‘There’s no time to waste’: the conservation work restoring UK habitats

‘There’s no time to waste’: the conservation work restoring UK habitats

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From more extreme weather events to loss of habitats and species, the effects of our warming planet are all around us. Nature does offer inherent solutions to some of the human-made damage that affects wildlife and habitats – in the form of coastal ecosystems like seagrass meadows. They can store up to 10 times more carbon than a similar sized tropical rainforest, and provide essential habitat for endangered marine life.

But even this natural defence system is under threat – the UK has lost up to 92% of its seagrass beds over the past 100 years, due to the effects of pollution, disease and coastal development.

With this in mind, the ScottishPower Foundation, which has a range of environmental grants, awarded its first multi-year grant from its Marine Biodiversity Fund to the Restoration Forth initiative in Scotland in 2021, to simultaneously restore seagrasses and oysters.

Oysters and seagrass used to thrive in the Firth of Forth estuary, but overfishing and industrial development left them in decline. Now, thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers and support from partner organisations, 25,000 seagrass seeds were planted last year, with a further 130,000 added in March 2024; and 10,000 European flat oysters have been reintroduced to the Forth. They’re the first to be transferred to the estuary in a century, with a total of 30,000 planned for the new oyster reef by the end of the year. These actions will help improve water quality and prevent coastal erosion (seagrasses help reduce wave energy).

“There are a lot of seagrass projects but not a lot addressing seagrass and oysters together,” says Melanie Hill, executive officer and trustee at the ScottishPower Foundation, which committed £600,000 – spread over three years – towards the £2.4m cost of the initiative. “We really liked the innovative nature of the project. It’s about restoring the seagrass meadows and bringing oysters back to the Forth where they had originally been a very thriving, natural population.”

Researchers will also develop a toolkit to help those working on marine restoration projects across the UK, and the aim is to restore at least 42 hectares (104 acres) of critical coastal habitat in the Firth of Forth by 2030.

Established in 2013, the ScottishPower Foundation’s strategy is underpinned by the UN’s sustainability development goals, in particular; climate change, prevention or relief of poverty, quality education, and good health and wellbeing. It typically grants charities one-off sums of between £35,000 and £150,000 in the annual grant cycle. In the last two years, £1.2m has gone to environmental restoration projects.

The Affric Highlands – Trees for Life project has benefited from ScottishPower Foundation support too. The planting of 2km of woodland aims to boost tree cover and protect the cold-water habitats of salmon and other native freshwater fish, which are at risk from rising water temperatures. Some 12,000 trees were planted last year in the Affric Highlands of Scotland.

planting of 2km of woodland along the River Enrick in the Affric Highlands of Scotland, where salmon and other native freshwater fish are at risk from rising water temperatures. Some 12,000 trees were planted last year, with the aim of boosting tree cover and protecting the cold-water habitats. Tree Planting Corrimony Sian Addison1
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In the Affric Highlands, Trees for Life has planted 12,000 trees, protecting salmon from rising water temperatures. Photograph: Trees for Life
“In the past, rivers in our region would have been fringed with a diverse mix of trees and vegetation, transporting nutrients into the water and providing a sanctuary of shade for wildlife on warm summer days,” says Stephanie Kiel, executive director of Affric Highlands – Trees for Life, which is leading the initiative.

“Thanks to support from the ScottishPower Foundation, we can now revive this lost habitat, kickstarting the return of a more nature-abundant river system that benefits people through improved water quality, biodiversity, and adaptability to climate change,” she says.

Deciding which projects to back isn’t an easy task for the ScottishPower Foundation. Projects need to be aligned to the UN’s sustainable development goals, as well as fitting with one of the specific objectives. Reviewers read every application, score them and take the most promising to a peer review meeting, with trustees making the final decision.

As well as supporting larger projects that it knows will deliver, the ScottishPower Foundation can take some risks on seed funding for smaller charity projects, says Hill. “The sector is struggling so much right now that corporate funding has never been more important.”

meadows and grasslands to protect pollinators such as bees and butterflies by Buglife; and Keep Britain Tidy’s Ocean Recovery Project, which collects and recycles abandoned fishing nets and ropes from beaches and harbours throughout the UK, turning them into plastic pellets used to make products from shoes to garden furniture.

In Durham, the Managing Moors Project at Cuthbert’s Moor nature reserve was awarded more than £90,000. This 121-hectare (300-acre) site is in the North Pennines and is part of the Teesdale Allotments site of special scientific interest, thanks to its important upland breeding bird assemblage, which includes lapwing, snipe, golden plover and black grouse. The project, led by Durham Wildlife Trust, includes restoration of peat and bog habitats, surveys of flora and fauna, and acoustic and hydrology monitoring by Durham University to track bird populations. Community engagement has been successful, with talks and walks for local people, and education delivery for schools.

That involvement with the wider community is key to ensuring the long-term prosperity of these sites beyond the lifespan of the projects themselves, says Hill. “I know WWF, for example, has been delighted and taken aback by just how much energy there has been from local people,” she says of the Restoration Forth project.

“When it comes to the environment, there’s no time to waste. We all have a moral obligation to future generations and to the millions of species we share this planet with, to play our part in tackling the climate emergency.”

Find out more about the ScottishPower Foundation’s biodiversity and climate projects here


The Guardian