TRAWLING off the Sussex coast could be banned if an environmental campaign backed by Sir David Attenborough succeeds.

Fishing watchdog Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority has drawn up plans to ban trawlers from much Sussex’s waters in a bid to regenerate kelp forests.

If approved by Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, the 114 square mile exclusion zone would be nearly as big as the Isle of Wight.

Sussex Wildlife Trust conservation director Henri Brocklebank said the trawler ban would give “vital” kelp forests “breathing space” to recover.

“Kelp once stretched along 40km of the Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham, forming an underwater forest that extended at least four kilometres seaward,” she said.

“It provided a vital habitat, nursery and feeding ground for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass.

“It locked up huge quantities of carbon, helping us to fight climate change, while improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves. But within living memory, kelp in Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. There is now a chance to bring it all back.”

Ms Brocklebank said trawlers devastated kelp forests by tearing the plant from the sea floor.

“Storm damage, changing fishing practices and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging boats have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat,” she said.

“Over time, repeated passes by trawling vessels have torn kelp from the sea floor and prevented natural regeneration.”

The move is a major milestone in Britain’s first kelp “rewilding” project, known as Help Our Kelp.

Conservationist Sir David Attenborough gave his support to the campaign last year when he appeared in a film by the group.

The Help Our Kelp partnership, made up of the Blue Marine Foundation, the Marine Conservation Society, Sussex Wildlife Trust and Big Wave Productions, wants their trawler ban to be signed off quickly before another year of trawling damages the seabed.

Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “This is an initiative that tackles climate change and overfishing impacts all at once, the first of its kind in the UK.

“This is exactly what we need to be doing in marine habitats all over the world.”