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Surveys point to success in management of rare marine habitat at Spurn

Monday 11th September 2017

Annual Seagrass Survey at SpurnAnnual Seagrass Survey at Spurn

A recent survey of coastal seagrass beds off Spurn Point by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reveals one of the UK’s most rapidly declining habitats could finally be on the up in Yorkshire.

The Humber Estuary has multiple environmental designations assigned to it for its international importance to wildlife including numerous bird species, seals, and marine invertebrates. But one little known species found in the estuary, and its only known location in Yorkshire, is seagrass.

Since 2013 Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has worked with North Eastern Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (NEIFCA) to annually monitor the seagrass beds at Spurn National Nature Reserve.

Latest data collected and analysed by the local wildlife charity once again reveals an increase in the overall abundance of this now rare grass-like plant, continuing an upward trend in the total area occupied by seagrass year on year since the survey began.

Seagrass is one of the only flowering plants found in the marine environment and can form dense underwater meadows. Whilst to the untrained eye seagrass may not make for the most striking or memorable bloom, evidence that the seagrass habitat at Spurn Point has increased overall on last year's survey is a sight to behold for the marine conservationists.

Seagrass beds provide food, shelter and nursery areas to a range of animals, including worms and shellfish to young and adult fishes like the commercially important European bass.

Seagrass is also an important food source for wildfowl such as wigeon and brent geese which feed on exposed seagrass during low tides.

The plants also trap and stabilise sediment improving water quality and reducing erosion.

Known as the "lungs of the sea", one square metre of habitat can generate 10 litres of oxygen every day and it has been calculated that seagrass absorbs 15% of the ocean’s total carbon absorption.

Their sensitivity to disturbance however means seagrass beds are a rapidly declining habitat globally.

Bex Lynam, North Sea Marine Advocacy Officer, said: “The results from our survey are really encouraging. Consistent annual monitoring allows us to adapt current management measures as appropriate to ensure this important habitat is protected for the future.”

The UK’s seas are home to half our wildlife but many undersea habitats have already been lost, fish stocks have declined and species are at risk.

In a bid to further protect the UK’s marine wildlife, to date the UK Government has created 50 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around the English coast, a type of nature reserve at sea where human activity is restricted to protect wildlife and important habitats.

Miss Lynam added: “The survey also helps evidence the value of taking action to protect our seas. Yorkshire currently has two designated MCZs – Runswick Bay, just north of Whitby, and Holderness Inshore which extends north from the mouth of the Humber estuary to Skipsea.

“Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is actively campaigning to gain further protected areas in a third and final consultation expected in Spring 2018. We urge everyone to add their voice to our campaign by becoming a ‘Friend of North Sea Marine Conservation Zones’ at www.northseawildlife.org.uk.”