THE UK’s first oyster restoration hatchery has been opened in Hampshire, which aims to provide a million oysters a year.

The University of Portsmouth and the Blue Marine Foundation (Blue) have launched the project in Langstone Harbour, next to Portsmouth in a bid to rejuvenate an industry which collapsed nearly a decade ago.

The opening of the site is expected to transform marine biodiversity and water quality in the Solent.

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Jacob Kean-Hammerson, restoration projects manager at Blue, said: “The installation of this hatchery represents a step-change for the restoration of native oysters in the Solent and further afield.

“The oysters reared in this hatchery will be used to reseed the Solent for many years, scaling up restoration efforts and helping to see the previously abundant oyster populations flourish once more.”

The native oyster has become almost extinct in the Solent and many other areas of Europe, having declined by more than 90 per cent since the 1800s.

Oyster reefs were once abundant around the British Isles and the oyster fishery in the Solent was once the largest in Europe.

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But a combination of over-extraction, disease, pollution and invasive species saw the collapse of the oyster population and the area’s fishery, which eventually closed in 2013.

The aim of the hatchery is to provide a reliable source of native oysters to enable their numbers to grow in the Solent, where they will help keep the water clean and provide food and habitat for many other marine species.

The hatchery will also allow further research into ensuring that the oysters are disease-resistant without any loss of genetic variation or adaptation to local environmental conditions.

Dr Joanne Preston, reader in marine ecology and evolution at the University of Portsmouth, said: “The biggest barrier to restoration of the native oyster, Ostrea edulis, is the lack of oysters, so we need to breed more oysters, but in a way that preserves genetic diversity, harnesses disease resistance, but doesn’t spread disease.

“We looked at hatcheries that have been instrumental to Ostrea species restoration success in the USA and Australia, and built on the UK’s heritage in shellfish production to develop a hatchery to enable us to scale up restoration in the Solent.”