Latest News

List of recent documents and responses:

Recent documents and responses are listed in this top section, most recent at the top. There are links to the documents, and further comment, as well as older items, in the section below the “recent” list.

New eelgrass sensitivity assessment – our view (posted June 2017)

Underwater Videos show healthy, thriving  eelgrass:  Underwater Videos tab, above. Also see Underwater Videos Paper

Animated Graphic shows eelgrass expansion: see the Aerial Images tab above

Leisure Marine Economy around Poole (posted May 2016)

Seahorses and tidal flows around Poole (posted Nov 2015)  – updated May 2016

Reply to Seahorse Trust  Facebook Propaganda (posted May 2016)

BORG calls for publication of secret seahorse database (posted Feb 2016)

All 23 Tranche 2 MCZ sites designated  (posted Jan 2016)

New page: listing and summaries of technical articles and papers (posted Nov 2015)

BORG Response to 2nd Tranche MCZ Consultation (posted April 2015)

Studland and Solent sites held back from 2nd Tranche MCZ Consultation

Seahorse Numbers – the truth (posted Nov 2014)

Overview of Eelgrass Evidence (posted Sept 2014)

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New eelgrass sensitivity assessment – our view (posted June 2017)

A new assessment of the sensitivity of eelgrass to “abrasion or disturbance of the seabed” and “penetration or disturbance of the seabed subsurface” has been published. We point out that this is directed at heavy fishing gear level of disturbance (dredges and trawls) and this is not appropriate to the small boat anchor level of disturbance. Paper here.

Underwater Videos show healthy, thriving  eelgrass (posted Oct 2016)

Videos taken by BORG in July 2016 with an underwater camera 1.5 m, 5 ft, below the surface, and covering 300 linear metres of seabed, show abundant, dense eelgrass, demonstrating that claims that the eelgrass habitat has been destroyed or badly damaged to be untrue. These findings support many of the conclusions drawn in other articles on this website. See Underwater Videos tab, above. Also see Underwater Videos Paper.

Leisure Marine Economy around Poole (posted May 2016)

The value of the leisure marine economy in the Poole area is shown to be about £13.5 million annually. This is purely the marine industry aspect for resident boats, and does not include expenditure on food, drink, entertainment or general shopping by people who come to the area because of the boats, and it does not include expenditure by visiting boats whether visiting by sea or on trailers, so the total spend by leisure boating will be very much greater than £13.5 million. Recent data about the effect of the Twin Sails Bridge shows that reduction in boating amenity can result in boats being moved away, and we argue that any significant loss of amenity because of a Marine Conservation Zone would result in significant costs to the local marine economy.

Seahorse and tidal flows around Poole (posted Nov 2015, updated May 2016)

Recently published information indicates that seahorses are found at a site 4 or 5 miles out to sea, as well as at several already-known sites in Poole Harbour, in addition to Studland Bay. A local fisherman says he usually finds 20 to 30 seahorses a year in his nets (they are returned unharmed to the sea). Links are given to simulation studies and a video of the highly variable tidal flows in the area, which may influence seahorse distribution. Studland Bay is just part of a complex picture. May 2016: further sightings out at sea, more evidence of the boom-and-bust nature of seahorse numbers, and evidence suggesting that the true centre of the spiny seahorse population is within Poole Harbour, from which some spill out into the surroundings sometimes including Studland Bay. See Seahorses around Poole

Reply to Seahorse Trust  Facebook Propaganda (posted May 2016)

Another spiteful and deceitful pile of boat-hating propaganda appears in the their May Facebook pages: our response here.

BORG calls for publication of secret seahorse database (posted Feb 2016)

The Boat Owners’ Response Group points out that The Seahorse Trust is acting contrary to its published objectives and against progress in understanding seahorse behaviour by refusing to publish the list of 1500 seahorse sightings in its secret database. See Seahorse Issues.

