This blog is about Arwen and my sailings in her; and my slow journey learning to sail and navigate. However, I make no apology for occasionally commenting on issues relating to sailing. The closure of coastguard stations has been one and the other thus far has been the voluntary no anchoring zone in Studland Bay. If people reading the blog are not interested in these occasional diversions, then I fully understand and they are free to not read them and then come back when it’s more focused on Arwen. On both occasions when I have expressed an opinion, I have been accused of not being fully informed by one of the parties involved in the issue. One might almost feel that perhaps in this day and age I shouldn’t have an opinion. Now they argue I should be more fully informed – well – I do read around carefully and I do look across the internet before I comment and then I make a view. Just because it isn’t necessarily the one they want to hear doesn’t make me wrong – although you might think so from some of the comments I have had!
So, if you are someone just interested in my voyages in Arwen – switch pages now because this blog update isn’t about Arwen. Please check in again on my next posting when normal service will be resumed – I promise; and please forgive me from deviating away from the primary aim of this blog. Go visit Steve or Robert's blogs....but please do come back - I enjoy your patronage and valuable comments.
So that I cannot be accused by either side of being non objective in the issue over Studland – I’ve spent a few hours trawling the net. I’ve read parish blogs; reports; website summaries; and most interestingly forums for conservationists and yachting people. I must say there are some rather rude and somewhat dismissive people out there whose language, invective and insults are frankly puerile. You can of course, do this research yourself – you will soon see what I mean. There are thank heavens many well balanced articulate people who make a good case both for and against the no anchoring zone. I find that immensely reassuring.
So in an effort to summarise some of what is being said out there – I place below what I have COPIED from the various websites, blogs and forums. It isn’t an extensive, exhaustive research – I do have a life! And I refrain from giving any opinion one way or the other – you are all intelligent people – and can decide for yourselves where you stand. I am not supporting either viewpoint in this blog – what you see below is what is out there. I freely acknowledge it cannot do justice to everything that has been published on the web on this matter. It will be my last posting on this issue. Normal service resumes next blog.
The situation as I understand it:
A Marine bill was passed by Parliament a couple of years ago which made provision for a number of Marine Conservation zones to be selected around the coast of England and for these areas to be set up by 2012. The areas are referred to as Marine Protected areas or marine conservation zones (MPAs/MCZs). This is a new process involving ecology, socio-economics and stakeholders for deciding where these MCZs should be. Each of the MCZs will be sited to protect different species and/or habitats. The types of activity that could be restricted at each MCZ will vary depending on what is being protected. Activities that cause no damage are unlikely to be restricted.
The Government has set up through DEFRA a semi official group called Finding Sanctuary. This group of committees is to research which areas of sea should be designated MPAs/MCZs around the coast of South West England. These areas will be recommended to the Government during 2011 to become law in 2012. Natural England, Crown Estates, County Councils, National Trust and others are all part of Finding Sanctuary.
Seahorses and their habitats are now protected under European legislation. There is considerable interest in these delightful little creatures worldwide and scientific research is being carried out to find out more about them. Where Seahorses breed, live etc is still relatively unknown.
The Crown Estates with Natural England were carrying out a 2 year survey by having a Voluntary no anchor zone (VNAZ) to compare an area where boats do not anchor/moor with an area where they do. This is in Studland Bay. The results of this Survey will be known in 2012. This being carried out by Seastar survey Ltd - an independent marine survey company based in Southampton specialising in supplying a range of environmental, oceanographic and hydrographic services to both the offshore and coastal industries.
