22 May 2024

Seagrass festival bids to sow seeds for the future

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is hosting its annual Seagrass Festival in partnership with the Deep later this month.

The festival, across the weekend of November 18 and 19, is part of the Wilder Humber project and aims to raise awareness of seagrass in the estuary as a valuable habitat for marine species and as a key ally in the fight against climate change.

Seagrass is the world’s only flowering plant capable of living in seawater and, globally, captures carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, accounting for 10-18 per cent of total ocean carbon storage despite covering less than 0.1 per cent of the seafloor.

Seagrass can also help protect the coast from damaging storms and erosion through dampening the force of waves and is effective at removing pollutants. In the UK, seagrass meadows are a vital habitat for marine life. They support biodiversity by providing essential nursery habitat for important fish species, such as bass and sand eel, and bird species such as brent geese.

The Humber once supported vast seagrass meadows across both banks, with records
of dwarf seagrass covering more than 500 hectares at Spurn Point, and vast swathes from Grimsby to Cleethorpes. However, as a result of industrialisation and subsequent decline in water quality, disease and coastal squeeze, the expansive seagrass beds deteriorated almost completely between the 1930s and 1980s.

The Wilder Humber Seagrass Restoration project aims to restore 30 hectares of seagrass in the estuary by 2027. The restoration team sustainably collects seeds from areas of healthy seagrass, growing them in their seagrass nursery and replanting them in seed bags in carefully selected restoration areas. Since the launch of the project in April 2023, the team has planted 40,000 seagrass seed bags into the Humber mudflats, covering an area of four hectares.

On November 18-19, from 10am to 4pm, members of the team will be on hand at the Deep’s family-friendly Seagrass Festival, asking visitors to help create seagrass seed bags that will be planted in the estuary later this autumn. At last year’s festival, 1,400 seed bags were created over the course of the weekend, and organisers hopes this year will see even more.

Beth Taylor, marine programme manager at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: “We have already seen an increase in species utilising the Wilder Humber seagrass meadows at Spurn, including European eel, a critically endangered species. But engaging members of the local community in seagrass restoration is also critical to seeing seagrass protected over the coming decades. By coming together to create seed bags, we can all actively restore this important marine species, and leave a lasting legacy in the Humber – so we’d love for as many people as possible to come along to this year’s Seagrass Festival.”

Alongside seagrass seed bag making, at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, guides from the Deep will be running Super Seagrass interactive workshops for visitors to learn more about how seagrass meadows positively impact the marine environment, and how the plant stores carbon and helps to tackle climate change. There will also be face painting on offer.

The seagrass festival comes ahead of the installation of a new seagrass sculpture to be displayed outside the Deep. The metal artwork designed by North Yorkshire’s Emma Stothard depicts seagrass blades growing from a seed bag that incorporates a plastic bottle recycling station, reminding us of how important it is that we prevent single-use plastics from entering the marine environment.

Ben Jones, the Deep’s director of husbandry and exhibition, said: “Art is an amazing tool that helps us to engage our visitors with science; and we’ve really enjoyed the challenge of putting together a variety of different exhibitions and educational resources to describe the important restoration work delivered by the Wilder Humber partnership, and to raise the profile of our native marine biodiversity.”

Wilder Humber is delivered by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with green energy provider Orsted. For more information, visit wilderhumber.org.uk.