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Survival expert and environmentalist Ray Mears honours environmental hero with National Lottery Award

26th October 2023

Bushcraft and survival expert, Ray Mears, has honoured an inspirational environmental hero with a National Lottery Award in recognition of his pioneering work restoring lost biodiversity on the Scottish coastline.

Ray Mears presenting Danny Renton with his National Lottery Award.
Ray Mears presenting Danny Renton with his National Lottery Award.

The author and broadcaster presented CEO and founder of Seawilding, Danny Renton, with his prize today after it was announced he had won the Environment award in the National Lottery Awards 2023.

The National Lottery Awards celebrate the inspirational people and organisations across the UK who have done extraordinary things with National Lottery funding.

Based on Loch Craignish in Argyll, Seawilding is the UK’s first community-led native oyster and seagrass restoration project. Its aim is to restore lost coastal ecosystems and create green jobs, as well as transform the education of marine science and conservation.

Danny founded Seawilding in 2020 and now leads a team of seven staff and with regular support from up to 60 volunteers. The team use pioneering methods to restore the loch’s seabed, damaged overtime by scallop dredging, over-fishing and pollution, back to its best, all the while training and empowering other coastal communities to follow suit.

Among the charity’s impressive efforts, the team have spent three years trialling different methodologies to enable seabed restoration at scale in Scottish waters. They have harvested and replanted hundreds of thousands of seagrass seeds to restore lost seagrass meadows, which have capacity to capture carbon at scale.  In 2023, the team built a small seagrass nursery to research germination rates and they’ve been trialling rhizome transplanting by which thousands of seagrass plants are moved from donor meadows to restoration areas.

As well as the team’s work in planting seagrass, they are also ‘rewilding’ native oysters which act as natural water filters and create vital fish nurseries and spawning grounds. So far, the team have hand-placed around 350,000 junior oysters, around 1.7 tonnes’ worth, on the seabed. They plan to put down another 700,000 in the coming years.  

“It takes years to restore damaged eco-systems, but our surveys already indicate that there’s a lot more marine life in the areas we are restoring than before. We know it works!” says Danny.

With regular events across the area, Seawilding, which is currently looking for other sites across Scotland to replicate their approach, helps to train other coastal community groups in its pioneering methodologies as well as reach out to potential volunteers for support in its vital but labour-intensive work.  

Seawilding received a grant of £216,400 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2020 to work in partnership with Craignish Restoration of Marine and Coastal Habitats (CROMACH).

Danny Renton National Lottery Awards 2023 Environment winner
Danny Renton National Lottery Awards 2023 Environment winner.

Danny continued: "Seawilding aims to restore coastal habitats and to help address the tragic decline of marine biodiversity. We are a team of impassioned and experienced people, and our goal is to help other coastal community groups do this rewarding work.  

"It’s a real privilege to win a National Lottery Award and receive this recognition for the whole team. National Lottery funding has been key to the success of our project. It helped us get started on this important work and for that we are immensely grateful." 

When nominations for the National Lottery Awards opened earlier this year, members of the public were called upon to put forward individuals who have made an incredible impact in their community with the help of National Lottery funding.

A judging panel whittled down more than 3,700 incredible nominees to just six winners and Danny faced stiff competition to become the winner in this year’s Environment category.

Winners in each category received a £5,000 cash prize for their organisation and a National Lottery Awards trophy.

Over the past 5 years, £2million of National Lottery funding has created 45 biodiversity projects looking to create long-term environmental change across the UK.

Ray Mears and Danny Renton with his National Lottery Award.
Ray Mears and Danny Renton with his National Lottery Award.

Ray Mears travelled to Argyll to present Danny with his trophy and learn more about the work of Seawilding.

Ray said: “Our coastal waters are vitally important so it’s inspiring to see Danny and the Seawilding team doing such groundbreaking work in restoring marine ecosystems. They are proof that it’s possible to bring life back to our waters for us all to benefit from – above and below the waves.

“It’s an incredible honour to give Danny this trophy for The National Lottery Awards Environment accolade. Danny is an inspiring example of empowering a community to take action and use skills and knowledge to make a real difference.

“Funding raised by National Lottery players has been critical in the success of this project and the work of Danny and the Seawilding team proves how vitally important it is to support direct conservation projects if we want to secure a more sustainable environment for the future.”

Ray Mears and Danny Renton
Ray Mears and Danny Renton.

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps people like Danny continue to carry out incredible work in their communities.