Part of the study will also consider the practicality of replacing several existing swinging mooring chains with new eco-friendly riser systems and the long term status of moorings in Studland Bay. The study will be overseen by a steering group comprising representatives of The Crown Estate, Natural England, Royal Yachting Association and the Chair of the Studland Sea grass and Seahorse Study Group (SSSSG). An independent reviewer will be appointed to join this steering group to advise on the project plan and review its findings. The SSSSG is an informal, non-statutory, focus and discussion group, formed of interested parties including: Dorset Wildlife Trust, local residents, National Trust, Natural England, Poole yacht clubs, Royal Yachting Association (RYA), Seahorse Trust, Studland Parish Council, and The Crown Estate. Concurrently Natural England is funding a communications project, to be overseen by the Dorset Wildlife Trust and delivered by the SSSSG, aimed at explaining the presence, value and sensitivity of the sea grass and associated seahorse population in Studland Bay as well as communicating the aims of the study and the objectives of the voluntary no-anchor zone. The Seahorse Trust, with funding from the National Lottery, are also undertaking a seahorse tagging project at Studland in an effort to understand more about these elusive creatures.
Arguments for protection from various conservation bodies available on the web:
• Some mooring chains do scour sea grass around moorings sinker
• Studland is an amazing site cherished by locals and visitors alike and as such is an important centre of tourism in the local and national area. Celebration of the amazing resident seahorses at Studland will safeguard that in times of economic relapse evidenced by huge interest in the area because of the seahorses and extra visitors to the area. To continue this Studland needs protection. It is highly fragile and the scientific research conducted on the site by the seahorse trust and National Oceanography Centre suggests it is at risk from destruction due to misuse and from illegal (according to Crown Estates) badly designed moorings.
• The sea horse trust argues for the removal of all the existing moorings replacing them with environmentally friendly moorings; increasing the number of moorings so that visitors could use them instead of dropping their anchors into the Sea grass would meet both economic prosperity, sailing and ecological needs. Ecological moorings would be sand screw types is not a cork screw - an 8 or 10 or 12 inch blade in the shape of an Archimedes screw with one 360* turn. Used extensively in the Caribbean each screw costs approx $120
• Some of the seahorse trust scientists have 30 yrs experience and published many books, hundreds of journal articles and been advisors to many projects internationally and nationally – they have an academic, rigorously scrutinize scientific background
• Studland mainly has the Spiny Seahorses with sightings of the Short Snouted Seahorses and it is an internationally important breeding site for the Spiny Seahorse, based on scientific observations.
• earliest sightings for seahorses at Studland have been the end of February and the latest sightings in the year have been the beginning of December; during the stormy part of the year they move just off shore to overcome the strong storms and gales that affect the site. As soon as the weather abates the Seahorses come back inshore slowly working their way in as the weather gets better and the sea grass starts to grow; they have to come inshore to feed as the site is full of the small crustacea that the Seahorse feed on.
• Experienced researchers and conservationists have never seen evidence of seahorses benefiting from the cover of boats or the so called thickening of sea grass around the mooring buoys
• the sea grass around the moorings buoys is usually so scoured and degraded that very little can live in it and the sand is very fluid around the buoys meaning that the seabed is unstable.
• Recently an American researcher has raised the issue of wasting disease being present in the sea grass
• Opposers to conservation have yet to provide any evidence supporting their case/arguments; if they can supply evidence to support their claim – the various conservation groups will be very keen to work with them and jointly try to solve issues around Studland bay proposed MCZ
• A vocal local minority opposition group have vested financial interests in this area and it is not out of altruism that they are speaking.
• In 2009 the Studland Sea grass & Seahorse Study Group set out to determine if the high level of boating activity at South Beach was impacting on the underwater habitat of the bay and to raise awareness of the importance of the area for marine wildlife. The Group includes Natural England, The National Trust, The Crown Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust, The Seahorse Trust, The Royal Yachting Association, Poole yacht clubs, Studland Parish Council, Bournemouth and Southampton Universities and local businesses. Beach wardens every day during July and August carried out a questionnaire survey, monitored boat numbers and talked to people about the seahorses and other wildlife. Their findings showed that over 68% of people questioned were in favour of protecting the site from damage while less than 1% felt there was no need for any protection. On good weather days they found that boat numbers reached over 150 (or even 200) at any one time during the afternoon and with boats continuously coming and going the total number of boats anchoring and mooring in a single day was over 300. The wardens found that visitors to Studland were delighted to find that seahorses lived just a few yards from the beach and they often had a queue of people waiting to talk to them and ask questions.
