Pupils to help bring back native oysters to Loch Craignish

Youngsters look on as the oysters are placed in the cages to be lowered into Loch Craignish at Ardfern Yacht Centre. Photograph: Philip Price/Lochvisions

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A call is being put out to schools to take part in a native oyster restoration project at Loch Craignish, near Ardfern.

Over the next five years, the charity Seawilding, is planning to restore the native oyster beds at the loch with an exciting plan to reintroduce one million native oysters.

The protected species was once prevalent in most of Scottish sea lochs, but predation, disease and bottom trawling have destroyed most populations.

It is now recognised native oyster beds are an important part of the local marine eco-system. Each oyster can filtrate and clean up to 200 litres of water a day, and the native oyster reefs enhance biodiversity by becoming fish spawning grounds and nurseries.

Back in March, the charity Seawilding secured a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to grow young native oysters over a five-year period in floating baskets on the loch. When they are semi-mature, the oysters will be translocated to trial seabed sites around Loch Craignish where it is hoped they will become a self-sustaining population.

Project Coordinator Danny Renton, told The Oban Times: ‘This is a pioneering project, driven by the Craignish community. Loch Craignish was once a rich environment for native oysters and scallops in particular; but bottom trawling since the 1980s has destroyed much of the seabed. Our community wants to reverse that. We hear a lot about rewilding, but there’s little action been taken so far with restoration of marine habitats – so what we are doing at Loch Craignish is an exciting opportunity to show that marine rewilding and reintroduction of priority marine species is possible.’

The project is teaming up with Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) and the Department of Aquaculture from Stirling University to enable 20 marine science students to monitor, survey and research the restoration efforts over the next five years.

Meanwhile to kick off the project, the charity along with local partner Heart of Argyll Wildlife Organisation and the Ardfern Yacht Centre, has been introducing native oysters in suspended cages under the pontoons of the Yacht Centre.

Each Oyster Hoister houses 30 mature oysters which will help clean up the marina water as well as releasing spat, adding to the wider restoration effort in the loch. The hoisters are sponsored by members of the community and boat owners, and the plan is to suspend around 30 cages by the end of the year.

Andrew Ashton, the Director of the Ardfern Yacht Centre said: ‘We at the Yacht Centre are delighted to be involved in this pioneering project. It’s good news for us, our marine environment, local schools and the challenge of marine conservation generally. The clock is ticking for the health of our seas and it’s exciting to see a community initiative that aims to restore an important species locally. We are encouraging boat owners to get involved, by sponsoring an oyster hoister!’

Meanwhile from August when schools open, the Heart of Argyll Wildlife Organisation (HAWO) will be working with school pupils to monitor the oysters in the Yacht Centre cages, measuring their growth and recording biodiversity.

HAWO is no stranger to reintroduction projects, having been involved in the ongoing return of beavers to Scotland for a number of years.

Oly Hemmings and Pete Creech, the organisation’s Rangers, initially want pupils from five local primary schools to get involved in this exciting project. This is an opportunity for pupils to actively take part in valuable research that will be added to data already being collected from other oyster reintroductions throughout the UK.

Reflecting on Argyll’s long association with European native oysters, Oly said: ‘We’ve been interacting with oysters in Argyll for around 8,500 years and it is fantastic to be able to get future generations involved in ensuring this relationship continues.’

Any schools interested can email Oly and Pete at info@heartofargyllwildlife.org for further information. A teacher’s resource pack that can be used in conjunction with school visits or as a standalone resource is available. The educational objectives are fully-funded by the project’s funders, the National Lottery, and this includes travel to and from the project venue at Ardfern Yacht Centre.  Oly and Pete also intend to engage with older schoolchildren and community groups as the project progresses.

For further information about the Loch Craignish Native Oyster Restoration Project, please visit www.seawilding.org or email info@seawilding.org