A BAN on kelp dredging could cost the country £300 million, it is claimed.

Ayr-based Marine Biopolymers (MBL) wants to harvest 30,000 tonnes of the seaweed off the west coast as it seeks to turn material manufactured from the plant into eco-friendly bioplastics and even high-strength transparent visors and shields for use by the police and armed forces.

But it says MSPs could wash away the chance to create a big-money business if they pass new legislation that bans kelp dredging later this week.

The move could be passed in the Scottish Crown Estate Bill on Wednesday.

Measures outlawing the practice were written into the legislation after more than 14,000 people signed a petition in favour of the protection.

Veteran naturalist Sir David Attenborough has also spoken out in support, saying it is “absolutely imperative that we protect our kelp forests”.

But MBL co-founder David Mackie insisted its plans to harvest the seaweed laminaria hyperborea are “entirely sustainable”.

As MBL developed its processes to remove alginate from the seaweed, it found marine cellulose was also produced.

Mark Dorris, of Edinburgh Napier University, has been working with that to create new nanocellulose products said to be better than the wood pulp-derived alternative.

This raw product can be turned into bioplastics to be used in food packaging for products such as sandwiches and ready meals, but work has also been taking place with the Ministry of Defence to develop a “transparent armour” which could be used for helmet visors and body shields by police and the armed services.

Mackie said: “We worked long and hard to develop our process, basically we have turned the whole alginate processing upside down, to get to what is absolutely unique, nobody else does it.”

Dorris added: “I would ask and expect the green lobby to get right behind it.

“This is a green technology, it is a green project and it will be worth an awful lot of money to the Scottish economy.

“It is estimated in five years’ time the global market for nanocellulose will be a billion dollar industry, and it’s a simple stark choice – either we lead the world or other people do it and we chip in from the sidelines.”

Meanwhile, campaigners from the Help the Kelp and No Kelp Dredging drives have asked urged MSPs not to water down protection for a “building block” of the sub-sea ecosystem in favour of “private profit”.