Kelp dredging stories spark furious backlash in Lochaber

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The Scottish Government says no trials have been commissioned or are planned for the mechanical harvesting of kelp along the west coast of Scotland.

The government was forced to issue the denial earlier this month after media reports that mechanical dredging trials were to begin in July 2020 sparked a furious backlash in Lochaber.

Holyrood now says any such reports are incorrect and a proposed work programme has been ‘wrongly interpreted’.

At a meeting in September a government steering group involved agreed that before any desk studies or field trials of any harvest method of any species could be considered, a scenario mapping exercise should be conducted.

This, says the government, is to ensure that the review is grounded in where the future opportunities for the seaweed sector may be, but balanced with environmental considerations and of those communities and sectors who share that space.

Only species identified through scenario mapping as having potential -taking into account socio-economic but also environmental considerations – would be subject to further scrutiny through desk studies and only after that, and if the criteria is met, could any pilot or field trials commence.

Any trial using a vehicle or a vessel to remove a substance or an object from the seabed would still need a licence from Marine Scotland, require consultation and would only be granted once ministers are satisfied the activity is carried out within environmental limits.

The scenario mapping exercise is expected to commence in January and conclude in July 2020.

However, local environmental campaigners in Lochaber and politicians are vowing to fight any plans to allow mechanical kelp dredging off the coast of Lochaber.

Andrew Squire, of Lochaber Environmental Group and the local branch of Extinction Rebellion, told the Lochaber Times: ‘The Scottish Government has just been criticised by the Committee on Climate Change for failing to take sufficiently urgent and radical action.

‘To even be considering kelp dredging at this time, which would simultaneously devastate the marine habitat and remove an essential carbon store, just beggars belief.’

And Highlands and Islands Greens MSP John Finnie is equally opposed to any such dredging possibility.

‘I was extremely proud to have worked with community campaigners to deliver a legal ban on kelp dredging last year,’ Mr Finnie told us.

‘We know that kelp plays a huge role in mitigating climate change by storing carbon, and is home to thousands of precious marine species. Industrial dredging would devastate this unique marine environment. It cannot be allowed to happen.

‘If the Scottish Government is foolish enough to move forward with plans to dredge kelp forests it will find that the huge opposition up and down the West Coast hasn’t gone away and, if we have to, we’ll beat the government again.’