Largest-ever Scottish seagrass planting programme launched by unique partnership

01 March 2024

Restoring nature in Scotland’s seas will get a more than £2m funding boost, NatureScot announced today, detailing a new partnership to protect and restore Scottish seagrass meadows, with support from SSEN Distribution. This is believed to be the largest-ever single donation to marine enhancement in Scotland.

This new, innovative nature finance initiative, between the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF) and SSEN, comes just in time for World Seagrass Day on 1 March, and is a great example of business and the public sector joining forces to tackle the nature and climate emergencies.

Since it was established, SMEEF has secured and awarded more than £3.3m to marine enhancement in Scotland. Ethical considerations are hugely important, so all proposals go through a bespoke due diligence process to underpin confidence in the programme. The partnership with SSEN is a successful example of this process.

Seagrass is a wonder plant, the only true flowering plant in the sea. The meadows it creates in shallow and intertidal waters are home to a bewildering array of wildlife and are often likened to rainforests because of the thousands of species they provide food and shelter for. Scottish seas are a special place for marine habitats like seagrass, with our coast stretching 18,000 km and containing 8,000 species or more.

Seagrasses have another great advantage: their leaves and roots take in carbon dioxide and lock it away, making them great natural solutions to help tackle the climate crisis as well as reducing biodiversity loss. They can also improve water quality, reduce contamination in seafood, and act as the first line of defence along coasts by reducing wave energy, protecting people from the increasing risk of flooding and storms.

But seagrasses have been declining globally since the 1930s, with estimates that 7% of seagrass meadows are being lost each year. This exciting initiative will see at least 14ha of seagrass planted in Scottish coastal waters.

Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy Màiri McAllan said: “Tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss is a global and national endeavour which will require the collective effort of governments, businesses and our whole society to deliver the necessary change.

“This announcement is a great example of the potential for unlocking responsible private finance to support nature restoration and could be transformative for our precious seagrass.”

NatureScot Chief Executive Francesca Osowska said: “This unique project shows how organisations can and are working together to save the nature we all depend on. Nature and climate are intrinsically linked; if one is suffering, the other will be as well. So we need to take care of our seas and our seagrass.

“If we are to restore nature at scale we need all those involved, including the business sector, to play a role. It’s fantastic to see SSEN demonstrating their commitment to a healthy and resilient environment with this contribution to SMEEF.”

Shirley Robertson, SSEN Distribution’s Head of Strategic Planning and Sustainability, said: 

“We’re proud to be working alongside SMEEF on such a forward-thinking initiative, the benefits of which we look forward to seeing for many years to come. In our Business Plan for 2023-28, we committed to funding the restoration of seagrass meadows around our licence areas and so this innovative, ‘first-of-its-kind’ programme is something we’re excited to be supporting.

“The restoration of seagrass meadows will bring tangible benefits to nearby communities both above and below the water level - not only is the carbon sequestration rate of seagrass estimated to be three times higher than land-based planting, the revitalised meadows will help to improve the spawning conditions for fish shoals and other marine life. Furthermore,  the learning from this programme will improve understanding of nature investments and hopefully inform policy which, in turn, will enable others to join us as we all tackle the biodiversity crisis.”

The Fund, part of SMEEF’s wider work on Scottish coastal, seabed and marine enhancement, will be open for applications later this year. Projects will be driven by local communities and full engagement and consultation with all interested groups will be essential to their success. SMEEF will work with a range of experts to ensure that the grants are used to best effect and the impacts monitored.

To find out more, see the SMEEF website and email [email protected] to join the mailing list for updates and notifications about grant rounds.