• Also during the summer The Seahorse Trust, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and under licence from Natural England, carried out the first stage of a seahorse tagging project, using a method that has been tried and tested abroad and found to have no adverse impact on the animals. The findings from this project showed that seahorses pair up and stay together during the breeding season which lasts until the winter storms and cold weather arrive. The males stay in a very small area, just a few yards square and this makes them especially vulnerable to damage of their small breeding patch. (The Studland Bay Preservation Association doesn’t agree with a ‘tagging’ project proposed by Sea horse trust)
• In October 2009 the voluntary no-anchor zone was installed, marked by 6 yellow buoys, and a Notice to Mariners was published to make boaters aware of its position. Also during the year, a leaflet was produced to raise awareness of the high wildlife importance of the site, and a postcard printed to show boaters where the voluntary no-anchor zone was located. Widely distributed to yacht clubs in the area.
• Seastar Surveys allege that the buoys were deliberately moved several times in April and May and their survey divers were verbally abused by one man on a powerboat during the spring which was reported to the police
• An academic report (The Collins report) noted that every time an anchor full of weed is raised, it damages the root mat that holds the eelgrass bed together. At the beginning of his 2 year study, Dr Collins identified areas where he had seen this happening, and marked them for intensive study. This was based on acknowledged thorough methods. At the end of the 2 year period, the gap left in the rhizome layer (root mat) had if anything marginally increased, the sand quality was much coarser, and the edge of the rhizome layer was being undercut by wave action. Collins found that anchor damage to the Eelgrass bed does not heal itself as would be expected. He therefore concludes that anchoring in it could possibly contribute to the decline of the Eelgrass beds and that anchoring should not be regarded as a sustainable activity on the site. He therefore recommends that the site be protected
Arguments from local area sites, yachting groups etc for not protecting the site
• evidence on sea horse numbers and spread of eel grass is anecdotal and that no official and substantiated survey on boat numbers using area has been carried out
• Local fishermen report fishing in area has improved significantly in recent years and that there is insufficient evidence to support argument that anchoring is damaging eel grass
• Eel grass has increased considerably over last 50 yrs; winter storms deposit it on low tide line every year and it seems to replenish itself
• There are approximately 50 moorings – owned by locals – some there for 50 yrs so wouldn’t they have destroyed beds by now?;
• not all moorings are in eelgrass beds and any scouring around existing moorings is a small amount of the overall sea grass meadow area
• the proposed eco moorings are untested in open seas; unlikely to be accepted by insurance companies; are costly and will require regular maintenance; proposing another 100 such eco moorings would cover large areas of the bay and need to be sited further out so not affording shelter/protection to boats
• Published photos of anchors ripping up eel grass actually show dead or moulted eelgrass; insignificant amounts compared to the winter easterlies which rip out large quantities onto the beach
• Sandy patches reported in eel grass beds and purported to be by anchors are also found in areas where boats don’t anchor
• Recent report by Dr Collins concludes anchoring COULD damage eel grass doesn’t prove anything – his report doesn’t take into account gullies, tide runs, seabed contours etc
• Eelgrass doesn’t like freshwater and so that is why there are sandy patches on Google earth at freshwater outlets into the bay
• Dorset wildlife trust, marine conservation society, natural England and national oceanographic centre at Southampton university are intent on taking over the bay and managing it, banning anchoring and moorings
• The bay doesn’t need managing say locals
• The Seahorse trust (SHT) have moderated their aims recently – settling for multiuse in the bay and the need for eco moorings; this isn’t how they started out; their theories have been exposed as untrue – see the save Studland bay preservation association; SHT are allegedly refusing to answer questions
• Sums of £10,000 have been spent funding surveys which were not needed; opponents deplore the waste of public monies spent on Seahorses/Eelgrass studies. They wish the Bay to be left as it is free for all to enjoy in harmony with the marine life. The grant of £10,000 from Natural England was wasted. One of the main aims of the PR campaign was to promote the existence of The Voluntary No Anchor Zone (VNAZ). As there was no VNAZ (it was not in place till later in October) this aim was not achieved. The wrong people were targeted-families on the beach were not particularly interested in VNAZs. A boat was used on one day to go and talk to yachts anchored in the Bay. Thousands of leaflets were seen unused in the N Trust kiosk.
