Managing anchoring

It is recognised that care should be taken by vessel operators when anchoring in marine SACs to ensure that anchors do not drag and damage sensitive animals and plants of designated subtidal habitats. Port and harbour authorities manage anchoring within harbour areas. Where anchoring is a matter of safety, anchoring restrictions do not usually apply. Many good anchoring sites are traditional, and are used because they provide shelter from wind and sea, and adequate holding ground. Locations used for anchoring by commercial vessels are usually dictated by the vessel traffic management requirements of the port, although this does not necessarily mean that they cannot be managed in a way that is less damaging to the European marine site. However, the following comments apply principally to anchoring by leisure craft and other small vessels.

Anchoring is often restricted within ports and harbours for the purposes of safety. Most navigational charts show areas where anchoring is not permitted, such as areas where there are power or telephone cables, and pipelines for oil or gas. Such restrictions are so evidently sensible, and in the interests of the vessel operator that they are accepted by the marine community at large. Anchoring is also inadvisable in areas of ‘foul ground’, which are marked ‘foul’ on the chart, and generally consist of areas containing wreckage or debris. Other areas can be designated for commercial shellfish and where users also understand that anchoring may result in damage.

Where the risk of damage to designated sensitive communities is high from anchoring boats outside areas where anchoring is already restricted, additional restrictions may be applied to limit the effects. Ports and harbours should apply additional restrictions on anchoring activities with caution and only where they are needed to protect vulnerable communities of designated marine features. Where the bottom is soft and there are no commercial shellfish, underwater obstructions, or particularly vulnerable plant and animal communities, damage caused by anchoring is likely to be minimal, therefore anchoring restriction is generally not necessary. In soft sediment areas which are ideal for both anchoring and supporting eelgrass beds, with no other obstructions, provision of targeted information to encourage users not to anchor can be used, although it is difficult to reach and influence all users.

There are obvious benefits of seeking outcomes that meet both the environmental and safety goals simultaneously. For example, the rocky subtidal habitats that may constitute foul ground may also contain vulnerable communities, such as corals and reef communities. It may be simpler to refer to these areas as foul ground than to apply a further restriction on anchoring in the area on environmental grounds. If such a restriction fails to provide adequate regulation of anchoring damage a more stringent ban on environmental grounds will be necessary. In this event, the best way forward is to clearly explain to port and harbour users the reasons why the regulation is required and to mark these areas clearly on the charts. Where regulation is considered necessary, a port authority might have to apply for a harbour revision order to make a general direction to shipping for this purpose.

Useful operational and environmental guidance for port and harbour operations

  • A better place in the environment, ABP Environmental Review (Associated British Ports 1998).
  • Byelaw powers for the coast, A discussion paper (DETR 1998).
  • Code of practice for noise levels on ships (MSA 1983).
  • Environmental Code of Practice (ESPO 1993).
  • Environmental Code of Practice (British Ports Federation 1993).
  • Poole Harbour Aquatic Management Plan (Poole Harbour Steering Group 1998).
  • Shipping and the Environment, a code of practice (International Chamber of Shipping 1997).
  • Validity of Scientific Criteria for Environmental Auditing of Port and Harbour Operations (Wooldridge & Couper 1995).
  • Work boat code of practice: An operator's guide (MCA 1998).

Next section