In summer, the cliffs at Flamborough Cliffs nature reserve are filled with thousands of seabirds. Colourful puffins come and go amongst the throng, their bright beaks gleaming in the sunshine.
Look out on the vast North Sea, and you may be lucky enough to see the pointed dorsal fin of a dolphin breaking through the waves as a pod playfully chases shoals of fish.
When the tide goes out, the mysteries of the seabed are revealed in dozens of creature-filled rockpools.
Our ancient seas may seem unchanging, infinite and immortal, but sadly much of our marine wildlife is a shadow of what it once was. The carpet of oysters that lined the Humber Estuary are a distant memory, seabirds like kittiwakes are rapidly declining (40 per cent down since the 1970s), and a search along the seashore is now likely to uncover more plastic bottle tops and tangled rope than pretty seashells.
But hope is not lost. With your help, we can turn the tide and restore a thriving marine environment that plays a vital part in protecting our climate and wildlife. In this, our 75th anniversary year, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is asking everyone to come together to Give Seas a Chance. We have the solutions to halt and reverse this decline now and, with your help, we can make the solutions a reality and ensure that 2021 is the turning point for our marine wildlife.
More fish in the sea
Standing atop Flamborough Cliffs, with the sounds and smells of thousands of seabirds around you, it’s hard to believe that below the waves vital seabed habitats are being destroyed.
Bottom-towed fishing gear destroy the life-giving seabed with their huge metal teeth; ill-considered offshore developments disrupt migration routes and cause excessive noise in the waters; and unsustainable fishing by supertrawlers catch species indiscriminately. The cumulative impact of all this destructive activity is the slow death of our marine environment.
A decade of dedicated campaigning by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and other organisations has ensured that bottom-towed fishing gear is largely banned within the Flamborough Marine Protected Area. Our marine experts are ensuring this and other newly designated areas are not just lines on a map, but sanctuaries at sea for our precious wildlife.
Through partnership working and monitoring, we influence the management of these areas to bring life back to our seas and protect all that’s important beneath the waves.
This is the start of a North Sea Recovery Network; a joined-up system of protected undersea places where our marine wildlife can thrive, and habitats can recover and regrow. The colours and sounds of the reef will return – oranges of crabs and pinks of starfish will speckle in abundance, greens and greys will catch the light as shoals of fish dance in the currents, while the calls of dolphins sing out amongst the waves. And vitally, our wildlife will be able to travel safely between feeding and breeding grounds.
Carbon-trapping, tidal meadows
The climate crisis poses a huge threat to our marine wildlife. The rise in sea surface temperatures is affecting the basis of the marine food chain – plankton – and this has far-reaching impacts on a whole range of species, including the iconic North Sea cod and Atlantic puffin.
Seagrass meadows are a little known but incredibly important habitat: they help to stabilise the seabed, preventing erosion as well as providing shelter and feeding grounds for a huge range of wildlife. But most amazingly, they are excellent at trapping carbon.
There has been a seagrass meadow on the shores of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Spurn National Nature Reserve since at least the 1800s, but today it is a fraction of what it once was.
Globally in decline, research indicates that there has been a 50 per cent reduction in seagrass meadows.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s marine biologists are at the forefront of new techniques and innovative methods to replant seagrass. Working right on Yorkshire’s edge at Spurn, the team have surveyed and experimented with trials to assess the optimal conditions for gathering, germinating and replanting seagrass seeds, in preparation to plant thousands this spring. Our seagrass meadows will start to creep back along the shoreline; no longer a distant memory, they will become part of our solution to the climate emergency.
Each acre will store an estimated 0.8 tonnes of carbon per year and unlike many of the trees planted to offset carbon, which are intended for fuel use once they reach maturity, seagrass replanting can last for hundreds of years.
Turning the tide on plastic
Approximately 20,000 tonnes of litter and waste are dumped into the North Sea every year and only 15 per cent of that is washed ashore – the rest is still out at sea. From the ocean floor to shoreline, our seas are drowning in pollution. This endangers almost all our marine wildlife; from netting wrapped around seabird chicks in their nests, to dolphins and whales washed up with stomachs full of plastic bags. Lost and abandoned fishing waste, known as ‘ghost gear’, is one of the biggest problems for our marine wildlife.
Our Fishing for Litter scheme solves this problem by preventing discarded fishing waste from entering our seas in the first place. By working in partnership with fishing communities, we provide cost-free, harbourside disposal for old fishing equipment. Together we can help to keep Yorkshire plastic free. By working with the fishing community and strengthening relationships, we are also improving our data gathering and promoting the best ways to protect our seas for generations to come.
You can make this recovery possible
Each year, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust must raise over £75,000 to fund our vital marine conservation work. We want to make 2021 a turning point for our oceans, and you can help us achieve that. Please go to ywt.org.uk/give-seas-a-chance and donate what you can – every donation brings us closer to a clean and healthy underwater world in Yorkshire for generations to come.