The Boat Owners Response Group (BORG) say part of the Studland eelgrass report is 'badly flawed'

Last Spring the

Marine Protected Areas in the Atlantic Arc (MAIA) report on
man-made impacts on Studland

eelgrass was published.

NECR111

Pt2 of this report highlighted what was described as ‘serious fragmentation and

deterioration’ of the eelgrass beds at the popular anchorage on the South Coast.

The

Boat Owners Response Group (BORG) say this

was taken up by conservation organisations and highlighted in the national

press and on BBC television as an example of ‘uncaring yachtsmen destroying

the environment’ of seahorses.

BORG asked its science advisor and photographic imaging expert Dr M Simons to

examine the MAIA report more fully.

In

October 2013, Dr Simons published a critique of the techniques used. This

critique was passed to Natural England and the Environment Agency, who launched

an investigation under Dr Jen Ashworth.

The report was also passed to the Environment Agency’s Geomatics

section, where it was examined by two senior imaging experts.

BORG

founder Jon Reed said as

a result, Dr Ashworth has withdrawn the NECR111 Pt 2 Studland, report for

reappraisal, and possible re-drafting.

Mr Reed said the response they had received from the Geomatics section suggests there is ‘little justification in the call to limit or ban

mooring, anchoring and leisure boating activity in the Bay or in any area in

which eelgrass exists whether or not it becomes an MCZ.’

He said: ‘If the Geomatics experts are right, the claim that anchoring disturbs

the habitat of the protected species that live in the Bay, particularly the seahorses that have figured so large in the public eye last summer, is also

disproved.

‘Yachtsmen

and local Residents have always maintained that boating activity in the bay

does little or no harm to the environment or ecology, a view strongly supported

by the RYA.

‘Nevertheless

BORG and the Royal Yachting Association, in collaboration with Studland residents, and Dorset and

Hampshire Wildlife Trusts, produced last year a guide to anchoring in the bay

to help boat owners minimise any possible disturbance to the wildlife during

their visit.’

The Seahorse

Trust hit back

However

Neil Garrick-Maidment, executive director of The Seahorse

Trust, has blasted this report condemnment as ‘clutching at straws.’

He

said: ‘I

would like to point out yet again from the seahorse point of view, that the

legally binding Wildlife and Countryside Act still stands for this site due to

the presence of Spiny Seahorses and as such, mitigation has to legally be put

into place to protect the seahorses and their place of shelter.’

He

added: ‘As recent weather patterns have shown, we cannot ignore the effects of

global warming and the additional damage being caused as pointed out still in

MAIA and other reports shows that this is happening quite conclusively at South

Beach. Without the seagrass meadow there will be further beach erosion, cliff

falls (both of which are already beginning to happen).

‘To ignore this damage

and potential loss of seagrass, beach and cliffs is fatally flawed.’

Mr Garrick-Maidment

said environmentally friendly moorings would be the best compromise.

Natural England’s response

A Natural England spokesperson said: ‘Natural England have completed the first stage of the investigation into the complaints made by Dr M Simons on behalf of the Boat Owners Response Group (BORG) regarding the MAIA report which looked into the man-made impacts on eelgrass beds in Studland Bay.

‘As part of this we asked the Environment Agency to carry out an independent assessment of the use of aerial photography as they have the necessary technical expertise to do this.

‘Following this preliminary investigation the authors have agreed that there are some errors in calculating the area of seabed covered by sand from aerial photographs and will look at the data again.

‘The authors are now going through the Environment Agency’s other comments and will respond to the points made. Until we receive their response we cannot say what, if any, implications it will have for the conclusions of the report.

‘Whilst the investigation continues we have temporarily taken the report off the website. We will share our findings with the BORG when available, with the intention to update the MAIA report.’

Pictures: File images of seahorses and Studland Bay