Climate change: why restoring Scotland’s seagrass meadows is vital for nature and the fight against global warming – Douglas Chapman, MP

However, the publication of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should put this argument firmly back in its box – we are still on “code red” for humanity and the transition to renewable energies and Efforts to restore nature must not be halted if we are to maintain the goal of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

Anything above this temperature will produce catastrophic and irreversible changes with the “window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all” firmly closed in our eyes.

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With this kind of unequivocal warning in place, there should be no prevarication on the epic scale of our response.

Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, says we must “let nature do the job it has spent millions of years perfecting” with “the large-scale restoration of ecosystems, from ocean to mountain tops” to adapt and slow climate change.

The UN has dubbed the 2020s the “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration” to focus hearts and minds on the urgent task ahead.

The IPCC report calls for action to protect 30-50% of the world’s land and seas to maintain and improve “the resilience of the biosphere”.

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Oysters and seagrass beds to be restored in the waters of the Firth of Forth as part of major…

Scotland is home to around 20% of the seagrass beds in northwestern Europe (Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP via Getty Images)

It seems fitting then, in this World Seagrass Month, to focus on the enormous benefits of restoring and preserving seagrass beds as the “lungs of the sea” and the enormous potential they hold as as rich reservoirs of ‘blue carbon’, biodiverse habitats, water purifiers and as a bulwark against coastal erosion.

Right now, seagrass beds, as marine powerhouses, are under threat, with two areas the size of football pitches destroyed every hour across the world, according to the UN. These magnificent seagrass meadows are in danger from human activity, climate change, invasive non-native species and disease – the same unholy trinity of cause and effect that we see replicated in our natural world.

According to NatureScot, seagrasses may be responsible for around 15% of carbon storage on the seafloor, sequestering carbon much faster than many terrestrial habitats.

Sadly, the UK coastline has lost up to 92% of this seagrass to pollution, damaging fishing practices and coastal development, with seagrass beds declining by 58% in Scotland since the 1930s.

Now, in the 21st century, with Scotland currently holding 20% ​​of the seagrass meadows of North West Europe, we are in a unique position to both protect and restore this vast area of ​​marine habitation, and fight climate and global anxiety with action and nature-based solutions.

I have written in the past about the dual nature of this unique opportunity and responsibility as a turning point in our history – with so much of Europe’s natural resources, Scotland must act as guardians of this abundant potential to build a greener, fairer and more sustainable future with nature at the very heart of this mission.

Of course, there are some amazing community projects in Scotland that have a head start in this regard, including a new project in my own constituency called Restoration Forth, a community initiative to restore seagrass beds and populations of oysters in the Firth of Forth.

Restoration Forth is supported by the ScottishPower Foundation and is to be run by WWF in partnership with local scientists, charities and community groups. It has an incredible group of partners involved, including Heriot Watt University, Project Seagrass, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Kinghorn Ecology Center in Fife.

I was delighted to visit the Ecology Center this year to learn more about this project and their strong emphasis on community engagement as key to its long-term success, with local groups reconnecting with their natural environment, rich cultural and historical links with the sea, and the climatic and social benefits of restoration.

In Argyll, another project that deserves honorable mention is Seawilding at Loch Craignish, a community-led marine habitat restoration charity that does incredible work developing best practice, low cost methodologies and a practical guide to help other coastal communities do the same.

In 2021 they have planted a quarter hectare of seagrass and in 2022 they are planning an additional half hectare alongside the restoration of native oysters. And it is the community volunteers who are at the heart of the positive evolution of this project.

Just before Christmas Scotland’s first Seagrass Restoration Guide was published, developed by NatureScot in conjunction with Marine Scotland and Project Seagrass, an environmental charity dedicated to conserving seagrass ecosystems through research, community and action.

This guide is a direct response to interest in this area, to advise on all aspects of seagrass restoration, such as site suitability, licensing, biosecurity, techniques and monitoring.

In the face of this global climate emergency, stark warnings for our future, and a world now struggling with the challenges of war and pandemic, communities are coming together to pave the way for seagrass restoration as a bulwark against biodiversity loss and a huge carbon sequestration resource.

Communities are taking action despite attempts by some commentators to block the sweeping changes needed to save our planet. In Scotland, we need to support and nurture this local empowerment and engagement – ​​to protect our common future.

Douglas Chapman is the SNP MP for Dunfermline and West Fife

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