All 23 Tranche 2 MCZ sites designated  (posted Jan 2016)

Defra have announced (17th January) that all 23 sites which went to Public Consultation have now been designated as MCZ’s. Details are here, and there are now 50 MCZ’s in England, covering a total of 7886 sq miles or one fifth of English waters. The site most significant to boating is The Needles MCZ, which includes Colwell, Totland and Alum Bays, an iconic stretch of sea. However, the impact on recreational boating is expected to be limited, as explained in the RYA’s excellent article on the designations, to found here. Sites in the third and final tranche going forward to Public Consultation will be announced in 2017, probably early in the year, and final designations will be announced in 2018. BORG will continue to be vigilant in defence of recreational boating interests.

New page: listing and summaries of technical articles and papers (posted Nov 2015)

With around twenty scientific or technical BORG papers and articles on the website, we’ve added a Technical Summaries page which lists and summarises the articles. We hope this will help people to understand the breadth, depth and strength of our arguments.

BORG Response to 2nd Tranche MCZ Consultation (posted April 2015)

Full response based on The Needles proposed site here. As well as making general points about the actual meaning of “favourable condition”, standards of evidence and the importance of resilience, the response deals with
– the incoherent and unsubstantiated nature of NE’s risk assessments
– the need to establish the actual area impacted by anchoring (small when you do the sums)
– the shortcomings of NE’s eelgrass vulnerability assessment
– why each of the individual Assessments in The Needles site doesn’t stack up
– the disproportionate preoccupation with recreational boating
– mission creep – the original Balanced Seas (stakeholder participating) assessment for The Needles proposed 4 features for conservation. Since then, behind the scenes, another 11 have been quietly added making 15. The same elsewhere, including Studland Bay (8 becomes 15).

On the last two points, NE have included lots of seabed features in the Solent sites and in Studland Bay (such as Subtidal sand and subtidal sediments), suggesting further efforts to “control” anchoring, eg It’s damaging the sand! There’s a gem for Bembridge on the risk to seahorses: “There is a risk of death by collision with recreational vessels”, and another one crops up several times in the Solent sites: “Feature is vulnerable to the spread of non-native invasive species through recreational vessel use in the area.” (So our boats are running down seahorses and presumably other fish, presumably leaving a trail of dead fish behind them, and spreading evil invasive species around on their hulls – have they not heard of antifouling paint?)

But these last two look like attempts by hardcore conservos to find reasons to stop boats even entering MCZ areas and could be a dangerous development, barmy as the suggestions are.

Studland and Solent sites held back from 2nd Tranche MCZ Consultation

Defra announced at the end of January 2015 that 23 sites are going forward for consultation on designation as MCZ’s, including The Needles (Alum, Totland and Colwell Bays). However Studland Bay and three stretches of the Isle of Wight Solent coast, covering Bembridge to beyond Yarmouth, are “not considered suitable” for inclusion in the 2nd tranche. But note they are not withdrawn. More here.

Seahorse Numbers – the truth (posted Nov 2014): article here

A short summary of our articles on how the drop in seahorse sightings in Studland Bay cannot possibly be explained by eelgrass issues. We list 7 possible causes, and eelgrass is not among them.

Overview of Eelgrass Evidence (posted Sept 2014): article here.

Commentary on a Report on Eelgrass Resistance to Raking (posted August 2014)

Eelgrass recovered in 2 weeks after being raked with 20 cm tines: see here.

New BORG Report on Eelgrass Resilience (posted August 2014)

We have found yet more evidence that an assessment used by Natural England (NE) on the sensitivity of eelgrass to physical disturbance (first identified by BORG here) is seriously in error and flies in the face of a substantial body of published scientific evidence. Our  new report, which has been forwarded to Natural England and Defra, is published here. (“Eelgrass Resilience and Resistance”). The assessment used by NE, by the way, is merely an “opinion” of anonymous “experts”, and no evidence was presented in support of it at all !!!

Aerial images : historic series 1972 – 2011

An historic series of aerial images of Studland Bay covering the years 1972, 1985, 1990, 1997, 2008 and 2011 may be found here. They show that the eelgrass beds have greatly expanded, and gaps in the beds filled in with new growth, although leisure vessels have been anchoring there throughout the period. This further validates our critique of Natural England’s “Advice to Government”, which can be found here.

