Community energy groups give boost to marine habitat project in Sussex

A £65k grant from Ferry Farm Community Solar and Meadow Blue Community Energy have funded a dedicated kelp recovery coordinator

Efforts to restore kelp forests and other key fish habitats in Sussex are making progress, helped by more than £65,000 in grants from two local community energy groups.

Ferry Farm Community Solar and Meadow Blue Community Energy handed the grants last year to the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project.

The not-for-profit community benefit societies – part of the Communities for Renewables family of energy co-ops – have been generating solar since June 2016. Like other community energy groups, they reinvest surplus income from their solar farms to support a range of community-led initiatives – with a focus on emissions reduction and wildlife protection.

The two-year kelp project is looking to restore almost 200 sq km of lost habitat along the Sussex coast. Kelp is the name for a group of brown seaweeds, usually large in size, that are capable of forming dense aggregations, which provides fish with important habitat.

Historically, kelp was abundant along the Sussex coast but has shrunk to a few small patches and individual plants, mostly in shallow water and along the shoreline.

The funds from the two community energy groups go towards supporting a dedicated kelp recovery coordinator, owing to the project’s complexity and extensive scope.

Project chair Henri Brocklebank said: “We are extremely grateful to have received funding from both Ferry Farm Community Solar and Meadow Blue Community Energy towards our work on the Sussex Kelp Recovery. With so much pace and ambition linked to the recovery of the Sussex kelp we have found that our partnership needs the dedicated time and input of a technical specialist to keep the numerous strands of work cohesive and progressing.”

In its progress report, the project said divers and fishers have observed an increasing diversity of species along the coast, and the formation and expansion of blue-lipped mussel beds forming.

“Meanwhile,” it added, “underwater cameras, diver surveys and fisheries studies are recording changes in the ecosystem. The return at scale of the once historic kelp beds is not yet evident – but it is still early days. Critically, we know that precious remaining areas of kelp remain in good condition. Every year these release fresh spores into the water column, and it is these spores that will create our future kelp beds.”

Meadow Blue operates a 5MW solar array on farmland at Merston, between Chichester and Bognor Regis, producing 5,000+ MWh of electricity a year – enough to power 1,235 typical homes.

Ferry Farm Solar, in Selsey near Chichester, has 18,700 solar panels which generate 5,400 MWh a year – enough for approximately 1,500 homes.