Ed Dolphin writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group.

Sidmouth Herald: Ed Dolphin of Sidmouth ArboretumEd Dolphin of Sidmouth Arboretum (Image: Archant)

Seaweed is wonderful stuff and volunteers from the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group are joining a national survey of plant life between high and low water marks around our coasts.

The Natural History Museum and Marine Conservation Society are running a citizen science project, The Big Seaweed Search, recording the seaweeds around the coasts of Britain. Having surveyed Sidmouth’s flowering plants, including those that live on the beach, the Biodiversity Group is moving its search below the high tide mark to see which seaweeds are growing on Chit Rocks.

Seaweeds are incredibly important plants that help keep us alive.

There is more seaweed ‘forest’ around our shores than all of our woodland.

The seaweed produces a lot of our oxygen, it is part of the food chain that gives us seafood, from prawns to cod, many seaweeds are nutritious foods, seaweed absorbs a lot of the energy of storm waves to reduce coastal erosion, and it produces natural chemicals that are used in products from ice cream to toothpaste.

There was a Victorian craze for studying and collecting seaweeds.

The Museum has three books of pressed seaweed specimens.

Much of the scientific work was done by a brilliant lady, Amelia Griffiths, who lived in Ottery for many years and probably studied the seaweeds on Chit Rocks 200 years ago.

Like other 19th century female scientists such as Ada Lovelace, Amelia is not as famous as her male contemporaries, men such as Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur. Amelia moved to Torquay in 1829 to extend her studies and was consulted regularly by scientists across Europe.

Seaweeds are primitive plants that were around for millions of years before flowering plants.

As plants, they manufacture their own food by photosynthesis, but there are three distinct groups, green, red, and brown.

They all have chlorophyll, but the red and brown seaweeds have other pigments that enable them to use more of the light that penetrates into the seawater and allows them to thrive in the murky depths where green plants could not survive.

You can find out more about seaweeds and the survey by visiting the “Big Seaweed Search” website.