Kelp was once abundant in Sussex
In the late 1970s the kelp beds between Selsey and Shoreham-by-Sea were abundant, and teemed with life including important commercial species such as European Sea Bass, Black Sea Bream, European Lobster and Common Cuttlefish. But by the end of the century, 96% of the kelp had disappeared, along with the marine life it supported.
Among the factors that caused the kelp to disappear were the great storm of 1987 and intensive fishing activity in the area using heavy trawl nets (trawling) which, when dragged along the seafloor can destroy seabed habitats.
Bringing the kelp back
Over subsequent years Sussex IFCA, who manage the area from the shoreline out to 6 nautical miles, created a compelling case to initiate a new piece of legislation. This aimed to protect essential fish and marine habitats and support sustainable inshore fisheries. The result was the Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw.
The Help Our Kelp campaign
Inspired by an iconic film of the same name made by Big Wave Productions, local and national organisations came together as the ‘Help Our Kelp' group to promote the Byelaw and campaign for its implementation. Championed by Sir David Attenborough, Help Our Kelp generated huge public support and on 18 March 2021, trawling was prohibited from 304 km2 of the Sussex coast.
In turn this launched the largest kelp recovery project in the UK, when in Spring 2021, Help Our Kelp’s partners, along with Sussex IFCA and others, came together to form the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project partnership, and collectively support the aims of the Byelaw.
Fundamental to the SKRP is its research programme, which aims to measure and quantify changes in the ecosystems, fisheries and local communities resulting from the introduction of the Sussex IFCA Nearshore Trawling Byelaw.
Using pioneering techniques including towed underwater cameras, Baited Remote Underwater Videos and environmental DNA analysis, alongside surveys of shellfish and landings data, the SKRP have established a baseline of the health of marine habitats and species within the protected area.
The SKRP research programme is a collaborative effort between research organisations, regulators, filmmakers, fishers, conservation groups, marine user groups and local communities. Local fishers are participating in shellfish surveys, dozens of Masters students from local Universities are learning important skills as part of the ecological fieldwork and over 120 sea users provided input to a survey on sediment.
It is this collective effort that is literally putting kelp back on the map.
The Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw area extends along the entire Sussex IFCA district, between 0.75km to 1km from Chichester Harbour in the west to Rye Bay in the east.
A larger area of protection is in the west, which extends 4km seaward from the coast between Selsey Bill and Shoreham-by-Sea. Historic records show that this area was once covered by dense kelp beds and is therefore the initial focus for SKRP research and activities.