Holdfast! Going back to our Seaweed Roots
We live in a world of constant change. The climate is changing, our environment is changing, and our communities are changing.
Change is inevitable.
In the midst of swirling change, we can look to our ancestors for guidance on how best to deal with the challenges in front of us.
Looking back at what they did, we realise, more often than not, they had it right all along. They knew how to adapt and thrive in whatever environment they found themselves in – and they did it all without the help of modern technology!
In recent years, we’ve been on a steep learning curve towards a greener economy. One that uses sustainable materials and local produce, allowing us to live harmoniously with nature once again. And the truth is, we don’t need to look far from home for inspiration.
Kelp is an essential part of our ecosystem around the Isle of Skye. It’s a sustainable resource that can be harvested and used for many purposes, including fertiliser. In fact, Kelp is so good at absorbing our waste products that it can be used as an alternative to peat in composting.
We want to revive this rich Scottish tradition by growing our own Kelp locally.
The history of Kelp foraging goes back thousands of years, and today it’s making an exciting comeback as a sustainable resource for coastal communities across the globe.
Scotland, in particular, has a long history of Kelp foraging, dating back to the 1700s when local residents would gather seaweeds from the shore to produce glass, soap, or preserve cheese!
Burned into ash, Kelp was especially useful for providing the alkali needed to make fine window glass that became popular during the mid-18th century.
Up and down the Scottish coastland, you can still see the remains of local crofters’ livelihoods: the odd drystone beach houses, low stone walls for drying Kelp, and sheds for storing it.
It was in the 19th century that Kelp farming became a viable industry, employing tens of thousands of people from Orkney to the Hebrides!
The main reason was gunpowder. During World War One, Kelp would be further processed after burning to extract iodine.
At this time, the island of Stronsay was described as looking like a volcano with burning Kelp, arsenic-contaminated crops, dying animals, and workers going blind. And these crofters were only paid £2 from each £22 tonne of Kelp ash!
Obviously, this wouldn’t meet today’s health & safety regulations!
While terrible working conditions had an impact on the Kelp industry, it was economics that ultimately drove its decline.
The Kelp-burning industry had been sustained by high import duties and a war with France. With the end of this conflict in 1822, prices fell from £22 to just £5 per tonne.
The demise of the Kelp industry caused many crofters to move away from the coast, leaving locals as jobless as they were when the industry started. Some moved to Glasgow and Edinburgh, while others emigrated to North America.
Today, as we are in unprecedented change, our coastal communities are experiencing similar challenges, and we must adapt to these changes to survive.
Hardy and fast-growing native Kelps are the most likely candidates for seaweed aquaculture in Scotland. We’re realising how much we’ve been missing out on its benefits by overlooking this extraordinary plant.
Without all the burning, Kelp farming is a low-carbon and highly sustainable activity that we hope to scale into an industry once more.
Kelp is an incredibly versatile and nutrient-packed plant. It can be used in everything from plant food to cattle feed to human food!
It was even a prized commodity in the days before petroleum as a biofuel.
Why not go back to our roots (or should I say holdfasts?!) and start incorporating Kelp into everything from insulation to toothpaste?
We’re excited about returning to Kelp culture. Adapting to challenges with the wisdom of our ancestors at our backs, reviving our ancestors’ knowledge with all we’ve learned since!