Environment Agency (England) Launch Data Layer of Historical Native Oyster Reefs

A new data layer to help support the native oyster restoration site selection around the English coast has been launched, the Environment Agency announced today (World Oceans Day 8 June).

Developed by academics from the University of Exeter and the University of Edinburgh for the Environment Agency, the layer provides the locations of native oyster reefs along the English coast in the 1600-1900’s. The new map data layer is freely available on the ArcGIS (geographical information service) site, as well as on the Coastal Data Explorer, which is a public web mapping portal managed by the Catchment Based Approach.

The layer works alongside the Environment Agency’s Native Oyster Restoration Potential maps that highlight areas where oyster restoration could be successful, and the UK & Ireland Native Oyster Network and Environment Agency’s European Native Oyster Habitat Restoration Handbook that provides guidelines on how to restore these valuable habitats.

Dr Ruth Thurstan, Project Lead and Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter stated “Oysters once formed an understated but important part of British marine ecosystems and popular culture. In the 19th century we fished and consumed oysters by the millions, while their complex reef habitats were key to supporting other marine life that we valued and depended upon. Much of this was lost as oyster habitats declined, and our marine ecosystems today are fundamentally different.” Philine zu Ermgassen, Project co-lead and visiting researcher at the University of Edinburgh added “Evidencing where fisheries were historically is the first step toward a greater understanding of the former extent and importance of oyster habitats. Knowing where oyster habitats were found is important both for public understanding and for local decision making. Both are critically important as habitat restoration efforts take off across England and the rest of Europe.” Both project leads are excited to see the dataset publicly available and look forward to adding this through the NORA Historical Ecology Working Group, with a Europe-wide dataset to be released later this year.