PROTECTED marine status has been shelved at Studland Bay, largely because of the effects it would have had on local fishermen and recreational yachting.

The decision to remove Studland from the next stage of the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) designation process has been taken by Defra officials.

Environmentalists wanted protection offered by MCZ status to help conserve the bay’s delicate eelgrass, which is home to a number of rare marine species, including the UK’s only native seahorses.

Studland Bay, a popular area with visiting sailors, is the only place in the country where both native seahorse species – the spiny seahorse and the short-snouted seahorse – breed successfully.

Campaigners say the eelgrass, which is also home to other rare species, is damaged when yachts lower their anchors.

Studland is one of 14 potential marine conservation zones shelved by Defra officials. There will now be a consultation exercise on establishing just 23 more zones across the UK.

Dorset Wildlife Trust living seas manager Peter Tinsley said: “We are obviously very disappointed as Studland is one of our key sites and something that we should be very proud of, and something everybody should be proud of.

“We don’t really believe that anyone is going to lose out from designation.

There is so much to gain from it.

“It is by far the most supported site in the country, but it is also one of the areas with the most people opposed to it as well.”

A Defra report on its decision stated conservation zone designation at Studland would ‘impact on commercial fishing, local port and harbour activity and recreational boating activities’.

However, officials have said they will still consider the best way to protect seagrass beds, seahorses and undulate ray at Studland Bay.

A Defra spokesman said: “Further work is needed to determine the right protection measures at Studland Bay.

“We will be working with local stakeholders and nature conservation advisors to explore these further before the third stage of designating MCZs.”