Efforts to restore British native oyster populations have been given a boost of nearly £1.2 million to recreate habitat for the shellfish around the coasts.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and partners Blue Marine Foundation and British Marine, have been awarded £1,180,000 by the People’s Postcode Lottery, for what they say is the biggest conservation project of its kind in the UK.
The scheme involves creating and installing oyster nurseries, suspended under marina pontoons, with adult oysters in them that will release their young into the environment.
These young, known as spat, will settle across three oyster reef habitats created across British estuaries of the River Conwy, in Wales, Firth of Clyde in Scotland and Tyne and Wear coastal water body, in England.
The new habitat will be created by adding a layer of old oyster shells and stones to the seabed to help improve the environment for the spat.
The move aims to reverse the failing fortunes of native wild oysters, which have seen declines of more than 95% due to over-harvesting, habitat loss, pollution and disease, the conservationists said.
The project will work with local partners to start to restore the 20,00 square kilometres (7,700 square miles) of oyster reefs have been lost around the coastline of Britain, they said.
Healthy oyster beds are hugely productive and help other wildlife thrive, including providing nursery grounds for important seafood species such as seabass, bream and edible crabs.
Oysters also filter the water they live in, improving water quality and clarity, and even capture carbon in the calcium carbonate that forms their shells, the experts said.
ZSL senior conservation programme manager, Alison Debney welcomed the win for the “superheroes of our oceans”.
he said: “Despite their small size, they’re capable of making huge changes in our marine environment.
“Our dream is to grow a self-sustaining population of native oysters in the UK.
“This funding awarded by Postcode Dream Trust means we now have the potential to release nine billion native oyster larvae into the ocean creating oyster nurseries in UK waters, work with local communities to care for our oceans superheroes and connect people and wildlife.
“Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery we hope to see healthy, resilient, coastal waters and make a remarkable difference to the future of wild oysters.”
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “The Dream Fund exists to bring ambitious and innovative projects to life, and this certainly does that – it is a huge milestone in marine conservation.”