WILDLIFE campaigners in Dorset have backed new calls to create a ‘world class’ network of protected areas off the coast.

Leading scientists have written to PM David Cameron to demand that he implements plans in full for marine conservation zones (MCZ) in the UK seas.

It comes after the government consulted on designating just 31 zones out of a proposed 127 areas, having previously committed to creating an ‘ecologically coherent network’ of sites to protect wildlife.

Dorset Wildlife Trust has supported calls for the full network of zones.

Peter Tinsley, living seas manager at Dorset Wildlife Trust, said that the original aim was to cover enough areas to include a broad scale of habitats, including some which were not fully known about.

He added: “There is an intention to look at the next phase but no indication of when that is going to happen and what will happen if they end up with fewer sites.”

One of the proposed 31 MCZ sites is part of the Jurassic Coast including Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges off Portland and Abbotsbury but Studland and Kimmeridge are not included.

A two-year £8million process involving conservation groups, experts and marine industries drew up the 127 zones in English seas, which included 65 highly protected areas where all damaging activity such as fishing would be banned.

The government’s subsequent decision to consult on 31 areas, with no highly protected or ‘reference areas’ planned, prompted dismay among wildlife and scientific experts.

Some 86 leading scientists have written to the Prime Minister demanding the ‘world-class’ network of protected areas.

The move has been led by Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, and signatories include Professor Sir John Lawton, who recently led an independent review for the government on wildlife sites.

The scientists also include professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at Zoological Society of London, and senior professors and researchers at a number of UK universities, signed the letter in a personal capacity.

The letter stated: “A failure to implement all the proposed areas has thrown the process of creating a coherent network of zones into confusion and disarray.

“To restore confidence, we urge you to reaffirm your government’s commitment to establishing a comprehensive, world-class network of marine conservation zones that delivers high levels of protection from damaging activities, especially mobile fishing gears, and to publish a clear timetable for the completion of the network, including reference areas.”

Home to coral oysters

WILDLIFE in the sea off Dorset includes the native oyster on the Stennis Ledges.

Lyme Bay is also home to pink sea-fan corals. They are vulnerable to damage caused by beam trawling, scallop dredging, and boat anchoring.

There have also been ongoing campaigns to protect seahorses off the Dorset coast.

Campaigners say that boat anchors have damaged populations at Purbeck.