Loch Craignish - what we have and cherish
Our survey on what you wish to happen in our Loch is now closed. The results are overwhelming in favour of protection and enhancement. The next step is trying to get our Loch that protection. We will publish on this website any news on that front. Currently we are trying to go for D&R MPA status - click here for more information on what that is
Our Loch is 80km in circumference and is a fascinating mix of deep and shallow areas, lagoonal and high-energy sites, shingly beach, and seaweed-strewn rock. It supports a wealth of fauna and flora, including Priority Marine Features protected by law. We have at least ten seagrass meadows, 95% of which have disappeared around European coastlines, as well as a growing population of native oysters. Both provide important wildlife habitats, while cleaning the water and sequestering carbon.
Towards the centre of the loch, burrowed mud, another PMF, is important for bottom-dwelling species, while further out, there’s northern sea-fans and maerl, a coralline algae which provides habitat for spawning herring. Not least, the Loch is also home to otters, seals, rare voles, ospreys, sea eagles and multiple species of seabirds.
It’s also important to us, the Craignish community. The Loch supports thriving marine businesses, including the Kames sea-trout farm on the eastern side, the Ardfern Yacht Centre, wildlife-tourism and creel fishing boats. Likewise, it’s widely enjoyed by our community for swimming, boating and fishing. As such, its value is immeasurable in many ways.
Yet, despite this, the Loch has no legal protection. Inexplicably, the Flapper skate Marine Protected Area which stretches from Loch Sween to Loch Sunart ends at the mouth of the loch and this means scallop dredgers continue to destroy the eco-system by ploughing the seabed. Furthermore, we know from historical accounts that the health of the Loch has changed – there are fewer fish, the plentiful native oyster and scallop populations have gone, there’s a build-up of pollution, and marine plastic litters the beaches and islands.
In the light of this, our Craignish-based charity Seawilding, in conjunction with CROMACH has established two marine habitat restoration projects to help improve things. The first, funded by the National Lottery and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, aims to restore 1 million native oysters over a 5-year-period to clean and filter the water, sequester carbon and improve bio-diversity. The second, a seagrass restoration project, funded by NatureScot, is a proof-of-concept project that will trial community-led restoration and plant ¼ hectare of seagrass at the top of the lagoon.
Both these projects are the first of their kind in Scotland and they are pioneering. Soon, the Loch will be comprehensively surveyed and mapped, they’ll be environmental monitoring as well as Environmental DNA testing, and we will be able to create a detailed database of species in the Loch and record changes over time. As covid-restrictions ease, the community will also be able to get involved. There’ll be training weekends in biodiversity-surveying, oyster monitoring, and seagrass restoration, talks about the PMFs in the loch, an oyster festival, a kid’s marine group and multiple opportunities for volunteers to take part in the restoration projects.
Because of these exciting developments, we, the board of CROMACH, think it’s time to consider how we can better protect the loch and the PMFs within it. As a community, there are a number of opportunities open to us, ranging from Several Orders to a Demonstration and Research Marine Protected Area. Initial soundings with the likes of Nature Scot suggest there is governmental/agency interest in communities taking more ownership.
The end game is to make the loch cleaner and healthier and more bio-diverse, while continuing to provide multiple community-benefits, sustainable jobs and new opportunities for community-led habitat restoration and marine science.