Seahorse sculpture points out loss of Studland seagrass

Drawing attention to the damage done to the endangered seahorse’s habitat at Studland, an artist from Church Knowle in Dorset has created a giant seahorse installation that looks out over the sea to Old Harry.

The sculpture was lowered into position on Thursday 23rd May 2024 near to the Sandy Salt Pig cafe at Middle Beach car park.

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Seahorse sculpture at middle beach Studland

Artist Eilidh Middleton with her seahorse sculpture Neptune pointing towards the home of Studland’s seahorses just off South Beach

“Seagrass captures carbon at a rate 35 times faster than tropical rainforests”

Eilidh Middleton, who most recently made a giant sand lizard that lounged on the grassy slope of Corfe Castle, has now recycled the materials into an abstract seahorse called Neptune, that stands more than two metres high.

Eilidh said:

“I get fired up by issues and find art a very easy way to start talking about things.

“Hopefully the sculpture will catch people’s eyes and encourage them to ask more about the seahorses that live in Studland Bay – there’s still some who don’t realise what an important seahorse colony we have here.

“But the seagrass that grows on the bottom of the seabed – the natural habitat for the seahorse – is in decline.

“Globally and around our coast seagrass meadows are disappearing, endangering many species that depend on this valuable marine environment.

“Seagrass captures carbon at a rate 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and accounts for 10 percent of the oceans’ total burial of carbon, despite covering less than 0.2 percent of the ocean floor. It is one of our most important natural solutions to the climate change crisis.

“In the UK we have lost 90 percent of seagrass from around our coastal margins in the last few decades. Much of the loss has been due to the rise in pleasure craft dropping anchors on the seabed, which drag and dig up the seabed.”

Seahorses use the seagrass to hold themselves steady while feeding
Paul Naylor

Seahorses live in seagrass

A successful trial of 40 eco moorings in Studland Bay will be expanded to 100 in 2024

South Beach in Studland attracts lots of boat users on hot sunny days

Voluntary no anchor zone off South Beach

However in Studland there has been a growing campaign to turn the tide in the reduction of seagrass and help protect the seahorses.

In 2019, Studland Bay was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) but there was little time to achieve much before 2020, when lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic, stopped all activity in the bay along with everything else.

When restrictions eased it was found that some of the seagrass had grown back and more seahorses were spotted.

This spurred the newly formed Studland Bay Marine Partnership, which includes local boat owners, environment groups, scientists and landowners, to back a plan to introduce a voluntary no anchor zone off South Beach.

100 eco moorings off South Beach have also been installed, giving boat owners an alternative from dropping anchor. Unlike traditional moorings and anchors, these don’t have metal chains that drag along the seabed, uprooting seagrass.

Seahorse sculpture at middle beach Studland

Neptune with the backdrop of Studland Bay

Seahorse sculpture at middle beach Studland

While the plywood has been repurposed, the metal spinners are a new addition

“Preserving our special area of seagrass”

National Trust senior visitor experience officer at Studland, Jamie Lamb-Shine said:

“We’re a keen participant in the Studland Bay Marine Partnership and it’s important to draw attention to preserving our special area of seagrass.

“We’ve used art before to get a message across when we had a huge metal fish called Wanda that acted like a bin for plastic bottles. It captured the imagination and I think this amazing seahorse sculpture will do the same.

“Over half term there’s a seahorse quiz trail that starts at Knoll Beach and ends here at Middle Beach next to Neptune the seahorse. It’s a great chance to learn more about these rare creatures!”

Seahorse sculpture at middle beach Studland

Jamie Lamb-Shine from the National Trust recommends the half term seahorse quiz trail

Seahorse sculpture at Middle Beach, Studland
Thea Shepherd

Eilidh Middleton checks the installation, positioned near the Sandy Salt Pig at Middle Beach

“Start the conversation”

As well as being passionate about protecting seahorses and their habitat, Eilidh is also keen to reuse materials to avoid unnecessary waste. She said:

“The plywood used to create the seahorse has been salvaged from my previous installations, The Wind Hive and the Giant Sand Lizard.

“I have a big issue with throwing away things that can be used again, so the spine of the seahorse was formerly a part of the lizard.

“Although I have used new metal spinners – there’s about 100 of them and they should catch the sunlight and rotate in the breeze.

“There are so many issues in this world and sometimes we feel like just burying our heads in the sand but art can be a non confrontational way of activating ourselves. Hopefully people will come and see what I have done and start the conversation.”

There’s an opportunity to meet the artist as well as speak to those involved in the Studland Bay Marine Partnership on Bank Holiday Monday 27th May 2024 near to the Middle Beach car park, next to the seahorse sculpture.

Eilidh will be joining in the 20 minute marine conservation talks at 11 am,12 noon,1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. Everyone welcome, just turn up!

sand lizard art installation at Corfe Castle
NT / Paul Harris

Eilidh’s previous arty installation – the Giant Sand Lizard at Corfe Castle

Seahorse sculpture at middle beach Studland

Lifting the latest structure into position

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