MSP recognised for her support of flame shell beds

MSP Maree Todd has been recognised by local marine conservationists

Maree Todd, the SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands, became a Species Champion through the award-winning Scottish Environment LINK Species Champions programme which involves MSPs championing different wildlife species that need extra help to ensure their long term future.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) had nominated flame shells as one of the species available to champion in the LINK programme.

To date 90 MSPs have become Species Champions. Aptly named for their bright orange tentacles which emerge from their shells to collect food, flame shells also produce sticky threads which combine small stones and shell debris to create a nest.

When many of these nests form together, a flame shell bed is created, able to house hundreds of other organisms in a reef-like structure, suitable as nursery grounds for many species of fish and shellfish.

Flame shells grow to 2.5-4cm across but their beds can contain over 100 million individuals over 75 hectares.

They favour relatively shallow water with a moderate or strong current.

Whole beds may be demolished by mechanical disturbance from scallop dredgers and bottom trawlers, killing many of the organisms and young fish which make their home there, which is why we welcome the protection afforded them in several of Scotland’s recent Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Pollution also affects the delicate reefs created by Flame shell beds.

Maree Todd was presented with a framed certificate to acknowledge her support of flame shells by pupils from the Primary School and members of the Ullapool Wildlife Watch Group, coordinated by MCS Sea Champion, Laura Shirra in Ullapool.

The MSP was presented with the certificate at her old primary school and said: “It’s an absolute pleasure for me to come back to Ullapool Primary School, the school I went to as a child. Because I grew up in a fishing village, I was very aware of the importance of the sea to our community and the need for good stewardship. Herring fishing built the village, but overfishing meant that there was very little left by 1977 when I started school. There’s a flame shell bed at the narrows of Loch Broom so I’m pleased that the children in Ullapool have been learning about the flame shell, and how important it is to commercial fish stocks and indeed the whole ecosystem in our Loch.”

Jenny Grant, Wester Ross Ranger of the Highland Council said “Flame shells are a rare species found in the waters around the west coast and I’m keen to teach the children living locally about these wonderful animals and the beauty and importance of the underwater world as a whole.”

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation in Scotland said “We are delighted that the local community and Maree Todd recognise the importance of these humble but striking marine ecosystem engineers. After many years of hard work, protection for many flame shell beds has been ensured in several of Scotland’s nature conservation Marine Protected Areas designated in 2014, including the Wester Ross MPA. It makes economic as well as environmental sense to protect these habitats, since they shelter young fish and shellfish as they feed and grow, including commercial species. Thanks to Maree and the community for championing them locally!”

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