• Sea horses have been breeding and visiting the bay over the last 100 years and this is documented and boating does not seem to have interfered with their numbers thus far
• The area selected for conservation and protection from mooring and anchoring has probably been selected by Seahorse enthusiasts, who would like to see neither anchoring nor mooring in the areas of the Eelgrass beds. These enthusiasts consist in the main of a few divers who are fanatical about Seahorses. They have carried out a relentless media campaign to further their own ends. This has been partially successful and has misled large numbers of the public.
• The media headlines that there is a breeding Colony, which implies they are present all year round, in the eelgrass beds of Studland Bay is unlikely. A local view is that Seahorses, like other marine life, arrive in The Bay for the summer months.
• The Seahorses also enjoy a certain amount of shade from the boats moored and anchored above. In early September along with other marine life they start to move out to sea for their wintering waters. By the time of the autumn storms around the time of the autumn equinox (late September) they are gone.
• The Eelgrass beds in the Bay have expanded considerably in the last few years and now spread across parts of the Bay where a few years ago there was just a sandy seabed. The thickest and most healthy beds are found amongst the Moorings which offer protection from the Fishing trawlers which come into the Bay dragging their nets along the sea bed.
• Media coverage of how the moorings and anchoring cause damage to the beds is grossly exaggerated and has been fed to the Media by a few Seahorse fanatics. The fact that the beds are expanding and so healthy is proof that misinformation has been fed to the media.
• The danger is that the many uses of the Bay will be curtailed just because Seahorses are present for a short time in the summer months. The hundreds of yachts/motor launches which anchor in the Bay during the summer may be forced to go elsewhere.
• Hopefully all uses of the sea will be taken into consideration before any degree of protection is imposed. There is a danger, however that decisions will be taken which will limit people’s enjoyment. Any decision to ban boats from anchoring/mooring in The Bay off South beach has serious implications for local businesses in Studland. The cafe, shop, Pub, Hotels, B&Bs etc will all suffer.
• It is alleged that neither the Seahorse Trust, The Marine Conservation Society or Natural England have sat down with the residents of Studland to get their views on the proposed new eco moorings which appear to be an eye sore and this is a disgrace . Also if moorings are placed in Studland Bay the berks with speedboats etc will try to stay there all week if not all season, requiring regular patrols and probably the odd lifeboat...
• New eco moorings will lead to further developments on the beach e.g. diving headquarters on the beach selling diving tours & equipment; more infrastructure like safety boats & marshals controlling people’s behaviour collecting mooring fees etc. This will spoil the character of Studland Bay.
• The buoys marking the no anchoring zone 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.
• The presence of undulate rays in Studland Bay shows....is that what exists is an already healthy ecosystem. Undulate rays like to eat seahorses and the seahorses are thriving to such an extent that they have attracted predators. The seahorses are thriving because their eelgrass habitat is thriving and in fact covers a greater area of Studland Bay than it did 65 years ago
• It is difficult to escape the conclusion that recreational boaters are having and have had no significant detrimental impact on the ecosystem of Studland Bay.
• RYA and BORG both take the view that the site has survived 80+ years of known use as an anchorage and that the Eelgrass beds are not in any apparent decline, so that the long term effect of anchoring has had little overall impact on the area. Banning anchoring will have no significant effect on the habitat, and will prevent access to an important and unique south coast anchorage. BORG has already submitted a report on the significance of Studland Bay to boat owners directly to MMO, the national authority with final responsibility for setting up the MCZs, who have promised to circulate it to the national stakeholder representatives.
I do not subscribe to or promote any of the above views for one or other parties in this issue.