THE Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has called for 'proportionate' voluntary protective measures only to protect the marine environment at Studland Bay.

Earlier this month concerns were expressed by members of the boating community, who fear a raft of water activities could become strictly controlled or even banned to protect seahorses living on the seabed in the bay.

This was because, at that time, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) was consulting on proposals for managing Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ), which include the recently-formed MCZ at Studland Bay.

Under the consultation, which closed on December 15, the MMO said it was seeking views on its draft assessment on the impacts of marine non-licensable activity on the conservation objectives of the bay.

These activities included kayaking, windsurfing, dinghies, recreational diving and snorkelling, alongside power-boating and sailing with or without an engine.

The RYA, responding to the consultation while it was still running, called for the MMO to stop short of introducing any mandatory measures on watercraft users, and instead to opt for a voluntary approach.

RYA planning officer Richard Hill said: "Although the RYA recognises the need to put in place measures to better protect sensitive marine habitats, those management activities must be proportionate.

"Any new measures must acknowledge the current socio-economic activities in the local area that place a high value on recreational boating in Studland Bay.

"On behalf of our members, we have recommended that any protective measures that are introduced should be voluntary and should sit alongside a clear programme of user engagement and promotion.

"Sensitive areas must also be clearly outlined for users on both navigational maps and in the water.

"The RYA would be happy to engage further with the MMO and contribute to a suitable management plan that addresses their conservation concerns at Studland Bay.”

Meanwhile, the Seahorse Trust charity maintains seahorses have been thriving at Studland Bay under lockdown.

In the summer the trust says it discovered 16 seahorses in one dive, which is the biggest number since it began monitoring the site in 2008.

They have consistently called for tighter restrictions in the bay to protect the marine habitat.

A MMO spokesman said: "We will review the information received during this call for evidence, alongside other information (including analysis of academic literature, fishing logbook, vessel monitoring system data and non-licensable activity data), to update and finalise our assessments and, where necessary, develop formal fisheries and marine non-licensable activity management proposals for these sites."