Eelgrass is both nationally and internationally an important marine flowering plant found in coastal waters. Eelgrass species are protected under the Berne Convention, although not covered as a species within Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs), but labelled a priority habitat of the UK due to its scarcity and conservation value as a Habitat Action Plan (HAP).
Eelgrass was once more abundant than it is now, having been affected by two bouts of the "wasting disease" (Labyrinthula sp.), in the 1930s and then again in the early 1980s. The threats that are now known to be damaging the existing beds include high nutrient levels, climate change, damage from anchors and boat propellers, and by destructive fishing practices.
In Dorset, eelgrass beds form in shallow sheltered waters such as Studland Bay and in saline lagoons, for example The Fleet. Eelgrass provides a unique habitat for many animals and plants that live on or amongst the fronds or within the sediment. Amongst the eelgrass beds live cuttlefish, pipefish, wrasse, delicate seahares and seahorses. Eelgrass meadows provide vital nursery areas for flatfish as found at Poole Bay and the plant is a key food source for wildfowl such as Brent geese that are commonly seen within The Fleet. In this Inventory, records have been mapped to show the distribution of beds, to include anecdotal records such as drift material from the coasts of Dorset and Devon. The inventory also provides information on the taxonomic status and ecology of British eelgrass species (Zostera sp.), a summary of statutory / voluntary requirements and actions, current work on eelgrass beds, as well as a concise review of current methodologies for surveying eelgrass. A review of UK management measures and recommendations for future survey and research techniques have also been described.
The report provides an insight into Dorset and Devon's known-recorded areas of eelgrass beds to the best of the knowledge available at the time. The Inventory can be used as an aid to those who are or will be involved in managing the coast and tackling issues that threaten it, as well as to identify areas where re-surveying may be needed. This Inventory highlights the fact that eelgrass beds are under threat within Dorset and Devon.
This report was jointly produced by Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and Dorset Environmental Records Centre.