New fund offers hope for the revitalisation of Scottish coasts

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The stunning coastline at Traigh Lar, Horgabost, Isle of Harris, © Lorne Gill-NatureScot
The stunning coastline at Traigh Lar, Horgabost, Isle of Harris, © Lorne Gill-NatureScot

Having recently launched the innovative Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF), NatureScot aims to drive new investment from the private sector into coastal restoration projects across Scotland, reveals Ann Wallace

WHEN Sarah Brown was a marine planner working with youth groups on the Firth of Clyde, she would often ask what they wanted most from the marine environment around them.

She says: “They talked about making their living from eco-tourism, having their home by the sea, getting the benefits of a healthy, natural environment. They mentioned transport, recreation – surfing, diving, waterskiing – and the enjoyment of living and working in and beside the water.

“People are much more aware of the marine environment as a rich, exciting, shared resource.”

This growing awareness is part of a shift in thinking about Scotland’s seas and coastlines, and the importance of protecting, restoring and enhancing them.

Last month saw the launch of the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF), a ground-breaking “green finance” initiative aimed at transforming the health of the country’s marine environment.

It has been established by a steering group comprising NatureScot, the Scottish Government and Crown Estate Scotland, with the support of Scottish environmental groups including Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland, with start-up funding from the offshore wind energy sector.

There is money - £500,000, received from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund – in the pot already. Now SMEEF is formally calling for donations and expressions of interest for grants.

The idea, explains Ms Brown – who is SMEEF Manager - is to encourage marine businesses, such as renewable energy, aquaculture, fisheries, oil and gas companies and shipping firms, to donate to the fund, which will then allocate grants to projects that will enhance and restore the natural capital which these sectors rely on to operate. Applicants can apply for funding between £10,000 and £100,000 for practical restoration projects.

“Our future depends on tackling the nature crisis and that includes our coasts and seas,” she explains.

“What is really exciting about SMEEF is that it is the first initiative to give private finance a mechanism, with Government leverage, transparency and accountability of spending, to put something back into nature conservation and biodiversity in Scottish coasts and seas. Scotland is really taking the lead on this – there is no other blueprint for it, no-one else is doing anything exactly like this.”
The main driver for the project is the global biodiversity and climate emergency.

"We urgently need to scale up our efforts and resources to drive nature’s recovery,” says Ms Brown, simply. “We all have a role to play; the Government cannot fund all this work on its own.

“Projects like ScotWind, which leases areas of the seabed around Scotland for wind farm developments, highlight the increased use of the sea’s natural resources.

“More and more, industries in the marine environment have become part of the Scottish economy. It is right, therefore, that they become part of its restoration.”

HeraldScotland:
HeraldScotland:

Left,  a significant proportion of Scotland's saltmarsh habitat is on the Dumfries and Galloway coast ©Patricia and Angus Macdonald/NatureScot

 

Nature-based solutions, such as restoration and enhancement work, have the potential to quickly increase the range of employment opportunities in some of the most remote and fragile communities in Scotland. Between 2015 and 2019, the green jobs sector grew at five times the rate of all other jobs and accounts for one-third of all jobs growth in Scotland.

“Often, it is those rural, fragile, remote communities which are keen to get involved in this kind of nature conservation work, but they simply do not have the funding,” says Ms Brown.

“There is employment potential here, and what SMEEF can do is provide the funding which will help to secure a range of green jobs.

“A project such as Seawilding in Argyll, for example, which is restoring native oyster populations and seagrass, started from nothing with a group of energetic volunteers, but they now employ two full time and one part time staff.

“That is huge for a small village, and makes a big difference.”
There are considerable challenges ahead, not least the nature of the marine environment, which is often dangerous and difficult to access, and takes a long time to show results.

