RYA steps in over plans to ban boats from Studland Bay

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has responded to plans from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) Habitat Protection Strategy.

The RYA has made several recommendations to the MMO for a conservation approach which recognises the practical and safety implications of its plans on recreational use. A key recommendation from the RYA is to co-ordinate the introduction of the Voluntary No Anchoring Zone (VNAZ) with the provision of moorings to provide boaters with a workable alternative to anchoring.

The Habitat Protection Strategy, which includes a VNAZ, proposal for mooring licensing plans and an annual monitoring process, will be introduced over six months between December 2021 and June 2022. The RYA says the approach gives little time to determine impacts on or from recreational boating and has recommended a longer phased introduction over two years (2022 to 2023) to enable monitoring of outcomes to ensure the protection of both the seagrass habitat and boating interests, alongside better community engagement.

As the MMO’s plans currently stand, there is a risk that users will have no means of mooring safely in the area until a licence for moorings is granted. The MMO is not able to provide additional moorings and no third party has yet submitted a marine licence to do so.

The MMO has stated that the strategy ‘aims to protect the designated features of the MCZ and ensure that marine activities can continue in a sustainable way.’

The RYA says the strategy put forward from the MMO does not include plans to mark the site so that boat users do not mistakenly anchor there. Instead, the MMO is relying on identifying the area on charts. The RYA’s view is that it may take some time for this information to become available, with recreational sailors finding it difficult to identify the site in the meantime. The RYA has proposed the installation of information signs on marker buoys to indicate the perimeter and reason for the restrictions to recreational boaters. A similar initiative is already successfully in place at Jennycliff Bay in Plymouth Sound.

Image courtesy of Emily Whiting

The RYA also recommends that the MMO develops a communications strategy, which will raise awareness of the importance of careful anchoring and mooring in the Studland Bay area to avoid damaging the seagrass habitat. Based on an outcry from their members, the RYA has encouraged the MMO to increase its current communications with local recreational groups and stakeholders.

Richard Hill, RYA planning and environment officer, says: “It remains the RYA’s view that conservation actions for the Studland Bay MCZ should be developed through a partnership of representatives drawn from recreational users, conservation organisations and statutory agencies. Such an approach will ensure that conservation objectives are met, and that recreational boater concerns around safety and access are adequately addressed.

“It is our view that voluntary initiatives, and indeed statutory approaches, are unlikely to succeed without proper on-site signage, education and engagement to gain public support. We are very concerned that the Studland Bay VNAZ may only be established on paper to merely fail in practice.”

The full MMO’s Studland Bay MCZ Habitat Protection Strategy is available on the government website.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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