An experimental artificial reef was constructed in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland as part of trials to regenerate damaged biogenic reefs formed by the horse mussel Modiolus modiolus. Experimental reef plots were constructed using Pecten maximus shell as cultch. Clumps of live adult M. modiolus were translocated from nearby natural reefs into cultch with a high profile (elevated cultch), cultch with a low profile (flattened cultch), as well as directly into the seafloor. The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that translocated mussel clumps would increase habitat complexity thus accelerating community succession and enhancing natural recruitment of M. modiolus spat. These effects were predicted to be greater on elevated cultch due to greater protection from predators and increased accessibility to food resources. Within the artificial reef array the translocated clumps had a significant positive effect on recruitment compared to cultch without mussels with average densities of spat settled on the translocated M. modiolus clumps ranging from 100 to 200 individuals m− 2 compared to 4 to 52 spat m− 2 on cultch without mussels. Recruitment of M. modiolus spat was also significantly higher on translocated horse mussels when compared to natural reefs where densities of 8–36 spat m− 2 were recorded. Reef elevation appeared to provide some degree of protection from predators but differences in translocated M. modiolus survival on the different elevation treatments were not significant. In total, 223 taxa were recorded 12 months after reef construction. The presence of translocated clumps of M. modiolus was the main driver of the increases in faunal diversity and species abundance. Application of objective criteria to assess the performance of artificial reefs suggested that translocation of M. modiolus clumps alone achieved most of the restoration objectives. Consequently this pilot study demonstrates a straightforward and realistic intervention technique that could be used to kick start the regeneration and expansion of impacted mussel and similar biogenic reefs elsewhere.