The Sussex Kelp Recovery Project follows the ethos of rewilding and letting nature lead. This means giving natural processes and ecosystems time to recover with minimal human intervention following removal of a key pressure (in this case, trawling).
Benefits of natural recovery:
It can lead to more resilient ecosystems that are adapted to the prevailing conditions than actively managed habitats created by planting or seeding kelp.
It is key to understanding if other habitats and species are more adapted to the current conditions in Sussex Bay than when the kelp was last abundant in the 1980s
It helps SKRP assess other pressures such as water temperature, sediment levels, the presence of grazers, and levels of disturbance caused by storms or human activities
Human intervention through active restoration techniques have been adopted in other parts of the world and may be considered in the future, but for the SKRP it is too early to deploy them without understanding how nature is doing on its own.
Recovery takes time
It may take several years before we fully understand what is happening on the seabed or can observe significant change.
Although the SKRP would love to see the species of kelp that was lost come back and the ambitions of the project are based around this, if it doesn’t return, but other species or essential fish habitats do, that is a successful outcome if those habitats are diverse, healthy and support biodiversity.
Ensuring active restoration is beneficial
Active restoration initiatives like planting or seeding kelp can also be a resource intensive and uncertain process. By assessing the factors that may affect kelp recovery and growth the SKRP can avoid wasting effort if those factors aren’t met.
While it is too early in SKRP’s programme to consider whether active restoration is either necessary or possible, the partnership is aware that there is an interest in planting kelp to help its recovery.
Therefore, we recommend anyone thinking about active restoration ensures the following:
The activity has no negative impact on existing habitats and species.
The activity has a robust geographical and ecological rationale. For example, if kelp is not recovering in certain areas because of a lack of rocky substrate or high turbidity, then the active restoration activity needs to address this.
The genetic suitability of any spore stock e.g. spores are from kelp native to the area.
The species composition of historic habitats and to align restoration activity to this.
That all appropriate licencing is in place.
That there is a robust monitoring strategy in place to evaluate and share project outcomes.
Further guidance on kelp restoration can be found in the Kelp Forest Alliance’s ‘Kelp Restoration Guidebook’ /TNC-KFA-Kelp-Guidebook-2022.pdf