Dorset Wildlife Trust

DORIS: DORset Integrated Seabed Study 

Identifying Dorset's Important Marine Conservation Features

A major award from Viridor Credits (Landfill Tax Communities Fund) has created the opportunity to "peel back the sea" off Dorset, revealing, for the first time, the fascinating physical and biological complexity of the seabed in exquisite detail. 

This exciting project, in which Dorset Wildlife Trust collaborated with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Channel Coastal Observatory (CCO) and the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton (NOCS), set out to map the extent and distribution of natural seabed features, to give us a much better understanding of the sensitivity of seabed communities to the many human activities.

Since the project finsihed, further seabed data have been collected in Dorset by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as part of the Civil Hydrography Programme.  These data have been made available under the Open Government Licence and can be viewed on the map below



There are two main phases:

Phase 1 - a full cover, high resolution multibeam sonar survey, began in summer 2008.  This revealed the shape and, to some extent, the character, of the seabed in incredible detail, down to less than 1m resolution.  This is enough to be able to recognise many seabed features - sand waves and ribbons, rocky ledges etc and was used to plan the next phase.

Phase 2 - the "ground-truthing", took take place in 2009.  The aim here is to match what is really on the seabed (determined by divers, grab samples and remote cameras) with what can be inferred from the remote sensing data from phase 1.  This then allows a reliable prediction of the extent and distribution of seabed habitats.

Who is involved?

Gathering information about the seabed is expensive.  Most of what we currently know comes from a multitude of previous surveys, each carried out for a specific reason, to widely differing standards.  It was not unusual for the same area of seabed to be surveyed several times over, either because those carrying out the surveys were unaware of earlier work, or existing information wasn't suitable or of a high enough standard.

DORIS has brought together a number of organisations interested in gathering seabed data in Dorset, allowing them to pool resources to undertake a survey to strict standards, suitable for all contributing parties, putting the principle of "collect once, use many times" at the heart of the project

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency needs accurate information to update navigational charts.  The Channel Coastal Observatory needs detailed information from the nearshore area to inform future coastal defence decisions.  Dorset Wildlife Trust can use the same survey data to map the distribution of seabed habitats, highlighting the more sensitive and more important areas.

Outcomes and legacy


VIEW IMAGES AND VIDEO HERE -  (log in as DORIS; password doris123)

Marine Protected Areas

As an example of the fortuitous timing of DORIS, not one, but two marine protected area initiatives arose during or shortly after the project.


In early 2010 Natural England (NE) began a public consultation on a number of proposed marine SACs around England to meet the requirements of the European Habitats Directive.  This included the Poole Bay to Lyme Bay draft SAC for reefs and sea-caves.  Parts of this mosaic site overlapped the DORIS area and DWT were able, during the consultation, to provide significant new information on the extent and quality of reef habitat within and near the proposed boundary.  Following the consultation NE decided to split the proposed site into the Lyme Bay/Torbay reefs site, which has since been submitted to Europe, and the Studland to Portland site, which was significantly revised following the consultation and merited a second round of consultation.  The revised boundary included considerably more reef habitat than previously, thanks to the strength of the evidence provided by DORIS.  This evidence was later tested during an independent review of the site selection process and found to be sound, primarily thanks to the quantity and quality of data provided by DORIS.  The Studland to Portland SAC was submitted to Europe in the autumn of 2012 and is now to be considered as a protected site.


The 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act provided for the creation of “an ecologically coherent network “of marine protected areas around England and Wales.  In England that included the selection of marine conservation zones to be selected by four “regional MPA projects”.  In the southwest, Finding Sanctuary (FS) filled that role and spent four years developing a recommended suite of MCZs.  All DORIS data were made available to the local FS group and the wider FS project and 4 of the 8 recommended sites in Dorset are within the DORIS area.  Following the completion of the regional MPA projects each of the recommendations were assessed by NE and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)  - again making use of DORIS data to demonstrate the level of evidence of the extent and quality of conservation features within the recommended sites.  The influence of DORIS is clearly visible in subsequently designated sites such as Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges MCZ (where the seaward extension covering the ledges matches the feature depicted from DORIS) and the data continue to be useful in informing management of the sites.

Marine Planning


C-SCoPE was a three-year cross-border (UK and Belgium) project looking at planning in the marine and coastal environment.  The aims of the project were to:

  • Develop a marine plan for an area of sea and coast.
  • Develop coastal management tools.
  • Engage with stakeholders on coastal zone management.

The DORIS seabed data and habitat maps formed an integral part of C-SCoPE Dorset and contributed to all three aims.  A copy of the maps on USB flash-drive were issued to all C-SCoPE participants at the final conference in summer 2012.  The Marine Management Organisation ­ tasked with preparing marine plans for all regions in England, took a keen interest in C-SCoPE and chose to begin the full marine planning process in the south coast in 2013.

DORIS is funded by a Landfill Tax Communities Fund award from Viridor Credits and by contributions from Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Channel Coastal Observatory and Dorset Strategic Partnership

Seabed Imagery © Dorset Wildlife Trust
Contains MCA data © Crown copyright
Not to be used for navigation