Dorset’s first offshore marine protected area has been welcomed by conservationists, who are delighted that a stretch at Purbeck is also being considered.

The Lyme Bay and Torbay Special Area of Conservation, with its unique reefs, is one of 15 new Marine Protected Areas created in August.

It will become part of a European network of protected sites, known as Natura 2000 and the formal submission gives full legal protection for the sites’ habitats and species.

The Portland to Studland Reefs, which include Dorset Wildlife Trust’s long established voluntary Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve, have been singled out by Natural England as exceptionally diverse and further time is being allowed to incorporate new information from the Doris seabed mapping project.

“We have waited a long time and worked hard for this moment,” said Peter Tinsley, marine conservation officer at the trust.

“This European SAC is the first step to what we hope will be a network of protected areas for marine wildlife in Dorset and around the UK, safeguarding the full range of marine habitats found in our waters.”

The Lyme Bay reefs will have protection from activities which damage or threaten its diverse and highly productive habitats.

In Dorset they support a lucrative shellfish potting fishery as well as being important for local diving and angling businesses.

Its rich wildlife includes the pink sea fan coral, many colourful sponges and anemones and the spectacular Ross coral, also known as potato crisp bryozoan, while fish living on the reefs include the colourful cuckoo wrasse.

The special areas will also help protect the livelihoods of local fishermen and tourism businesses which depend upon the high quality marine environment.