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In May, Megan Williams (Megs), our Sustainability Manager, spent the day with Seawilding, an award-winning charity pioneering the UK’s first community-led native oyster and seagrass restoration project on the west coast of Scotland. Founded in 2019 by Danny Renton and a handful of local conservationists, Seawilding aims to restore lost biodiversity, sequester carbon, create green jobs, and mentor other community-based groups to do the same. Gathering data of international significance, Seawilding works with universities to contribute towards vital restoration methodologies and marine research. But behind all of this stands a small Scottish community in waders, wetsuits and welly boots, determined to revert the damage to Loch Craignish caused by scallop dredging, fish farms, anchoring, and pollution. Captivated by their passion, and intreaged by the process involved, Megs went along to spend the day with their team. We caught up with her to find out more.


First of all, what is seagrass?

Seagrass is a type of flowering plant that grows in marine environments, typically in shallow, sheltered coastal waters. It often grows in large groups called seagrass meadows. 


Why is seagrass so important?

Seagrass is one of our most important natural solutions to the climate change crisis due to their incredible potential to sequester and store huge amounts of carbon dissolved in our seas, capturing carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. They also provide shelter for all sorts of other life, acting as crucial nursery habitats and spawning grounds for marine species.


What did your volunteering day with Seawilding involve?

The purpose of our day was to help out with processing and planting the seagrass, and we were the last team of volunteers in, ending a busy week for the Seawilding team. We met at the charities HQ, a boat shed on the shores of Loch Craignish in Argyll and Bute, on a sparking west coast day. The site sits nestled within a sea inlet dotted with small islands, and beneath the surface, are ten small seagrass meadows, approximately 5 hectares in size. Beyond and in between these meadows are 80 hectares of mud which offer the potential for seagrass restoration through a variety of planting methodologies including direct seed injection, seed scattering, sod transplants, hessian bags, and finally, the innovative rhizome planting, which we would be helping with. The idea of rhizome planting is taken from Canada and Seawilding are the first to try it here in the UK. 

To begin the rhizome planting process, we gently separated the plants that were harvested that morning in tubs of water before attaching a small iron weight to each stem and tying the plants in groups of ten – working quickly to ensure the plants were out of the water for as limited time as possible. These plants were then handed over to a team of divers and snorkelers who planted the seagrass from donor meadows to other restoration areas. The hope is that, in a few years’ time, these plants will interconnect to form dense meadows that are home to a thriving ecosystem, from colourful nudibranchs and peacock fan worms to spider crabs, scallops, and shoals of fish.

What other areas of marine conservation does Seawilding focus on?

In addition to seagrass restoration, Seawilding’s focus extends to the vital role of native oysters in the marine environment. Known as ‘Ocean Engineers’, oysters play a vital role in marine ecosystems, from filtering water, improving clarity and quality, creating habitats that enhance biodiversity, and protecting shorelines from erosion by acting as natural breakwaters. Additionally, oysters play a crucial part in nutrient cycling, helping to prevent harmful algal blooms, and contributing to carbon sequestration through their shells. Once abundant in Loch Craignish, with giant shells seen along the shoreline, native oyster populations have crashed, prompting Seawilding’s ambitious project to restore one million native oysters to the loch. It’s the largest project of its kind in the UK. From sourcing oyster larvae from hatcheries to nurturing them in nurseries, Seawilding’s community volunteers scatter the juvenile oysters onto the seabed, with over 300,000 already released. So far, the oysters are growing well with a 40% survival rate, and in some of the newly restored areas, they are now seeing oyster beds beginning to form.


What is the bigger picture in terms of community involvement?

Community engagement is at the core of Seawilding’s work. Through local initiatives like Seawilding, pupils from six primary schools are able to actively participate in monitoring biodiversity and native oyster populations, fostering a deeper connection with their coastal environment and inspiring careers in marine conservation. Seawilding is also engaging, training, and empowering other conservation-minded communities in the battle for better, more sustainable management of inshore marine habitats.


What last impressions did the day leave you with? 

Working in conservation and spending a lot of time swimming, surfing, and fly fishing in our lochs, lakes, rivers, and seas, I have grown increasingly concerned about the state of our waters. Pollution levels are making us ill, and wild fish stocks are in critical decline, starkly indicating that our water systems are not functioning. The alarm bells are quickly becoming sirens. Reported wild Atlantic salmon catches decreased by 25% from 2022 to 2023, and meanwhile, the UK’s seagrass meadows have shrunk by up to 92%, and wild native oyster populations have declined by 95%. Setting up camp that evening at Craignish Point looking out to sea, I noticed that somewhere within me, some small sense of hope had been reinstalled. And I felt relieved by what my hope signified – that I still believed we could repair the damage which has been done. At its core, Seawilding’s solution seemed quite simple too: based upon the powerful coupling of a community that cares and the incredible power of the ocean to heal itself.