NO-ANCHORING zones could be introduced in a bay popular with boat owners under plans for a new marine conservation zone (MCZ) to protect rare seahorses and other sealife.

Studland Bay, which is home to the spiny seahorse and the short-snouted seahorse, has been recommended as one of 41 MCZs across the UK.

Dense seagrass meadows, which thrive in the area, provide shelter for the seahorses, with Studland being the only known place in the UK where the spiny seahorse breeds. However, it is also a very popular location for recreational boaters. During the height of summer, more than 100 boats visit the bay. The majority of these anchor up, ripping out the delicate seagrass.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out three options for management of the site to prevent further damage.

The cheapest option would not impose restrictions on anchoring but would require the replacement of the current moorings with eco-moorings, which are designed to have very little impact on the seabed.

The second option would involve the introduction of no-anchoring zones in areas of seagrass and the installation of eco-moorings. Outside of the seagrass areas, mooring restrictions would be lifted.

The third, and most costly, option would introduce no-anchoring zones over areas of mapped seagrass and remove all moorings from the seagrass areas. However, this would lead to a number of boats being displaced from the area.

Conservationists have been campaigning for Studland Bay to be protected for more than a decade.

In 2015, a petition opposing Defra’s decision at that time not to put the bay forward as a potential MCZ attracted over 250,000 signatures.

Neil Garrick-Maidment, director of The Seahorse Trust, said news of the proposed designation was “amazing” and a “testament to the hard work of so many people”.

Writing on the trust’s Facebook page, he said: “Now the hard work starts to put together a team, which we hope to be part of, who will oversee the establishment of the MCZ and make it a better place for the seahorses and other species that once thrived there.”

Five other proposed MCZ around Dorset include: Purbeck Coast, Albert Field (off Durlston Head), Southbourne Rough, South of Portland, and West of Wight Barfleur.

Dorset Wildlife Trust's marine, policy and evidence manager, Peter Tinsley, said the zones are not necessarily 'no go areas', but if afforded this protection the sites will have to be managed appropriately.

However, he added the designation of Studland Bay was likely to be contentious as recreational boaters fear their activities will be curtailed.

A six-week consultation period has been launched so views can be gathered on the proposed MCZs.

No new activities deemed damaging – such as dredging, or significant coastal or offshore development – will be allowed to take place in these areas. Existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to be restored over time.

MCZs are just one type of the many Marine Protected Areas in place around the UK to conserve rare, threatened and nationally important habitats and species for future generations.

Dorset already has three MCZs out of a current total of 50 nationwide.