Anchoring Density Analysis

So how much of the sea bed actually does get impacted by anchors? We have done some analyses, and the answer is surprisingly little – in the worst case of nearly continuous close-packed anchoring, perhaps 1 to 1.5% in a boating season. Our report may be found here and we hope it will prove useful in establishing the true picture of anchoring and eelgrass.

MAIA Report Errors Acknowledged

In November 2013 we wrote:

“Some claims in the MAIA Report  seemed unlikely, and the authors had neglected to show any imagery supporting those claims. We eventually managed to obtain a set of images used in the report through a Freedom of Information request.

It is all set out in Critique of MAIA Report but in brief, claims of a higher coverage of eelgrass in 1997 than in 2008 turn out to be due to mis-identifying sand as sparse eelgrass (find out why in our report), and claims of “fragmentation” in 2008 turn out to be because a computer program they used was actually measuring image noise, not the eelgrass structure at all.

A high resolution 2008 aerial  image of the Bay, overlaid with a measuring grid, may be seen here . Have a look, zoom in close, and check it all out. The eelgrass is doing fine!”

Our critique was submitted to Natural England as a formal complaint, which was properly and thoroughly investigated by NE, who called on technical advice from the Environment Agency Geomatics section (EAG).

Basically, our objections were upheld and the report (properly called Natural England Commissioned Report 111 Part 2, NECR111(2) ) has been removed from the NE website pending review and correction.

The EAG examination revealed a large number of errors in NECR111(2). In particular, the mis-classification of sand as “sparse eelgrass” in the 1997 map was acknowledged, and it is clear that the 2008 image showed at least equal greatest area of total eelgrass in the historic series, and clearly the greatest area of dense eelgrass.

The EAG report commented on the aggregation statistics that while NECR111(2) showed 4 out of 5 aggregation statistics for 2008 as having high aggregation, only the single statistic which suggested fragmentation was reported in the Executive Summary. This was biased reporting, especially when combined with the statement that “2008 shows a low total coverage of seagrass”, which had no basis at all, even in the original analysis reported in NECR111(2).

The  EAG report noted a number of errors in the way in which the low “Core Area” value was derived in NECR111(2), and concluded that it had been incorrectly calculated. They re-calculated it using a different method, and found 17.8 hectares, compared with 1.6 in NECR111(2). The 2008 Core Area seems in fact to be larger than all the other years.

So our contention that the statement in the NECR111(2) Executive Summary – “2008 shows a low total coverage of seagrass and the lowest total core area, an indication of the increase in fragmentation of the seagrass within the core area and a trend now moving towards a degrading habitat” – is incorrect and totally misleading is vindicated. We agree with the analysis that those words show biased reporting. We note that while mistakes, errors and careless work in a scientific report are bad practice, they can sometimes happen. However, deliberate bias in a report in science is deplorable and utterly unprofessional. We especially do not expect bias in a report published by the “Statutory adviser to government on the natural environment”, which is Natural England’s official role.  We expect objectivity, and will be scrutinising their reports very closely in future.

New BORG analysis of Studland Seahorse Population

There are fewer seahorses seen in the Bay than published annual figures suggest, and there is new information about spiny seahorses thriving without any seagrass around: see here.

MCZ Designations Nov. 2013

27 out of the 31 sites proposed for the 1st tranche were designated as MCZ’s on 21st November 2013: details here. Information on the non-designated sites can be found here.

The Great Seahorse Deception

On July 16th 2013 articles were published by the Telegraph and by the Mail claiming that the Studland Bay seahorse colony had been “wiped out” by boat anchors, a story which spread internationally across the internet to more than 40 sites. This is absolute rubbish, seahorses have been seen in the Bay before and after July 16, and there is no sign that the eelgrass habitat in the Bay has deteriorated, through anchors or anything else, since 2008. 2008 is the year that the recent MAIA report identified as having the greatest coverage of dense eelgrass in the six different years studied, dating back to 1953.

