A NEW by-law will help protect sensitive seabed habitats and marine life, says Dorset Wildlife Trust.

The legislation will extend areas closed to mobile fishing, such as trawling and dredging, to cover features within Dorset's two inshore Marine Conservation Zones - 'Poole Rocks' and 'Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges'.

The Bottom Towed Fishing Gear by-law has been introduced by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, which manages the Dorset, Hampshire and Isle of Wight coastline out to six nautical miles.

Emma Rance, the trust's marine conservation officer, said: “We are very pleased to hear that this by-law has been confirmed.

"It will protect Dorset’s most prized and sensitive marine habitats from the most damaging fishing methods representing 31 per cent of Dorset’s inshore waters - a great step forward for conservation.

"This by-law will maintain the health, productivity and economic value of the marine environment for future generations of divers, anglers and inshore fishers."

Both Dorset sites were designated conservation zones in 2013.

Poole Rocks is a shallow site containing rocky outcrops attracting over 360 species, many of which are typically found at greater depths.

It is designated for the rare Couch’s goby and the threatened native oyster.

Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges is designated for its pink sea fans - slow-growing corals and again for oysters.

This area is the most vulnerable of the two zones and has been subject to a voluntary ban on scallop dredging over rocky ground, which the trust says offered no certainty that it would hold into the future.

Research has shown that when rocky reefs and their associated marine life are damaged by heavy fishing gear it can take many years to recover.

The trust has nominated several other areas of marine habitat for conservation zone status, with a decision due by the Government in the next two years.

These include a section of the Purbeck coast, Kimmeridge Bay, Southbourne Rough, South of Portland and Studland Bay.

The latter location would stretch from Studland to Old Harry Rocks, and includes the only known British breeding site for the long-snouted seahorse.

Learn more about Poole Rocks at poolerocksmcz.uk, and about Marine Protected Areas at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/mpas