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Kelp dredge victory hailed. During the final stage of the Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill progressing through the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 21 November, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted to ban the removal of entire kelp plants from Crown Estate seabed for commercial use. However, concerns were raised over the legitimate level of protection due to the lack of definition of the term ‘commercial use’ and the loosely defined nature of the amendments put forward.

Kelp forests are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on planet Earth and have often been compared to rainforest by those including Sir David Attenborough and Charles Darwin, for the life they support. An application to mechanically harvest Scotland’s wild kelp came as a great concern to the Marine Conservation Society. Local campaign groups immediately began to lobby Members of Scottish parliament and raise awareness over the destruction this mechanical harvesting would cause. Prohibiting mechanical kelp dredging was brought to the attention of parliament after more than 10,000 people signed a petition calling for a ban.

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland noted: “Sustainable hand-gathering of kelp has very careful measures in place that require the base to remain attached to the reef. Mechanically stripping swathes of pristine kelp forest clean from the reef at the scale proposed simply cannot be considered sustainable.”

In the parliamentary session one of the most debated items on the agenda was over proposed amendments to introduce specific regulations for kelp harvesting in Scotland. Amendments to the historic Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill, which is devolving the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets to Scotland, were put forward by Mark Ruskell MSP, supported by Claudia Beamish MSP and ultimately backed by Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP. However, according to MCS, it is clear that these amendments will not offer full protection.

“Kelp forests are hugely important to our marine environment. They dampen waves, protecting coastal communities from flooding and erosion, act as a habitat for hundreds of species, and store more carbon dioxide than the rainforest,” said Mark Ruskell MSP

Calum Duncan added: “This is fantastic news for Scotland’s kelp forests, an outcome testament to people power on an historic day with powers on devolving management of Crown Estate assets being debated in the Scottish Parliament.

“Protection of kelp plants from being entirely removed from the seabed for commercial use has been assured thanks to welcome cross-party support. The Environment Secretary is to be commended for listening to the evidence and to coastal community concern. Everybody supports thriving coastal communities and sustainable green businesses and this outcome brings that one step closer.”

This ban does not mean no mechanical harvesting can ever occur. It simply means that entire plants cannot be removed in the harvest process such that they could not regrow. Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham stressed the need for detailed scientific study into Scotland’s kelp forests. A full review of kelp harvesting will be conducted, a steering group on the matter will be set up and the views and advice of academics, NGOs and campaign groups will all be taken into account. The Environment Secretary continued that further scientific research is needed as there are five different types of kelp harvesting, all to be investigated, some with greater environmental impacts than others. This will be assessed in scoping studies into local areas to determine where future kelp industries may emerge.