BORG deplores the grossly irresponsible briefing which led to these stories, which have the effect of seriously deceiving the public about the true state of affairs in the Bay.

Full story at Great Seahorse Deception

MAIA Report Published

The MAIA report was finally published on 16th April 2013, 16 days after the public consultation on MCZ’s closed. Congratulations to Natural England on this masterpiece of timing. It can be found at http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/3665058

An interesting part of the report was based on an analysis of aerial photographs of Studland Bay for the years 1953, 1972, 1985, 1990, 1997 and 2008, years during which boats have continued to anchor at Studland. The results showed that during this period the extent of dense eelgrass was increasing, and the greatest extent was in the most recent year studied, 2008.

It contained some discussion of the concept of “fragmentation” of the eelgrass, and we note the statement on p.61 “Of all the years analysed, 1953 appears to be the most fragmented landscape …… and 2008 the least.”

There are complex issues discussed in the report, we will consider some of these at a later date.

BORG responses to consultation

DEFRA has also invited comments on sites not designated in the first tranche, so BORG has filed its responses to the Studland Bay and Solent sites, together with more general comments. These may be accessed from the link here.

First Tranche of MCZ’s announced: Studland not included (14th Dec 2012)

DEFRA announced yesterday that just 31 of the 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones have been designated in the first round of MCZ’s now out for consultation. Studland Bay is amongst a number of sites requiring “further consideration prior to designation”. Also in this category are the proposed Bembridge and the Norris to Ryde MCZ’s, the latter including the valued anchorage at Osborne Bay, IOW. The more specific reason for the Studland decision is “Although this site has been highlighted by the SNCBs as a site at higher risk, there is still uncertainty as to whether the advantages are sufficient to justify the socio-economic implications.”

DEFRA pages here, note this page is now updated to give links to outcomes and summaries of the consultation.

BORG has prepared a list of those designated sites which are in boating areas, together with an estimate of the likely boating impact of each site, here, and a list of sites listed for further consideration (deferred sites) here.

Note that although Studland and other important boating sites are not in the current tranche, they could still be brought forward in the future, and the present consultation process, open until March 31st, does invite comments on those sites which are listed for further consideration (e.g. Studland Bay), and on the process in general.

Studland Workshop Presentation, 26 Nov 2012

The Studland Bay Working Group for stakeholders met, and Mike Simons gave a presentation which outlined our current view on the evidence (or lack of) around anchoring threats to eelgrass, and evidence showing the regrowth potential for eelgrass, together with points about seahorses and the future MCZ process.

We did have access to the draft MAIA report (mentioned below) but it is not yet cleared for general release, but we can say it does not contradict our previous views – more when it is released.

The slides of the presentation are available here and give a concise view of the present evidence position as we see it. The link is also in the sidebar as Evidence Summary Nov 2012

Also at the meeting, Nick Warner of the SBPA (Studland Bay Preservation Association) presented the the views of the SBPA, here.

Waiting …….Still waiting…….. NE yet again fails to publish in time

There is a new report, incorporating further survey work in Studland Bay, commissioned by the MMO and Natural England, which is an “assessment of anthropogenic impacts on seagrass in Studland Bay,  using Side scan, Diver survey camera, Drop-down camera, Aerial photograph analysis, Use of existing multibeam bathymetry”. It’s referred to as the MAIA report, after a European organisation which is part funding the project, and it’s with Natural England (NE) for what they call “quality assurance”. It promises to be an influential report, but as with the Seastar report, we again find ourselves waiting for it to be released………

We hope it will be published before the Studland Bay Stakeholders Workshop meeting to be held on 26th November – it would be a total disgrace if were still being kept under wraps for this, the last meeting before the public consultation phase on the first tranche of proposed MCZ’s, which includes Studland. BORG will be presenting its views at that meeting, as will the Studland Bay preservation Association, SBPA.

………………… Well, it was not released in time for the meeting, although we were given access to a draft copy.

