Councils set to lease seabed from the Queen to restore marine biodiversity

Two Sussex councils are set to lease the seabed off their coasts from the Queen as part of a marine restoration project.

Kelp was historically abundant along the West Sussex coastline. Photograph: Douglas Klug/Getty Images

The Crown Estate, which manages the land, owns the coastal seabed off the shores of the UK to a distance of 12 nautical miles.

Adur and Worthing Councils said in a release that the lease “could pave the way for an ambitious plan to create a Sussex Bay Marine Park along the entire county coast, east and west, to protect vital marine life, restore estuary habitat and even create a destination for eco tourism”. 

They added that the lease would allow them and their partners to create a 'kelp blue carbon investment product', where government bodies such as the Environment Agency, water companies and other companies could invest in kelp forests.

Kelp - the name given to a group of brown seaweeds - was historically abundant along the West Sussex coastline, but it has diminished over time.

Councillor Edward Crouch, Worthing Borough Council's executive member for digital and environmental services, said: “This is a potential game-changing project which would help us cut carbon emissions, restore beautiful marine and estuarine habitats and perhaps even create Sussex Bay as a destination for a whole host of sustainable marine activities”. 

A fully restored kelp forest off the Sussex Coast could capture the carbon emissions equivalent to 66 million miles driven in a family diesel car or the carbon emissions of more than 7,000 homes.

Earlier this year, a Nearshore Trawling Byelaw introduced by Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority was approved by the environment secretary after lobbying from the Help Our Kelp campaign, spearheaded by Sussex Wildlife Trust. 

At the time, Sir David Attenborough lauded the move as a “landmark decision”. 

As a result, trawling is now prohibited throughout the year over 300 square kilometres of the seabed, and the councils are seeking to establish a Sussex Bay Trust to attract investment in growing the kelp forest, potentially to cover the entire Sussex coastline. 

Commenting to ENDS the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) who were in involved in the Help Our Kelp campaign said: “The byelaw removes one of the pressures that resulted in the loss of over 95% of the historic kelp beds in the area, but there are others such as dumping of sediment spoil and climate change which may hinder recovery.  

“We are now developing a wider Sussex Kelp Restoration Project to work alongside others including Adur and Worthing Councils to give the protected area every chance of recovering naturally. This includes monitoring the natural re-colonisation of kelp and associated marine life in the area, minimising other pressures that might slow recovery and researching appropriate active restoration techniques.” 

While not involved in the bid for the seabed lease, MCS said such a licence would be necessary for any active restoration natural capital project to go ahead.

The councils’ plans to lease the seabed comes after more than 100 scientists, experts and public figures signed a letter earlier this week to the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, urging them to rewild their lands.