boats have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat.
The wildlife associated with it has all but disappeared and the vital ecosystem services it provided have been lost.
The trust says now, there is a chance to bring it all back, through the marine rewilding project.
The vital first step is to give the kelp some breathing space to recover. To achieve this, the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) is proposing a new local byelaw to stop trawling within 4km of the coast.
Dr Sean Ashworth, deputy chief at Sussex IFCA, said: “If we want healthy seas that are sustainable for wildlife and fishing for generations to come, we urgently need to give our kelp forests a chance to regenerate.
“The introduction of a new byelaw to restrict trawling along the Sussex coast is critical and we are now seeking comment and support from the local community to make sure this happens.”
The Help Our Kelp campaign, including the spectacular film created by Big Wave Productions, aims to rally enthusiasm for Sussex IFCA’s proposals at this crucial stage.
The campaign is led by Sussex Wildlife Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society, who are urging the public to respond to the consultation before it closes on October 10, with the hopes of ensuring sufficient support.
If the trawling management can be put in place, the partnership will be able to take forward the first marine kelp rewilding initiative to restore one of the most productive habitats on Earth.
Dr Ian Hendy, head of science at Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The Help Our Kelp campaign presents an opportunity to do something truly amazing. By rewilding the remarkable Sussex kelp forests, our coastal waters will come alive with a wonderful diversity and abundance of marine wildlife and we will replenish the local fisheries that so many people depend upon.”
Sarah Ward, living seas officer at Sussex Wildlife Trust, said: “As well as providing huge long-term benefits for biodiversity, this pioneering rewilding project will help us to fight climate change.
“Kelp forests can absorb and lock up carbon just as effectively as woodland, if not more so, and we’re able to create this habitat on a scale that simply couldn’t be replicated on land. This will be a huge step forward in addressing the escalating climate crisis.”
Alice Tebb, project coordinator at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Local fishermen used to row their boats off the beach before starting their engines to get clear of the kelp. Now, the kelp is gone and fishermen are reporting fewer fish.
“Restoring the local kelp forest would bring back this vital fish nursery and feeding ground, helping important commercial species to recover and thrive. The Help Our Kelp campaign will benefit local people now and in the future.”
To support the Help Our Kelp campaign and respond to the consultation, visit sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/helpourkelp