Seaweed researchers cultivate a new wave of farming

Douglas Chirnside and partner Lottie Goodlet from Loch Creran find out more about seaweed farming from SAMS researcher Dr Adrian MacLeod.

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Seaweed farming could bring a new green wave of prosperity to Argyll, with a helping hand from marine scientists at Dunbeg.

Researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), one of Europe’s leading marine science research organisations, are monitoring an experimental seaweed farm at Port a Bhuiltin, not far from Lismore.

It cost £25,000 to kit out and it already has a licence to create a second site.

Seaweed as a sustainable source of food, fuel and other commercial products has also caught the attention of Argyll and Bute Council, which has applied for £130,000 of European funding for a feasibility study, weighing up just what the industry could do for the local economy and jobs.

Popular in Asia, there are around 10,000 known seaweeds worldwide but only 200 species are being cultivated, and about 10 kinds are grown and harvested in Scotland.

Already hailed by many for its health-boosting properties, advocates for the vegetation credit it as a super-food, medication and petrol substitute.

SAMS researchers are testing out some of those species and different methods of growing them at the early stages of what could be a new industry for this part of the world.

Dr Adrian Macleod said: ‘We are producing good results. We’re looking at year-round cultivation so we can harvest it all year. I think it will work in Scotland. We just have to keep trialling different systems.

‘We do have a licence for another site but we are going to bide our time to see what happens here, until we can manage two sites because it’s a lot of work.’

Special textiles, ropes and pipes are among systems being tried on the farming grid, anchored down.

They are also working on a European ‘Marcofuels’ project to see how they can extract as much energy as possible from seaweeds and how to grow it enough to make it sustainable.

Nutrient-rich water and the right amount of light are key to a good seaweed harvest and impressive growth can take just six months.

Last month, SAMS hosted a citizens’ science day as part of that project, inviting seaweed experts, local people, entrepreneurs, council representatives and industry leaders to get a first hand look at their work.

A boat trip out to the farm was followed by opportunities for people to have a say on seaweed farming, share views, hopes and concerns. Feedback will be documented in a report to be used in Scotland and in Europe to help decision-makers in seaweed-based economies shape up the future of farming it.

Walter Speirs, chairman of the Scottish Seaweed Industry Association, was one of those taking part in the day. Others included Bert Groendaal who is research director for Belgium-based Sioen Industries who manufacture a special textile used to spurt seaweed growth in the floating farms.

Argyll and Bute Councillor Kieron Green, officers from the council’s economic development team, a Highlands and Islands Enterprise Council representative, local seaweed health converts, foragers, organic gardeners and a scallop diver were also there.

SEAWEED FACTFILE

Green, red or brown – all types of seaweed contain a rich supply of minerals including iodine and seven times as much calcium as milk. It is also rich in protein, fibre and vitamins but low in calories and fat.

Scots have used it for centuries in stews and soups – it can also set jellies. Certain types can be turned into deep-fat fried crisps and even as alternative for lasagne sheets. There’s also a type that looks just like spaghetti.