The growing UK seaweed trade

Lately there was a resurgence of curiosity in seaweed. This has been pushed by the numerous makes use of of seaweed, its excessive dietary worth, and its skill of offering ecosystem companies, reminiscent of habitat provision, carbon and nutrient uptake, coastal safety.

Within the UK, seaweeds have been used for hundreds of years as a meals, feed, and soil enricher, enjoying an necessary position, significantly for island communities. Round 600 species of seaweed may be discovered alongside the UK shore, with brown seaweed, reminiscent of kelp and wracks, representing essentially the most ample seaweed kind. Nevertheless, the dimensions of the seaweed trade and the size of manufacturing within the UK have been fluctuating with peaks and troughs all through the centuries.

For instance, through the peak manufacturing of the 17th-18th centuries, brown seaweeds had been burned to supply soda ash, utilized in glass and cleaning soap manufacturing and for bleaching linen. Kelp kilns and kelp homes are nonetheless seen at the moment, reminders of the hundreds of tons of seaweed that had been processed yearly. Seaweed harvesting continued initially of the 19th century for the extraction of iodine, whereas within the Nineteen Seventies seaweeds had been primarily harvested for manufacturing of hydrocolloids, a gelling agent in meals and non-food functions. With the flip of the millennium, the trade was going by means of a ‘trough’ part till renewed latest curiosity.

Kelp House in Northern Ireland
Kelp Home on Rathlin Island (Northern Eire) used to retailer burnt kelp earlier than being shipped to Scotland.

Again in 2016, throughout this new wave of curiosity in seaweed aquaculture, I used to be commissioned by Defra to evaluation the standing of the seaweed trade within the UK . Summer time 2021 was the 5-year mark from the earlier research, so I took the chance to evaluation the standing of the trade with a literature and internet search.

In 2021, seaweeds had been nonetheless harvested from the wild in varied elements of the UK, primarily at a small-artisanal scale. Nevertheless, there was an growing variety of business seaweed farms being established. For instance, in 2016 there was just one business seaweed farm within the UK, whereas at the moment there are at the very least 10 energetic farms, suggesting a shift in the direction of farmed aquaculture sources of seaweed. But, there are nonetheless no information of whole seaweed manufacturing for the UK.

seaweed on a rope
Instance of farmed seaweed in Scotland.

The seaweed trade within the UK has expanded within the final decade, with quite a lot of merchandise now out there in the marketplace. Optimistic press protection round consumption of seaweed can be serving to to corroborate customers notion of seaweed as a wholesome and dietary meals.

Seaweed-related companies within the UK have greater than doubled since 2016. Within the 2021 evaluation I discovered at the very least 74 companies (harvesting/farming seaweed, processing seaweed and/or offering seaweed-related companies), primarily situated in England and Scotland and counting on seaweed harvested from the wild within the UK.

map of seaweed locations
Location of seaweed-related companies.
seaweed production types
Methodology of manufacturing of seaweed produced/utilized by seaweed-related companies within the UK .

Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) is the seaweed species most incessantly produced or utilized by seaweed companies, harvested at a medium to massive scale in Scotland and utilized in a number of merchandise. Brown seaweed reminiscent of kelp and wrack species, e.g. Fucus and Saccharina, and purple seaweed reminiscent of dulse (Palmaria palmata) and laver (Porphyra spp.) are different necessary species produced or utilized by UK companies.

two types of seaweed
Wild Fucus sp. (left) and farmed Saccharina latissima (sugar kelp, proper).

Foods and drinks are at the moment the primary goal marketplace for seaweed merchandise, with round one third of seaweed-related companies concentrating on this market. Of the remaining companies, 19% goal the wonder trade, whereas 13% produce nutraceuticals reminiscent of diet dietary supplements. Different companies present fertilizers, feed and dietary supplements for animals, alginate, bio-packaging, consultancy companies and so on. Actually, since 2016, there was an elevated diversification of merchandise and companies.

diagram of seaweed uses
Overview of the primary merchandise/companies offered by seaweed-related companies within the UK.

The seaweed trade within the UK has the potential to thrive and help a spread of companies. Farming of seaweed may contribute in the direction of totally different ecosystem companies, such meals provisioning and regulating companies. Nevertheless, for the trade to develop and realise this imaginative and prescient, a number of information gaps and challenges stay and must be addressed.

diagram of types of knowledge gaps
Data gaps and boundaries confronted by the seaweed trade within the UK.

Future analysis and investments ought to intention to deal with these challenges which aren’t unique to the UK seaweed trade however are additionally shared by different nations, reminiscent of in Europe. Subsequently, collaborations and information change between totally different stakeholders, together with trade, academia and authorities, nationally and internationally, needs to be inspired to deal with these information gaps.

Additional data may be present in my chapter in Sustainable International Sources Of Seaweeds: Seaweed Industries and Merchandise within the UK: A Temporary Assessment.


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