My background is a varied one.
I started out as a fisherman in Scarborough, before joining the Royal Navy and spent 11 years there and in other parts of the military. I then went into the deep-sea diving industry where I was a saturation diver for a few years, before heading up to Scotland as operations manager for the RNLI for three years. I was then navigating and chief officer on various ships doing the British Antarctic Survey and that’s where I met Laura, who was chief scientist on an expedition. We put our heads together and came up with the plan to create SeaGrown.
The company allowed us to pool our areas of expertise –
I take care of the marine side and Laura takes care of the science side. When we started out, we had to obtain a licence to harvest wild seaweed from Natural England so we had to write very strict sustainability guidelines for that, and then we also had to get permission from all the landowners up and down the Yorkshire Coast, which was difficult but we did it. We kept it at an artisanal scale at first, literally hand-harvesting seaweed with a pair of kitchen scissors.
We used that seaweed to create bath and food products on a small scale for the retail market but we quickly realised you can’t sustainably harvest enough wild seaweed from the coast to meet industrial demands without doing a lot of damage to the stocks. We started looking into farming our own seaweed from scratch, and thankfully were recently offered quite a large grant from the Coastal Communities Fund, and that’s accelerated our growth really quickly.
Scarborough is a very good stretch of coast for seaweed.
I’m from here so it was by luck that we started here, but it’s a prolific area with nice cold water, lots of sunlight, rocky reefs to anchor to and nice beaches, all of which seaweed likes. We can find pretty much all the different types of seaweed on the Yorkshire Coast, but we’ve opted to farm three varieties of kelp – that’s the brown stuff you see just below the low tide mark. We might diversify later on.
Nowadays people are far more conscious about the provenance and environmental impact of their food and skincare products.
We can tick all those boxes, as seaweed grows very quickly, is 100 percent natural and organic, and caters to vegetarian and vegan markets. The term ‘superfood’ gets thrown around a lot, but seaweed really is one – it’s full of vitamins, minerals, iron and protein. The concentration is so high that you don’t need to eat stacks of the stuff either, just as an enhancement to your food. There’s also a natural compound in seaweed that is brilliant for your skin, which we can extract and create skincare products with. And while it’s doing all that it’s also benefiting the marine environment, so it’s a win-win.
Lots of biochemical industries are looking for sustainable and natural feedstocks for their products.
Once we start farming, we can access this market as seaweed makes an excellent natural feedstock [unprocessed natural material used in manufacturing and chemical processes]. A knock-on from this is that you can use extracts from seaweed to create biodegradable plastic, which has been done before. Where we’ll grow the seaweed is just open sea, so we’re essentially creating something sustainable and beneficial to society from nothing. It also takes carbon dioxide out of the water and oxygenates it at the same time, creating a great environment for marine life.
An average day is spent running around in a manic fashion trying to achieve a million things.
Since we received our funding, it’s been a case of myself and Laura charging around trying to procure equipment, everything from boats to machinery for processing, and we’ve also got projects on the go like installing a visitor’s centre. It’s been crazy but we’re driving towards this summer installation period while the weather is good in the North Sea, and then we’ll be harvesting our first crop next spring.
To keep up to date with SeaGrown’s journey visit www.seagrown.co.uk