‘Groundbreaking’ Solent restoration project secures £4m grant
A group of ten organisations working in the Solent area have secured a $5m (£4.07m) grant to restore seagrass meadows, oyster reefs, saltmarsh and seabird nesting habitat across the region.
The grant, which was awarded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP), will fund the Solent Seascape Project to cover an area spanning about 522 sq km for the next five years.
In addition to physically restoring areas of these four key habitat types, the Solent Seascape Project will also work with landowners and regulators to improve the protection and management of existing Solent habitats.
Alongside the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT), the other project partners include RSPB, Natural England, Project Seagrass, Coastal Partners, Isle of Wight Estuaries Project, Chichester Harbour Protection and Recovery of Nature (CHaPRoN), the Environment Agency, University of Portsmouth and Blue Marine Foundation.
Jamie Marsh, director of nature recovery, wilder Wight and wilder seas at HIWWT says: “We are thrilled to become a partner in this pioneering project to restore vital marine habitats in the Solent and engage local communities with its fabulous wildlife.
“With our significant experience working in the Solent, protecting globally important marine wildlife and habitats like seagrass meadows, we couldn’t be more excited to make our expertise count in helping nature’s recovery in the Solent.”
The Solent is recognised as an internationally important wintering and breeding ground for seabirds and waterfowl. The mud and sand flats present in the region support seagrass and saltmarsh, and the seabed was once home to the most important native oyster fishery in Europe. All of these habitats, like so many others globally, have become fragmented and degraded through anthropomorphic pressures, including poor water quality, increased industrialisation and disturbance.
The Solent Seascape Project aims to address these pressures by working with industry and stakeholders to co-design a Seascape Recovery Plan. Many local councils, harbour authorities, water companies and government regulators have provided letters of support for the project and are committed to restoring the Solent landscape for people, nature and climate.
Louise MacCallum, Solent project manager for Blue Marine Foundation says: “Each of the Solent Seascape Project partners brings a unique set of skills to the project. It’s an incredibly strong coalition of organisations that truly want to work together to deliver benefits for people and nature.”
Sarah Sanders, programme manager at the Endangered Landscapes Programme, which is funding the project adds: “ELP is delighted to support this exciting vision for the Solent, which, through the restoration and recovery of its important habitats and species, will initiate the delivery of a resilient seascape at scale that benefits local communities and mitigates climate change through coastal protection and increased carbon sequestration.”
Marine habitat restoration is its infancy, and as well as restoring habitats, the project team will be monitoring the wider benefits of seascape scale restoration, including carbon sequestration, nutrient remediation and connectivity between habitats for mobile species such as fish.
“Embarking upon a marine habitat restoration project at this scale is truly groundbreaking from a scientific perspective,” says Dr Joanne Preston from the University of Portsmouth, which is leading the scientific monitoring work for the project. “It will be fascinating to compare the ecosystem benefits of restoration work here in the Solent – a temperate seascape — to those seen in tropical systems where restoration techniques are slightly further ahead.”
As the project progresses, the project team hope to use the lessons learned during the restoration work to create a blueprint for restoring temperate marine habitats elsewhere.
“Being part of a team about to embark on such a pioneering restoration project is so exciting,” says MacCallum. “Using our combined knowledge, passion and experience on a project which will genuinely benefit marine wildlife in an area of the world we all love is such an amazing thing to be able to do. I can’t wait to get started”.
Project manager (marine civils/construction engineer)
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