Incredibly, and in our view utterly disgracefully, Natural England have even failed to publish it in time for the public consultation. We believe they had a first draft in June 2012, they had a final draft in October 2012, and are still keeping it from public view in March (virtually April as we write) 2013. The question arises, is it incompetence, or deliberate with-holding?

It was finally published some two weeks after the close of the public consultation: the consultation closed on March 31st, the MAIA report was published on April 16th.

Seahorse numbers 2012

2012, like 2011, was again a lean year for seahorses: the Seahorse Trust Autumn 2012 Newsletter reports just 9 individual seahorses spotted in Studland Bay during the whole season. The Seahorse Trust’s claim that the low number is partly due to the “ongoing degradation of the seagrass” must be regarded as pure fantasy. The eelgrass has not degraded, and with around 900,000 square metres of eelgrass in the Bay, that works out at 100,000 sq metres for each of the nine seahorses. Even if there were 90 seahorses, that’s still  10,000 sq metres each, which should be plenty for a creature that’s only 10 cm long!

NE Response to BORG   (link)

Natural England explain the omission of the Seastar Survey results and the reliance on the Vulnerability Assessment in their “Final Advice to Government” on the grounds that they had a deadline to meet and the Seastar report was not available at that time. However BORG understands that NE had an advance copy of the report in December 2011. By NE’s own admission, they did not start the Studland bay assessment until 20th February 2012, and they state in the NE Final Advice Report (on p11) that they “used the evidence available to us until 16 March 2012 to complete our assessments”. Something does not add up here! We also wonder why and how the Seastar Survey report was not made available to the public until 3rd July 2012, over seven months after NE first had the advance copy.

We also note – and it would be funny if it were not actually rather serious – that NE are now claiming that the Seastar survey, done to a methodology agreed by NE, is not actually capable of showing that the eelgrass is not being significantly damaged by anchoring, on the grounds that the comparison area, the VNAZ which they helped choose, had been previously used for anchoring! Or was it a deliberate and cynical design, capable of showing if damage did occur, but deniable (in their view) if it did not show damage?

Anyway, we are assured that further studies are being carried out: one by ABPmer, already delayed by several weeks (while they desperately try to find the evidence they want, the cynic might think); and one under the name of MAIA which has also been commissioned and is said to be due at the end of September. All this new evidence, plus Seastar plus BORG’s studies, will apparently be considered at the time of the public consultation, which starts in December.

BORG is not impressed by the NE response, we believe that some of the processes and procedures used are neither good science nor fit for the purpose of informing public policy, and we will be making these arguments robustly through appropriate channels.

Borg response to NE/JNCC Formal Advice  (link)

We argue that Natural England has incorrectly assessed the risk levels to seagrass at various South Coast locations in the Final Report. In making these assessments they have used information which is out of date, and which subsequent reports have brought very clearly in to question. We seriously question the process by which the “Vulnerability Assessment” applied to Studland Bay was carried out, we think it has almost zero scientific credibilty, and wonder how this strange process can take precedence over the widely observed fact that Studland Bay is, and has been for decades, full of thriving eelgrass.

Natural England and JNCC formal advice to Government on proposed MCZ’s (Note: the Seastar Survey report item can be found below this one)

(Updated 6th August 2012)

Natural England and JNCC, as the Government’s advisers on the natural environment, have submitted (18th July 2012) their formal advice to Government on the science behind the MCZ recommendations, the quality of the ecological data and their views on the overall regional MCZ Project process.

Their introductory page can be found here and their downloads page here.

 The full report is very long – 1455 pages!  We note that for Studland Bay the confidence in the presence and extent of all conservation features, including undulate ray and short-snouted seahorse is rated as LOW with the exceptions of seagrass beds (presence, high, extent, moderate) and subtidal mixed sediments, both high. (p.299 of the full report, just type the page number into the Adobe navigation bar).

However we are concerned to see that on p.343 they report “moderate confidence” in the “recover” assessment of the eelgrass condition: i.e. moderate confidence that it is damaged by anchoring. BORG is challenging this assessment on the grounds that the “evidence” used to support the assessment was not appropriate to the type of seagrass (i.e. eelgrass) present in Studland Bay, and that neither is it the “best available evidence”, which they are required to use – especially since the publication of the Seastar Survey. BORG’s response to this report, which has been submitted to appropriate recipients, may be found here.

