PLANS to protect Studland Bay’s precious marine ecosystems are proving successful

Throughout 2023, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Studland Bay Marine Partnership (SBMP) have continued to take forward initiatives to help the area.

Studland Bay’s shallow waters are an established haven for seagrass.

This endangered habitat serves as nursery and feeding grounds for rare species of seahorse, pipefish and rays as well commercially valuable species such as seabream, bass and flat fish.

The seagrass, however, is at risk from factors such as climate change and the dropping of boat anchors which can scour the seabed and permanently damage the fragile habitat.

It is also famously important to the long-snouted seahorse, as it is the only known area in the UK in which they breed.

Recognising the importance of safeguarding the seagrass for the future, the MMO with the support of the local community established a voluntary no anchor zone (VNAZ) over the main area of seagrass in 2021.

The Studland Bay Marine Partnership was also formed and has brought together conservation and boating organisations, academics, grassroots community groups and local businesses to devise solutions that meet the needs of the public, whilst also protecting and restoring the sensitive seagrass habitats.

This year, MMO and SBMP have continued to work together to engage the local community, encourage positive behaviour change and find innovative solutions to safeguard Studland’s seagrass.

This has included:

• Face to face engagement with local marine businesses, boaters and marinas to spread awareness amongst the boating community of the importance of protecting seagrass and voluntary measures that have been introduced.

• Pop-up SBMP events throughout the summer at key locations, including Studland South Beach and Poole Quay, engaging with visitors, families and local people.

• This year SBMP has successfully fundraised and installed an additional 21 ecomoorings, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to anchoring. This brings the total number in the bay up to 43.

• MMO has further supported the partnership with bids to secure funding for additional ecomooring, with plans in place to have up to 100 in place next year.

• MMO has been working hard to ensure the VNAZ is marked clearly on digital maps and charts.

• Both organisations have explored funding options and licensing for marker buoys to clearly mark out the area of VNAZ on the surface of the water next year. • MMO has also been investigating the potential use of satellite and drone imagery to improve its monitoring of the bay in the future.

Local boater and member of SBMP, Jim Atkins said: “This year I’ve seen all these initiatives making a real difference in the bay.

"On one summer’s evening I was pleased to report 100% compliance with the voluntary measures and many boaters opting to use the many ecomoorings that are available for all to use.

"Chatting with those boater owners, I was pleased to hear that all were aware of the seagrass, the VNAZ and importance of conserving the area for the future.’’

Jessica Churchill-Bisset, Head of Marine Conservation (non-licensable activities and wildlife) MMO, said: “Throughout the boating season and beyond, we will continue to work closely with SBMP to highlight the need for conserving Studland’s precious seagrass habitats.

"It’s important that during this process we listen to the feedback and needs of local people and adjust our approach according. We’ll shortly be launching our 2023 review at the end of this year to gather your views and comments.’’

David Brown, from National Trust Purbeck Estate and Chair of SBMP, said: “Over the last year, the SBMP has continued to build support within the local community and wider stakeholders and we are now taking positive action to conserve the seagrass while still allowing people to enjoy Studland Bay.

"The MMO has become an increasingly supportive partner in this work; rather than just being a hands-off regulating body, we now work closely together to develop ideas and plans, find funding support and raise awareness of marine conservation with wider audiences.’’

Coming soon and separate to work undertaken within the bay in recent years, MMO will be hosting a workshop dedicated to exploring, gathering and assessing the diverse perspectives on Studland Bay shared by local people and national Studland Bay users on 15-16 November 2023. They encourage you to please sign-up now to secure your place.