News Article

Yanik sowing samphire seed-28.jpg

15 November 2020

Rural Matters

Claire Acheson

Green Shoots Out Of The Blue

An exciting new partnership on the West Coast is delivering environmental and commercial benefits.

Glenshiel Estate is located in Wester Ross, on the shores of Loch Duich. The Estate has recently started working with Seawater Solutions, an innovative farming company using saltwater to grow a variety of saline vegetables, including samphire, sea kale, aster and blite. Produce is sold both direct to consumers and to businesses and restaurants across the UK and overseas. By-products also include natural salt substitutes, biofuels and oils suitable for cosmetics.

Using coastal land which was previously under-utilised on the estate, Seawater Solutions have in a short time established planting areas on foreshore and pasture land, all irrigated by sea water from the loch. As well as producing niche and valuable food crops, the farming system is designed to bring a range of environmental benefits, including flood mitigation and carbon capture.

Director of Seawater Solutions, Yanik Nyberg explains:

“Globally, climate and market threats are impacting the way in which land is used. This is true of land affected by rising sea levels in Bangladesh, as it is in Scotland. Over the last 30 years, the concept of ecosystems-based approaches to land management andagriculture has surfaced, with the intention of harmonising climate resilience with the productivity of marginalised land. That serves as the basis of our activities in the Global South as it does in the Highlands. By utilising marginalised land and converting it into healthy wetland ecosystems that serve a number of environmental and economic benefits, we are able to tackle the imminent climate-focused threats along with the need for green recovery activities and job creation in rural settings.

On the beautiful Glenshiel Estate, our third project in Scotland in two years, we are redeveloping underutilised land in order to create commercially viable farms that touch on many of the climate threats in question, including rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, carbon emissions and soil health. The Highlands, with a rich history of agriculture over many centuries, highlights a significant opportunity to bring back this lost culture of agricultural innovation in the present climate and tech context. In this light, Seawater Solutions is focused on promoting natural land-based strategies involving natural wetland and saltmarsh ecosystems which tie in peripheral objectives such as local job creation and community engagement.

The Glenshiel site is the first in the UK to use intertidal land for agriculture. Sea water represents a significant resource as it is virtually limitless and full of nutrients that can sustain highly-nutritious and high-value crops without any external inputs. This allows us to introduce invaluable ecosystems on new terrain. On Glenshiel this involves the introduction of saltmarshes on rough grazing land, marsh soils, and others. New and novel crops are grown to facilitate the gradual creation of wetlands, such as Samphire, Sea Aster, and reeds, all grown with seawater. These are used for vegetables, oils, textiles and herbal extracts. Glenshiel is also the first site in the country which is growing barley with seawater, highlighting the historical significance of grain production in the Highlands, with the intention of creating the first seawater-grown Scottish Whisky.

The entire farm is run on renewable energy. Solar energy is used to deliver seawater all around the expansive site through traditional and new irrigation canals, allowing for a natural mimicry of tidal movements.”

James Baillie, a member of the family that own Glenshiel Estate, states:

“This is an exciting project, which has only been underway for 6 months. There have of course been challenges, be it the global pandemic and associated lockdown measures or the erratic and high West Coast rainfall affecting salinity levels, but Yanik and his dedicated team have dealt with all that has been thrown at them. There are obvious economic benefits, whether it is bringing marginal land into agricultural production in a sustainable way or creating employment for the local area, however it was the environmental benefits that primarily interested us. We are not only re-establishing the salt marsh and wetland ecosystems but the project also has valuable carbon capture properties.”

The family have entered into an initial 5 year joint venture arrangement with Seawater Solutions, though it is hoped that this will be the start of a long and fruitful partnership between the businesses. There are plans for expansion of the growing area and range of crops within the site over the coming season and subsequent years, with the opportunity for local long-term job creation. Local hotels and restaurants will also be able to take advantage of serving the home grown vegetables to add variety to their menus.

While agriculture has been at the forefront of the family’s land holdings for many years, it is particularly exciting to be involved in the adoption of such new and inventive farming methods, and they are looking forward to seeing how the project evolves and monitoring the environmental benefits over the coming months and years.