Seaweed farming to revitalise Bideford Harbour's economy

Seaweed could help change the fortunes of Bideford Harbour where income has reduced because commercial ships don't use it. The harbour is expecting the first trial of seaweed from an offshore pilot farm in Bideford Bay to land later this year.

It is expected to bring in up to 10,000 tonnes a year when the farm reaches maturity over the next five years. Torridge District Council's overview and scrutiny committee heard that efforts to bring back commercial ships to the port were continuing, but levels of trade in fine ball clay, a North Devon speciality, and other suitable cargoes were still below pre-pandemic levels. This is reflected in ports of similar size across the UK.

Councillors are due to discuss plans for a new Torridge estuary strategy at a forthcoming community and resources committee to try to generate new income from the harbour which was granted Heritage Harbour status by the Marine Maritime Trust at the start of the year.

The seaweed farm pilot is being run by environmental company Algapelago Marine after a cash injection from Devon County Council's Green Innovation Fund in 2022.

Seaweed is the umbrella term for thousands of species of marine algae and is seen by some people as a major component in the fight against climate change.

The company has been working with academics from Plymouth Marine Laboratories, Portsmouth University, and the Eden Project to research the potential for the seaweed market in capturing carbon and improving coastal habitats.

In addition to its benefit of absorbing carbon, the seaweed crop can offer uses including animal feed, fertilisers, bioplastics, and cosmetics - reducing the carbon footprint of these products, due to the low intensity of the cultivation process.

Bideford Harbour Board is authorised by Torridge District Council to run the harbour, and with harbour master Paul Brown they are trying to encourage more business to the port.

Bideford recently hosted the passenger carrier the Waverley, twice during May and June, causing a "real buzz" around the town and attracting visitors.

Mr Brown is talking with the ship's agents to encourage her to return next year after the paddle steamer enjoyed its first visit to Bideford in 40 years.

Councillors were told that costs for harbour master activity and pilotage had reduced from £136,000 to £126,000 over the 2023/24 financial year, mostly from salary savings, but they agreed that that the harbour needed a long-term strategy to survive.

Committee chairman Simon Newton (Con, Winkleigh) said: "The interest from something like the Waverley is encouraging, but the seaweed farming business is even more encouraging as it is a potential long term and regular income stream."

Cllr Wendy Lo-Vel (Green, Northam ) said: "Unfortunately everyone has a narrow view of the harbour in that it needs to be a ship arriving and shipping fees to be successful."

She said if the council took into consideration the amount it made in car parking fees from events like the Waverley and festivals on the waterfront, the accounts might look better.

"We need to look at the quayside and harbour as a whole. It's a very narrow view to say it has to be a cargo of clay or it is not earning any money."

Cllr Newton said: "We don't dispute the value of the quay, we would like to see it used more, it is about bringing all aspects in together. A few more festivals per year is not maximising the estuary and harbour asset we have."