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A conservation group has demanded an inquiry into the failure of the Studland Bay voluntary no-anchor zone, branding it ‘a complete waste of time and public money’.

The controversial one-hectare-sized voluntary zone (100m x 100m), marked by yellow buoys, was set up by the Crown Estate and Natural England as part of the Studland Bay Seagrass Project and has been in place in the popular anchorage since November last year.

But new survey evidence has come to light that claims to show the buoys have moved so many times since November that it’s almost impossible for boat owners to respect the zone. (See youtube video link)

When asked what was causing the buoys to move, Southampton University researcher, Dr. Ken Collins, who conducted the surveys and posted the video, said: ‘Wave heights in Poole Bay have often exceeded 2m. The rope currently mooring the marker buoys is only 1m longer than the water depth at high water. At high water when a large wave passes by the buoy, it lifts the sinker off the seabed and transports it.’

He goes on to claim that the sinkers are too light, and that skippers tying up to the buoys are not doing it maliciously but because the explanatory note on the buoy is printed too small to read easily and has faded.

Steven Dewey, the director of Seastar Surveys, which operates the Seagrass Project, admitted that larger buoys, heavier anchors and clearer text will be introduced in the coming months but disputed Dr Collins’ conclusions about the buoys’ movements.

‘We have evidence that the buoys were deliberately moved several times in April and May,’ said Steven. ‘Our survey divers were verbally abused by one man on a powerboat during the spring and we have informed the police.’

He claims Dr Collins’ Poole Bay wave heights have no bearing on wave heights in sheltered Studland Bay and that his own daily observations since mid-June had revealed fairly good behaviour and compliance by boaters.

In a statement urging boat owners to respect the voluntary zone in the Bay, RYA planning and environmental advisor, Caroline Price, warned that the failure of voluntary zones could trigger statutory no-anchor zones instead.

‘It has been suggested that seagrass is unable to regenerate as a result of damage caused by anchoring but this link has not been proven,’ she said.

‘As the UK Government moves towards identifying and designating new Marine Conservation Zones
it is vital that voluntary management regimes can be shown to work and that legislation is not necessary to control the activities of recreational boaters.’ 

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