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#YouBuyWePlant - Nursery News with Charlie Young Vol.2

Charlie Young is Marine Scientist and Feel Good Ambassador hailing from the rugged coastline of Pembrokeshire. Having spent her career researching the impacts of humans in the ocean, Charlie has joined the team to help inspire our community about seagrass and spread the word about our mission to restore these underwater meadows in collaboration with Project Seagrass. Read on to find out more about what Charlie and the team have been up to since our last Nursery News update!

Seeds of hope 🌱 

Arriving at the nursery I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation. The last time I was here, the polytunnel and pools had only just been built. There was still a lot of work left to do, and the day for planting seedlings was still a long way off. Now, all the necessary work was complete. The pools were full with water, all final tests were done, and the moment had arrived to plant the very first seeds in this landmark project.

As I parked my car I saw the team amassed in their high-vis jackets enjoying a round of tea in the office. Joining them I got to meet more of the wonderful team behind this project, who seemed more of a family than colleagues. After half hour of chattering and laughing, teas and coffees consumed, Elise and Abi began the routine morning briefing and what the day would entail.

It was officially day four of planting, and the target was to prepare 50 pots of seedlings to be placed in the remainder of the pools. In each pot, 50 seeds would be planted, and so the first task of the day was to count out the seedlings, one-by-one. Getting into teams we headed out of the office and into the lab - a large cargo freight container - parked next door. Now on paper this task may seem simple, but when you see the size of a seagrass seed - smaller than an apple pip - and add in the repetitive task of counting sets of 50, over and over, you start to realise it’s not that straight forward. Losing count a number of times and losing seeds popping out from between my tweezers, when we reach our target of 2500 seeds counted, I was relieved! But now began the real work.

Heading into the polytunnel we set down to the meticulous task of planting. The protocol went as follows. Grab a pot. Measure out 50 holes, 1cm deep, evenly spaced throughout the sediment. Pick and place a seed in each. Water with a healthy drop of H2O. Then carefully cover the seed with sediment. Repeat. 

The first pot was slow, but thanks to my brilliant team mate who was already a seasoned pro, I soon settled into a good rhythm, and before I knew it I could feel the satisfaction that comes with smashing out a repetitive task. 

As the teams flowed like well oiled machines, completed pots were exiting the production line like hotcakes and being handed to Elise, the nursery manager, for submerging. Carefully, as not to disturb the sediment, she sunk each pot into its allocated spot, and as the day went on, the pools were transformed from empty vessels, to a mosaic of seed filled pools.

By 4pm the task was complete. A whopping 2500 seeds had been planted and only one more day would see the mammoth task complete. Putting down our tools, we wandered around the polytunnel to inspect our work. To most these pots would look like nothing more than plastic tubs full of sand. Nothing to write home about or get excited about. But not to us. To us these were the most beautiful and exciting things on the planet. Pots full of potential, ready to burst and give way to a generation of seagrass which would help unlock the mysteries of restoring these salty meadows at scale. 

Seagrass polytunnel

Saying goodbye to the team, I couldn’t help but wish the next four weeks away. This was about the length of time that Elise and Abi expected it would take for the first seedlings to emerge, and like a bunch of proud parents, everyone was counting down the days… and right on time, the news I had been waiting for came.

Four weeks later I got the text from Elise with the news that the first seedlings had emerged. It wasn’t until I saw the photo of a few tiny green wisps sticking out in one of the pots like hair on a newborns head that I realised I could get so emotional about a plant. What the team had achieved here was nothing less than pioneering, and the success of this first planting trial was the first piece in the puzzle to making the vision of this project a reality.

Seagrass planting seeds

As of today, the #YouBuyWePlant campaign has help fund over 8000 seeds which will be planted at the nursery over the coming months, an incredible milestone to have reached just partway through this campaign. Reaching this stage has been made possible because of everyday people making a conscious choice to buy a product that invests back in the planet. This alone fills me with hope and is a testament to the growing appetite that is people's desire to do good for the world. I hope that this desire only grows and that by the end of this campaign, we have managed to fund thousands more seeds. I think it is totally possible, and I cannot wait to see where the coming months take us.

A trip to North Wales 🤿

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The Llŷn Peninsula is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) located in North Wales. This lush, wild northern nook of the country boasts almost 100 miles of coastline and is made up of sweeping bays and cliffs. Despite being from Pembrokeshire, this was the first time I had ventured to these parts, and on arrival, I was bitterly disappointed that I hadn’t discovered it before.

