Dorset ship-sinking reef group unsuccessful in £2.1m bid

Neville Copperthwaite Neville Copperthwaite, of the Wreck to Reef group, believes the reef could boost the economy

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Diving enthusiasts hoping to sink two warships off Dorset to create an artificial reef have failed in a bid for £2.1m government funding.

Community group Wreck to Reef first raised the idea of creating the reef, off Ringstead Bay, four years ago.

The group applied for funding from the government's Coastal Communities Fund in April but said it had recently been told its bid had been unsuccessful.

It has now approached the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for funds.

The Coastal Communities Fund makes awards to projects to rejuvenate seaside assets or help emerging industries.

Last year it handed out £24m to projects, including £2m, over two years, to create the National Coastal Tourism Academy in Bournemouth.

This year's pot has been boosted to £28m but successful bids will not be announced until later this year.

HM Treasury said the the fund had received 541 expressions of interest at a total value of about £245m making it "oversubscribed by nearly 10 times".

'Gift a ship'

HMS Scylla became Europe's first artificial diving reef when it was scuttled off Whitsand Bay in Cornwall in 2004.

Neville Copperthwaite, project co-ordinator of Wreck to Reef, believes an artificial diving reef off Dorset could generate millions of pounds for the local economy and attract divers from far and wide.

Portland lobster About 1,750 tonnes of Portland stone were sunk off Weymouth in May last year to create a lobster reef

"What we want is for the government to gift us a ship," he said.

"But we keep coming up against a brick wall - no-one is listening."

South Dorset MP Richard Drax said he had investigated the matter with the government, on behalf of the group, "on several occasions".

He added: "I have been told emphatically by the government that it does not gift ships for this purpose."

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "We always aim to achieve the best possible return for the taxpayer when disposing of surplus assets, and interested parties are invited to formally submit proposals as part of an open competition."

Lobster reef

Wreck to Reef has now made a £2.5m bid for the project to the LEP, a voluntary partnership between local authorities and businesses which aims to boost an area's economy and jobs.

It is hoped this cash could also help to fund a separate scheme restocking the group's artificial lobster reef, off Weymouth, which was created in May last year.

The project, which aims to boost lobster stocks to help the fishing industry, has recently secured £17,300 from Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) to fund a trial lobster tagging and restocking scheme for three years from 2014.

About 1,000 young lobsters, donated by the National Lobster Hatchery based in Cornwall, are expected to be released at the site in September.

Scientists at the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) will tag and monitor the lobsters.

This process is expected to establish whether restocking is successful and will also assess how far the lobsters have spread and gather other data, including the length of the crustaceans.

Mr Copperthwaite said the project would run alongside commercial restocking and added the group would continue to seek funding to restock the reef beyond 2017.

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