3 November 2021

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After graduating in Zoology from Emma in 2001, I spent most of the decade living, studying and working in far–flung exotic places such as Fiji, London, and Bedfordshire (mostly Bedfordshire!)—before finally making my escape to the south west and settling in Cornwall.

I loved the broad spectrum of subjects that I had the chance to learn about during my Natural Sciences/Zoology degree studies, and again when I moved on to study for an MSc Conservation at UCL. But my passion has always been marine conservation, and as time went on, I was particularly fascinated by the challenge of conservation in UK seas: balancing the needs of people and the environment and finding the best solutions for managing activities in our waters.

With my move to the south west, I started working locally for Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. Over the last 9 years, I have delivered advice on marine conservation and protection across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It’s a fabulous part of the country to live in, and the work is varied and rewarding. I have been involved in a wide range of different projects and work areas, including advice to fisheries managers on how to avoid or mitigate the environmental impacts of fishing activities, introducing a new protected area for seabirds on the Isles of Scilly, and commissioning (and sometimes, if I’m lucky enough, joining in with!) surveys of local reefs, rock pools, saltmarsh, seal populations and many more of our marine and coastal habitats and species.  

I am currently working as part of a large–scale, European–funded project focusing on reducing the impacts of recreational activities on our sensitive seabed habitats around the south coast of England: LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES (the acronym stands for Reducing & Mitigating Erosion, and Disturbance Impacts affecting the Seabed). This project is a £2.5 million, four–year marine conservation partnership project to 'Save Our Seabed' at five project sites across southern England: Essex Estuaries, the Solent, Plymouth Sound, the Fal and Helford estuaries, and the Isles of Scilly. (Above L: A flowering seagrass meadow photographed at Little Arthur, Isles of Scilly; credit: Fiona Crouch)

The seabed is vast but mostly hidden, and few people know about its sensitive features, their location, and importance. On a healthy seabed, vital habitats like seagrass can flourish. Our seagrass beds provide nursery grounds for young fish—including many commercially important species such as pollock, plaice and herring—offer food and shelter for protected creatures, help to reduce coastal erosion, clean surrounding seawater, as well as capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon. Seagrass meadows are therefore a vital habitat in the UK—but they are declining. There has been a significant long–term reduction in the area of seagrass that we have around our shores, and in the quality of the seagrass beds that remain. Seagrass is now present in only half of the areas where it was once recorded.  

A sign that reads 'eelgrass beds, no lanward anchoring please'Many factors can impact seagrass habitats—coastal development, declines in water quality, or direct impacts from trawling and dredging are some examples. It is perhaps less obvious that these habitats are also easily damaged by disturbance from recreational activities—for example the impacts of anchoring and mooring associated with recreational boating activity.

The ReMEDIES project is taking a blended approach to seabed conservation—with a key part of the project being to raise general awareness of the importance of seabed habitats, like seagrass. We are working hard to protect the existing seagrass meadows, including creating best practice guidance to help recreational boaters minimise impacts on the seabed (R: a voluntary no–anchor zone marker buoy, photographed in the Helford, Cornwall, Jean–Luc Solandt). The project is trialling Advanced Mooring Systems that are both better for the environment, and better for boats, to help build up the evidence base to encourage their use in more areas. Habitat restoration work is also taking place across the 5 project sites, with seagrass seed collection and planting out to recreate the habitat underwater—aiming to restore a total of eight hectares of seagrass meadow by the end of the project.

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