Plantwatch: kelp – forgotten forests that help tackle climate crisis

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There are forgotten forests in Britain that are largely neglected and often abused, yet they combat climate breakdown, encourage wildlife, purify water, provide food and they are fireproof.

These are forests of kelp, big seaweeds with long ribbon fronds that grow along coastlines and are among the most productive and richest wildlife places on Earth. They can grow at an extraordinary rate, up to 2ft in a day, and absorb huge amounts of carbon – globally, kelp forests absorb an estimated 600m tonnes of carbon each year, about twice the UK’s annual carbon emissions. And as the kelp die, their carbon is stored in sediments on seabeds.

A magnificent kelp forest once stretched about 25 miles (40km) along the West Sussex coast and 2.5 miles (4km) out to sea, from Selsey to Brighton. The kelp provided habitat, nursery and feeding grounds for wildlife ranging from seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster and fish. But the forest has almost disappeared as trawler nets ripped the kelp from the sea bed and sediments were dumped from dredging. A campaign is restoring the kelp forest and an agreement has been reached to ban trawler fishing across about 115 sq miles (300 sq km) off the coast. A video of the Sussex kelp project narrated by Sir David Attenborough is at https://bit.ly/2TSJu87

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