We are seriously concerned to note that this document completely fails to take account of the findings of the Seastar Survey as reported below, despite a draft being in DEFRA’s hands at the end of April.  The findings of that survey completely undermine the basis of DEFRA’s assessment of the eelgrass condition.  We are aware that at least one other report relevant to Studland will be published shortly.

Following our enquiry about this, Natural England has assured us that the Studland Bay working group will be able to discuss these reports at a meeting in the autumn, and that the Seastar document was simply received too late to incorporate its findings in the NE / JNCC report.

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Seastar Survey concludes “no consistent evidence of boat anchoring impacting the seagrass habitat at Studland Bay

 Voluntary No Anchor Zone to be removed   (Note: the buoys marking the zone were removed in late July)

The key finding in a detailed 70-page scientific report released on 3rd July 2012 is that

“Currently, based on the quantitative data collected over two years, there is no consistent evidence of differences in seagrass health between the VNAZ and CTZ”  (note: VNAZ is the Voluntary No Anchor Zone, and CTZ the Control Zone, where anchoring carried on as usual).

– and – “There is therefore no consistent evidence of boat anchoring impacting the seagrass habitat at Studland Bay.”

Full report may be found here .

The study, which commenced in October 2009 and included detailed underwater surveys over two years, was commissioned by Crown Estates and Natural England.

The study did show some differences between the two zones, and recommended continuing the survey, but in an e-mail to stakeholders from  Crown Estates and Natural England it was stated

“The study took place over two years, with an option to extend it to a further year. The Crown Estate and Natural England have decided not to take up the option of funding an additional year of survey work. The voluntary no-anchor zone is no longer required for the purposes of this study therefore it will be removed as soon as possible, as stipulated as a condition of the original marine consent. “

The full text of the email to stakeholders from Fiona Wynne of The Crown Estate is reproduced below:

“Dear all

 The independent scientific study entitled ‘Survey and monitoring of seagrass beds at Studland Bay, Dorset’, commissioned by The Crown Estate and Natural England and undertaken by Seastar Survey, has now reported. The study concludes that there is no consistent evidence of boat anchoring impacting the seagrass habitat at Studland Bay, but points out that there is an increased difference in seagrass health between the two study areas and therefore recommends that further monitoring is required.

 When the study was commissioned it was hoped that it could provide scientific evidence to inform the debate and assist future management. Monitoring was carried out at two sites within the Bay in order to assess what happens to seagrass when anchoring is controlled, compared to areas where anchoring continues. The study was overseen by a steering group comprising representatives of The Crown Estate, Natural England, Royal Yachting Association and the Chair of the Studland Seagrass and Seahorse Study Group (Dorset Wildlife Trust), and an independent review was carried out by Project Seahorse.

 The study took place over two years, with an option to extend it to a further year. The Crown Estate and Natural England have decided not to take up the option of funding an additional year of survey work. The voluntary no-anchor zone is no longer required for the purposes of this study therefore it will be removed as soon as possible, as stipulated as a condition of the original marine consent.

 Since the study began, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has been established and given powers to regulate the marine environment and consider any management action which may be needed in Studland. The study is being provided to the MMO to assist in its on-going work.

 The Crown Estate agreed to provide funding for the study via our marine stewardship programme to help quantify any possible impacts of anchoring on seagrass health and associated marine life, and work with residents, local yacht clubs, environmental groups and other interested parties to help understand the issues. Although the study has ended, we will, nevertheless, continue to play our part, as landowner, in the discussions going forward. For example, we also commissioned a high-level viability appraisal regarding the potential to introduce dedicated eco-moorings in Studland Bay, available at http://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/media/200353/studland_bay_visitor_mooring_viability_appraisal.pdf.

 Please forward this email to anybody else who might be interested.

 Kind regards

Fiona

 Fiona Wynne
Stewardship Manager “