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Leading the Solent oyster revival

When Land Rover BAR began to build their new home on the waterfront in Portsmouth, the team identified a threat to the natural ecosystem on their doorstep. The Solent had once supported an oyster trade worth millions of pounds, but in the last few years has seen a rapid decline in the native oyster population, and the subsequent collapse of the oyster fishery in the area.

It might seem unusual for a sports team like Land Rover BAR to be involved in a project like this, but sustainability is an integral part of the team’s ethos. Working alongside their Exclusive Sustainability Partner 11th Hour Racing they are committed to becoming the most sustainable sports team in the UK.

With an opportunity to make a real impact on the ecosystem on their doorstep, the team were excited to help do something about it. The concept was simple, to nurture protected cages of adult oysters at the team base, replicated on pontoons to reproduce and ‘reseed’ the wider fishery.

The charity, Blue Marine Foundation were already working on a study funded by the marina company, MDL; it was looking into the feasibility of using marinas to regenerate a fishery. And when the team partnered with MDL as Official UK Marina Partner to build their pontoons in Portsmouth, the team had the perfect opportunity to host the first trial to increase the oyster population and try to re-build this fragile eco system.

A team was brought together to work with the Blue Marine Foundation idea; Land Rover BAR would host the trial, Portsmouth Institute of Marine Science monitor the science and do the research, while MDL developed the pontoons. Oysters were provided by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), who worked with local fishermen to relocate oysters from an area which was due to be dredged as part of a programme to deepen the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

Jo Meekley, of MDL Marinas, explained; “MDL have developed a pontoon structure that can be attached to any standard pontoon that will house the oysters in an environment that will hopefully lead to their successful reproduction”.

At the end of November the first set of oyster cages were installed on the Land Rover BAR pontoon on the Camber in Portsmouth. Dr Joanne Preston of the Institute of Marine Sciences, Portsmouth University commented; “It’s fantastic to see stage one complete, the oysters are in so we can now start collecting the data to gain a better understanding into what is happening to the oysters and the ecosystem around them.”

Scientists don’t fully understand the reasons for the disaster, but poaching, pollutants, dredging, water quality and temperature are all likely to be amongst the culprits. What we do know is that a big effort is required to restore the Solent oyster fishery, and while investigations continue, the regeneration project should be a big step in the right direction.

Dr Susie Tomson, Land Rover BAR’s Sustainability Manager commented, “It has been great to pull all the parties together to realise the common goal to restore a local ecosystem and whilst we are a long way off the total recovery, it’s a positive start and a great collaborative effort.”