Conservation project to recreate habitat for “ocean superheroes” around UK coast
International conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) along with partners Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and British Marine are celebrating a win for wildlife after they received an award of £1,180,000 to boost British native oyster populations – the biggest project of its kind in the UK.
The funding has been raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and awarded as part of the Dream Fund, which gives charities the opportunity to bring a dream project to life. It will help the ‘Wild Oysters’ project to recover the native oyster populations which will in turn see cleaner water, healthier fisheries and plentiful marine biodiversity in Britain.
Across the UK, wild native oysters (Ostrea edulis) have declined by over 95%, with the dramatic decrease due to a combination of over-harvesting, habitat loss, pollution and disease; however healthy oyster beds are hugely productive and help a rich biodiversity of associated species to thrive. They provide important fish nursery ground habitat, supporting commercially important species such as seabass, bream and edible crabs.
Bringing conservation and industry together, the unique partnership between ZSL, BLUE and British Marine will allow oyster nurseries, suspended under marina pontoons, to release the next generation of baby oysters to the seabed. The young oysters, known as spat, will settle across the three oyster reefs created across British Estuaries including the River Conwy (Wales), Firth of Clyde (Scotland) and Tyne and Wear coastal body water (England). The project will work together with local partners to commence the restoration of the 20,000km2 of oyster reefs that have been lost from around the coastline of Britain.
The oyster nurseries will provide a “unique window into the ocean” which the project’s backers hope will allow them to inspire the next generation to protect and enhance the marine environment The “Wild Oyster” project will engage thousands of volunteers, from schools, Girlguides and Scouts, University students, and local community groups to share the Oyster Love and spread the word about the importance and significance of increasing oyster population.
ZSL Senior Conservation Programme Manager, Alison Debney said; “It’s wonderful to celebrate this win for oysters on National Oyster day – they are the superheroes of our oceans. Despite their small size they’re capable of making huge changes in our marine environment. Our dream is to grow a self-sustaining population of native oysters in the UK. This funding awarded by Postcode Dream Trust means we now have the potential to release nine billion native oyster larvae into the ocean creating oyster nurseries in UK waters, work with local communities to care for our oceans superheroes and connect people and wildlife. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery we hope to see healthy, resilient, coastal waters and make a remarkable difference to the future of wild oysters.”
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “This collaborative project has come together thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The Dream Fund exists to bring ambitious and innovative projects to life, and this certainly does that – it is a huge milestone in marine conservation. Oysters are little carbon capturers as they purify the water in which they grow, removing and storing nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Funding raised by players supports a vast range of environmental causes in Britain and beyond, and it’s incredible to see the impact this is making.”
BLUE’s Senior UK Project Manager, Morven Robertson said; “Our oceans are our lifeline, they are capable of absorbing over a third of our CO2 emissions, but they are in crisis. Marine life populations are continuing to decline at a rapid rate. The incredible support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery marks a turning point for the recovery of UK seas and native oyster restoration. The Wild Oyster project will set a global precedent for the restoration of oysters and will help our ocean to breathe once again.”
British Marine Environment Executive, James Scott- Anderson said; “This incredible funding award will allow the project partners a unique opportunity to bring together marine industry, science & expertise. Two of British Marine’s National Agenda pillars are the Environment and Participation and the project will contribute to both. Together we will implement a game changing solution to benefit and restore the UK seas ecosystem, water quality and biodiversity. Furthermore, the project connects with coastal communities and shares resources and knowledge to build a sustainable future for UK marinas, along with raising awareness of water pollution and the impacts of our actions on the environment for beach users, paddle boarders and anyone swimming in the sea.”
The Dream Fund, run by Postcode Dream Trust, gives organisations the opportunity to bring ambitious, innovative and collaborative projects to life. It has enabled ZSL, BLUE and British Marine to make a dream project reality.
Photo credits: ZSL