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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 11:58 GMT
Concern over seaweed dredging
Calcified seaweed
Maerl is used by farmers as an organic fertiliser
Conservationists claim the practice of dredging a rare species of calcified seaweed from a Cornish estuary must be stopped to protect the area.

The dead seaweed, called maerl, has been scooped up from the seabed in the Fal for the last 30 years and is used by farmers across the country as an organic fertiliser.

But English Nature says a forthcoming study will prove the practice is damaging to marine life.

The Cornish Calcified Seaweed Company has a licence to extract about 30,000 tons of dead maerl annually, using a dredger and suction pipes.

This is a Cornish resource creating money for Cornwall

David Carey, Cornish Calcified Seaweed Company

"We are treading on very thin ice if we're not looking at the effect it is having," said Roger Covey, the maritime officer for English Nature in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

"It could be that we are at the point when continued extraction will lead to a major change in the eco-system of the estuary.

"The worst case scenario is that we end up with no maerl habitat left."

In December English Nature failed to stop the annual licence, granted by the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners, which owns the site.

Scale down

They are now working together on the research which will be sent to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

If the study proves damage is being done, Defra can order the Cornish Calcified Seaweed Company to scale down or stop the dredging.

At present the business, based in Truro, employs 10 local people.

"Our best turnover was nearly 2m a year, which is a Cornish resource creating money for Cornwall," said David Carey, the company's owner.

"Even though the crisis in agriculture has cut us back significantly, we feel we can repeat those kind of figures.

"Whether Cornwall has this 2m or not I suppose is not very significant to the Cornish economy, but it is very significant to those who work for the company."

The future of maerl dredging will hinge on the Marine Environment report due to start in the spring.


Click here to go to BBC Cornwall
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16 Jan 03 | England
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