The Environment Agency has launched a new data tool for supporting oyster habitat restoration projects, saying it could be used by local authorities, community partnerships and environmental organisations.
Developed by the agency along with academics at the universities of Exeter and Edinburgh, it is a map data layer on historical oyster habitat and fisheries in English coastal waters that sits on the ArcGIS (geographic information service) website, providing information on the location of historic native oyster records and distributions.
It has been developed using data from government, scientific and maritime bodies, and historic media accounts that mention the use and presence of the native Ostrea edulis oyster across England.
It will also be placed on the Coastal Data Explorer, a public web mapping portal managed by the Catchment Based Approach initiative.
The Environment Agency said it can help local authorities and other bodies make the case for native oyster restoration projects.
It also works alongside the agency’s Native Oyster Restoration Potential maps, which highlight areas where restoration could be successful, and the European Native Oyster Habitat Restoration Handbook, which provides guidelines on how to restore the habitats.
Roger Proudfoot, estuary and coast planning manager at the Environment Agency, said: “The release of this information on where native oyster reefs were once present represents another milestone in our drive for more estuary and coast habitat restoration.
“We have lost 95% of our native oysters mainly due to over-fishing. As well as being catastrophic for our marine ecosystem, we have also lost the multiple benefits that they once provided for us, including cleansing our waters through filtration and increasing biodiversity and fisheries.
“We hope this new information on the historic locations of once thriving oyster reefs will lead to new opportunities for restoring what has been lost. We know that oyster restoration is possible, we just need more capacity to upscale the current efforts and we look forward to this new information inspiring more projects to restore this magnificent mollusc.”