Firth of Forth

In the Firth of Forth, native oyster beds used to cover an area with a combined size of modern Edinburgh, but by the early 1900s, they were all fished out. Partnering with Heriot-Watt University, we’re working to restore native oysters in the area.

A community project

Native oysters provide a wealth of ecosystem services. They enhance biodiversity and create nursery habitats, they can improve water quality by filtering up to 200 litres of water a day, and they contribute to the stabilisation of carbon in the marine environment. Native oysters have seen a global decline of approximately 85%. This project aims to reintroduce this species to the Firth of Forth to enhance the ecosystem.

Our partnership with Heriot-Watt University builds on our successful, ongoing collaboration as part of the award-winning Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP). Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland, is a proud founding partner of the DEEP project. He said "I was delighted to hear from Professor Bill Sanderson, expert lead on native oyster restoration for Heriot-Watt University and the DEEP project."

The vision of the project is for communities to become the local restoration champions and experts, to ensure further restoration is an ongoing legacy of the project.

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland

Get involved

The Restoration Forth team have launched a brand new citizen science survey - the Oyster Observer Guide, to help us understand the distribution of historical oyster bed shells along the Firth of Forth shoreline.

Oyster shells continue to wash ashore around the Forth and may indicate areas where historical oyster beds once thrived. The Restoration Forth team are conducting surveys so that we can better understand the relationship between shells on the shoreline and historical or existing shell beds.

You can support the Restoration Forth project by looking for shells along the shoreline.

Take part in the Oyster Observer survey

Download and print the Oyster Observer Guide and recording form.

Carry out the survey as many times as you like at beaches around the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

Once you have carried out your survey, enter your results on our online form.

Emmy Cooper-Young, Shellfish Restoration Officer

Emmy is working closely with Heriot-Watt University to develop a native oyster restoration plan for the Firth of Forth, scoping out suitable areas for native oysters to be returned to. We asked her why she wanted to get involved with the project.

What attracted you to the role?

I came across the role on a social media group of marine biologist friends. I noticed that the role involved native oysters and, already being in the field of native oyster restoration, my interest was piqued. Going through the job description was like going through a checklist of requirements for my dream job and I knew that I had to apply!

At the time, I was working in an aquaculture facility producing native oyster spat specifically for the restoration market. While I enjoyed the contribution I was making to restoration, I wanted to be involved in a more hands-on approach and use my experience and skills to facilitate this. I love sharing my passion for the sea with people and the social aspect of this role was a large bonus.

I get to chat to similar marine enthusiasts daily. It's inspiring to see so many people coming together to help improve our local marine environment.

I've been part of the Firth of Forth community since my childhood and have seen the impact increasing industrialisation has had on the natural environment; from a petrol plant, sewage works and naval shipyards, to infrastructure development such as the iconic Firth of Forth bridges. I've witnessed first-hand the negative impact humans have had on the environment - I'm so excited to be part of this project and be involved at the beginning of reversing some of this damage.

What do you think a successful outcome for this exciting project would look like?

We hope that this project will create a baseline population for native oysters and seagrass and that over time, this will become self-sustaining. Community involvement will be a massive part of this project as we want the community to take pride in these restored areas - and to continue protecting and monitoring them for years to come.

This project has a community-led vision and having that engagement from the start will really encourage people to act and be more aware of their surrounding marine space - not just in relation to native oysters and seagrass, but hopefully to the wider environment. It will teach people that all our actions are connected and that we can have a healthy relationship with the sea.

The Restoration Forth project will hopefully demonstrate the positive impact people can have on the local environment – showing how communities and scientists can come together and work towards a common goal. It could also help lay the groundwork for other community-led restoration projects.

Caitlin Godfrey, Shellfish Engagement Officer

Caitlin is leading on engaging communities around the Firth of Forth, and with support from Emmy and our expert citizen science team, will be recruiting volunteers to help return native oysters to their rightful place in the local marine ecosystem. Here she explains what she is most looking forward to about the project.

What were you doing before and what do you look forward to bringing to this project?

Prior to taking on this role at Marine Conservation Society, I worked for the Scottish Seabird Centre, a conservation and education charity in North Berwick and one of our partners in the Restoration Forth project. The Centre is perfectly placed along the East Lothian coastline to educate and enthuse visitors about the amazing seabird colonies and other marine life that lives in the Firth of Forth.

During my time at the Centre, I learned so much about how people interact with the ocean and worked closely with the Engagement and Education Teams to engage visitors in fun and interesting ways.

Looking ahead, I am excited to develop citizen science and education programmes within Restoration Forth and I’m looking forward to working with the team to think up new ways to make our project both enjoyable and accessible for local people - I can't wait to get stuck in!

"I’ll be bringing my enthusiasm, engagement experience and innovative ideas to this collaborative project."

What do you think a successful outcome for this exciting project would look like?

My role is to engage and empower local communities around the Firth of Forth to support the project in various ways - I’ll provide education, training, and volunteering opportunities. With no live native oysters currently left in the Forth, one successful outcome would be for local people to gain a greater understanding of the ecological importance of oysters within the marine environment. Oysters also have huge cultural value in this area - and we hope to re-connect communities with the fascinating and complex history of the oyster fisheries that once flourished in the Forth.

It would be brilliant if Restoration Forth could be used as a blueprint for future ecosystem-based projects with local people at its centre. We hope to draw from the amazing ecological benefits provided by oysters and use the extraordinary history of oyster fishing to inspire a local sense of community and stewardship.

The Marine Conservation Society are part of this WWF-led project, alongside Heriot-Watt University, Project Seagrass, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scottish Seabird Centre, Fife Ecology Centre, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, Edinburgh Shoreline Project and Heart of Newhaven.