Sussex Kelp Forest Restoration: Enhancing Essential Fish Habitats and Biodiversity

A Sussex marine environment enhancement and monitoring program

Our natural environment is our most precious inheritance. It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. In the inshore marine environment, protecting and enhancing essential fish habitats will ensure improved and sustainable fisheries. By fishing appropriately we will help to protect the wider marine ecosystems that underpin the fish species we rely on. In Sussex, we are working together to enhance the sites of historic dense kelp forest from Bognor Regis to Brighton. These historic kelp forests have disappeared since the 1980s. The reasons implicated in their loss include changes in fisheries practices, water quality and storm damage.

Check out this video on our You Tube channel showing kelp a few miles south east of Selsey.

Kelp provides a range of benefits including: the capture of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen, the support of biodiversity, the support of commercial and non-commercial marine species, cultural heritage and as a harvestable resource. Research indicates that macroalgae are an ecosystem component critical to the delivery of a broad range of ecosystem services, meaning this habitat should be given special attention when considering management.


In the coastal waters off West Sussex, within living memory, there used to be a large area of kelp forest but this is no longer the case. Fishers from Worthing tell of how when they had launched their small open boats off the beach, they had to row out nearly two nautical miles before they could start their outboard motor without the propeller becoming tangled in the kelp. In winter storms, some of the kelp washed up on the beaches from Lancing to Bognor and local farmers would come down in their tractors to collect it to use as fertiliser on their fields. Divers in the 1980’s recorded the presence of kelp as abundant or common from Selsey to Eastbourne, in over 50% of their dive sites. Three species were recorded:  Laminaria hyperborea, Laminaria digitata and Laminaria saccharina.

The fishers say that during the famous autumn storm of 1987, large amounts of kelp were washed ashore, including some with the holdfasts still attached to cobbles. This severely decreased the density of the main kelp bed which, alongside the development of new fishing technology, allowed trawlers to tow their nets through the area. This is suspected to have inhibited the recovery of the kelp forest, alongside eutrophication and poor water quality. Divers in the 1990’s recorded the presence of kelp as occasional or rare at less than 5% of their dive sites and fishers have commented on the reduction in commercial species. By the late 2010’s, only small patches of kelp remain. The decline of this important habitat is likely to have caused a concomitant decline in associated species and ecosystem function.

Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) are consulting on new management measures for nearshore trawling in order to protect the nearshore essential fish habitats from damage such that they can function as key fish feeding and breeding grounds. It is anticipated that any new management will be in place in mid-2020.

Looking at the extent and condition of the historic kelp forest and taking evidence from peer reviewed articles which document the benefits that kelp can provide, it is considered that the restoration of the Sussex kelp would be beneficial for commercial fisheries specifically and for the marine environment more broadly. It is also considered that the restoration of kelp could provide socio-economic benefits, such as increased tourism, increased catches for recreational and fishers and improved water quality.

Sussex IFCA is working with a variety of partners to deliver research which focusses on kelp restoration and habitat enhancement. Contact us if you would like to be involved.

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