Seawilding is an Argyll based charity working to address the catastrophic loss of vital habitats around Scotland’s coasts via community led habitat restoration projects.
To date we have released 1/4 million native oysters and planted ½ a hectare of seagrass in Loch Craignish. We are now rolling out our work with funds raised here contributing towards an oyster restoration project in Loch Broom, Wester Ross.
The Native Oyster
Native oysters may appear unprepossessing, but you don't need to be cute or enigmatic looking when you are an ecosystem engineer! Just by going about their oystery business of filter feeding and shell building, these marvellous molluscs can help us address climate change and biodiversity loss. Oysters provide myriad ‘ecosystem services’ which benefit many species - including us humans. They filter and clean water; removing nitrates and phosphates which are damaging to other important habitats such as seagrass beds and maerl. They form reefs that protect our coasts, and they act as fantastic three dimensional habitats which are vital for biodiversity.
Native oysters were once numerous around Scotland's coasts; they have provided food for people since pre-history, and the remains of these ancient meals can still be found in shell 'middens' adjacent to once heathy oyster beds. In recent years overfishing, disease and pollution have caused oyster numbers to plummet by around 95%. The picture below shows some of the thousands of dead oyster shells that can be found at the head of Loch Broom.
Due to the way oysters breed, recovery is unlikely once numbers get below a certain level unless numbers of breeding age adults are boosted. There is no evidence of a viable breeding population of oysters in Loch Broom. To date our surveys have found very few live oysters - old of age, and isolated from each other - and no juvenile oysters. Below is one large and lonely oyster.
A trial in Loch Broom has shown us that oyster spat (babies) grow well here; we have permission to deploy our nursery and its tiny inhabitants and the community are ready! Funding raised via this page will pay for a minimum of 300 000 native oyster spat to be bought in and grown in the floating nursery - as seen in the picture below - until they are large enough to withstand some predation, then they will be released. We hope the oysters will thrive and breed, becoming a self sustaining population as they were in the past.
Community is at the forefront of what we do; restoration would be impossible without the support and skills of the coastal people. In Wester Ross, local knowledge has shown us where oysters once thrived and dictated the positioning of our nursery, and potential release sites. Local people are employed for surveying, oyster husbandry and boat work, and buy in from the community will help protect the oysters from illegal harvest once they have been released.
Educating and empowering
Seawilding educate people on the importance of healthy marine habitats, the buy in from coastal people demonstrates to national agencies such as Marine Scotland and Nature Scot - as well as the Scottish Government - that coastal communities care about the parlous state of our inshore waters, and want to become actively engaged in improving the situation.
We have worked with many Highland primary schools, nurseries, and community groups, surveying together, looking for oysters, and holding classroom sessions on the importance of a healthy habitat. The emphasis is always on the part we can all play in bringing about positive change.
By becoming involved, communities become empowered, trained, committed practitioners of - and vocal advocates for - marine conservation.
Research and roll out
Seawilding are continually trialling methodologies to identify the most cost effective and successful methods to make restoration viable for other community groups and we offer training in what we have learned. Habitat restoration needs to happen with urgency - and at scale - if we are to address the twin threats of biodiversity loss and climate change. By working together we can make this happen.