NO DONATIONS FROM  'GREENWASHING' FIRMS
TO prevent “greenwashing”, or token gestures from large companies who have a significant impact on the marine environment, all donations are assessed by an Ethical Contributions Board and all awards will be evaluated by a Grants Panel. Both Board and Panel have independent chairs and include input from Scottish Environment LINK.

“The challenge is to make sure people feel confident in investing with us, and in receiving grants from us,” says Ms Brown.

“We need to carry out opportunity mapping work, to make sure we are targeting our grants in the right places to have the most benefit. Due diligence is essential and will be carried out by the Ethical Contributions Board – those donating must meet the criteria. You can’t be a climate change denier, for example, and you must be on a science-based route to net zero.

“There is no minimum nor maximum amount – businesses must think about what is a meaningful contribution in relation to their businesses.”
Interest in SMEEF is already high, and surpassing expectations.

“I take calls all the time from people saying – this is amazing, how can we do this in other areas or for other habitats?” says Ms Brown, smiling. “We find ourselves, almost unexpectedly, at the vanguard of this exciting process.

“On a personal level, after 25 years working in conservation, I see this as my opportunity to make a significant difference, and I’m really proud of what we are doing.”

She adds: “I am often asked how much we need and I answer – give me the moon on a stick. Show me the money, and we will spend it in the best way possible to help Scotland’s marine environment flourish in the most amazing ways.”

SMEEF is open for expressions of interest. Download the form or find more details on the website www.smeef.scot
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Experts have depth of passion to restore marine habitats 

THE projects that could be supported by the new Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF) are vast and varied.

From restoring seagrass beds or creating new saltmarsh habitat, to controlling non-native predators to protect breeding seabirds and researching new approaches to restoration of the marine environment, the potential for making a substantial, positive impact on Scotland’s seas and coastal communities is certainly huge.

HeraldScotland:
HeraldScotland:

Protecting seagrass helps restore lost biodiversity, sequester carbon and also create new green jobs ©PAUL KAY/NatureScot

 

Two fantastic examples of marine environment projects which recently received support from the marine element of the Nature Restoration Fund, are Seawilding at Loch Craignish in Argyll and Restoration Forth in the Firth of Forth.

Seawilding is the UK's first community-led native oyster and seagrass restoration project, aiming to restore lost biodiversity, sequester carbon and create green jobs.
Loch Craignish once supported a large population of native oysters but owing to a range of factors including human exploitation all but a few have gone.

Native oysters are “ecosystem engineers”, filtering and cleaning water, sequestering carbon and contributing substantially to inshore biodiversity by creating reefs that become fish spawning grounds and nurseries.

By the end of this year, Seawilding aims to have restored more than 300,000 native oysters to the loch, with 220,000 on the seabed.

As a huge global carbon store, seagrass is essential in the fight against the climate emergency. It also provides a habitat and spawning ground for fish and other marine species.

Owing to dredging, pollution and disease, globally 92 percent of seagrass has gone. 
Seawilding, in partnership with Project Seagrass and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, has planted a quarter of a hectare of seagrass and this year, plans a further half hectare.

They believe there are around 80 hectares of seabed ripe for restoration in Scotland.

Restoration Forth, managed by WWF in partnership with scientists, charities and community groups, is designing a blueprint to restore and sustainably manage seagrass and native oysters which once flourished in the Firth of Forth.

With the help of a three-year £600k ScottishPower Foundation grant,  the project aims to restore up to four hectares of seagrass and 10,000 oysters per year by the end of 2024.

Sarah Brown, SMEEF Manager, explains: “These projects are fantastic - Restoration Forth is taking an estuary-wide approach and effectively doing there what we want to do across Scotland – looking at where best to grow seagrass, for example, or reintroduce native oysters, how to store the most carbon.

“Seawilding started from nothing, with a group of volunteers, and it now employs two full time and one part time staff.

“It has become a centre of excellence, attracting interest from all over the UK.

“They have done so much off their own backs, getting the community involved and sharing their knowledge with other communities keen to do similar projects. They have been superb.”

 

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