Maybe it was the added bonus of visiting during a record breaking heatwave with zero wind, rain, or cloud for that matter, which added to its magic, but meteorology aside, the rugged landscape of this Penisula was breathtaking, and as I enjoyed my first sunset from the comfort of my tent overlooking the bay of Porthdinllaen, I couldn’t help but think I was on holiday, not a fieldwork trip.

The next morning I was up with the sun - part of the beauty of camping. Deciding on welsh cakes for breakfast I destroyed - shamefully - half a pack in record timing before stashing away the rest for later. Making my way up to the house where the whole Project Seagrass team was staying I knocked on the front door and joined the busy household as they ate, drank, packed and organised themselves for the day. For them this was another day in what had already been almost a month of fieldwork, starting on the Isle of White and which would end in Orkney. I was to join the snorkel team and would be picking seeds from the shallows of the bay and I honestly couldn’t wait.

Hopping into the van, we made out way down to the Ty Coch Inn, where just behind, fieldwork HQ was positioned - a lovely little cottage, with a huge blue barrel outside. Peering over the edge the barrel was full of happily soaking shoots. The spoils of many days of successful picking. The appearance was much nicer than the smell, but none the less it was a sight to behold and I couldn’t wait to get in the water to start picking.

After a quick briefing and signing my life away, we headed for the water. As we weaved our way along the beach full of happy families enjoying their summer holidays, picnics and pints, we got a few interested looks. Kitted out head to toe in our wetsuits, armed with mesh bags, snorkel kit and safety buoys, we must have looked a bit mad considering it was a toasty 23 degrees. But even in summer UK waters can pack a cool punch, and I was grateful for the 7mm, even if the walk was a bit sticky…

One of the things I love most about seagrass meadows, is that from shore, they are often completely hidden. But venture just a few short meters, place your head underwater and there before you is a whole other world.

Seagrass meadow

Since falling in love with these underwater gardens and going in search of them on snorkel adventures, I have seen a fair few beautiful meadows, but nothing could have prepared me for this one.

As I peered below the surface, before me was an endless lush green garden. Bursting with life, I totally forgot about the task at hand and found my eyes caught on the anemones swaying and fish swimming amongst the blades. The clear skies and lack of wind meant the visibility was crystal clear, and the water, that wonderful mediterranean blue that reminds you of holidays.

Bringing me back into the conscious world, Project Coordinator Issy began to show me the picking process. At first it was hard to differentiate between the green leaves and the reproductive shoots containing the seeds. But once I saw a couple, they stood out like a sore thumb, and in general were much greener than the leaves, making them easy to identify. 

Seagrass seeds

Floating peacefully above the meadow we meandered along, picking and stashing the collected seeds in our bags. Some patches we found meant we hardly had to move for ten minutes because of the sheer density of shoots. A testament to the health of this meadow - one of the best preserved in the UK.

Before long an hour and a half had passed and our bags were full and our fingers slowly ceasing to work from the cold. Calling time we headed back to the cottage to add our shoots to the big blue cauldron and perform a water change, which entailed draining the barrel of water and filling it back up again - manually. 

Now if we didn’t look mad before in all diving gear, we definitely did now. Walking backwards and forwards like ants, emptying buckets and filling them up again, onlookers visibly speculated what we were up to, and after arousing just too much suspicion to be ignored, a couple of brave souls plucked up the courage to ask. One jokingly questioned if I was filling up a hot tub. Heavens knows why in a heatwave!? But what else could be a plausible explanation.

Bringing people over to the bubbling cauldron of seeds you could see the answer to their question was even more fascinating than they hoped for. Bustling with questions, the team kindly explained to the enthusiastic onlookers what they were doing. The team were collecting seeds which would be used to restore other meadows around the UK, and also to be used in lab studies to further their understanding of these plants. Many people were keen to know how they could get involved and this made my heart sing. If only we could inspire more people to take action, imagine the impact we could have?

The second day followed much of the same rhythm, the weather just as perfect and the meadow just as beautiful. As it drew to a close and my departure creeped closer, I once again felt sadness saying goodbye to the team, but given the amount of seeds that had been gathered, this season was nothing less than a brilliant success, and for that, I was happy to have been a part of it.

As of this month the team have now begun the task of sorting the seeds collected and placing them into storage, ready for planting next year and I for one can’t wait for it to come around already. 

Keep up to date with the #YouBuyWePlant campaign by following us, and Charlie (@ocean_magpie) on socials! 

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