Natural England has drawn upon the services of volunteers to help with a seagrass restoration project targeted at The Solent. Their task: stuffing biodegradable pillows with seeds at a special volunteers’ day held on 15th March at the ancient St Leonard’s Barn on the Beaulieu Estate.
Research shows at least 44% of the UK’s seagrass has been lost since 1936. Disease, pollution, and physical disturbance has all contributed to the loss of this important habitat which provides homes for sea life including juvenile fish and protected creatures such as seahorses and stalked jellyfish. Seagrass also helps stabilise the seabed, reduce coastal erosion, clean surrounding water, and can be as effective at absorbing and storing carbon as our woodlands.
Scuba divers have collected more than half a million seeds from healthy seagrass meadows around Osborne Bay, Yarmouth and Bouldnor for replanting in parts of the Solent where seagrass has been lost or degraded. The Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT) is leading this restoration work and has already planted seagrass seeds on the seabed in Jennycliff Bay, Plymouth Sound. The collected seeds are being stored and cared for at the project partnership’s cultivation laboratory in the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth before being transported back to the Solent for returning to the seabed.
The OCT is trialling an alternative method of growing seagrass seeds to seedling using hessian pillows. These biodegradable bags are stuffed with seeds and grown in the special cultivation lab at the NMA before being transferred to the seabed. Like the bags, the pillows breakdown naturally over time, leaving only the plant behind. The advantage of using these pillows is that you can see the shoots come up and control light levels in the lab accordingly. Once the seedlings are strong, healthy, and their roots have begun to mesh, the multiple seedlings – pillow and all – are then transferred to the seabed. The four-year project aims to plant a total of almost 20 acres of seagrass meadows – divided equally between Plymouth Sound and the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation. The project will also seek to establish whether seagrass beds are affected by shore- and water-based leisure activities such as boating.