Traffic-calming campaign takes to troubled waters: Nicholas Schoon looks at efforts to restore peace among rival users of Poole Harbour

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TRAFFIC calming, all the rage with transport planners, has been introduced on a grand scale on the waters of Poole Harbour. Now the authorities are bracing themselves for the scheme's severest test - the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The seawater inlet in Dorset is one vast watersports arena as well as a fishery, nature reserve and commercial port. There are up to 7,500 small craft moored there. On summer weekends thousands of people go to mess about in yachts and power-boats, on windsurfers, jetskis and waterskis, while cross-Channel ferries come and go.

Learners in small sailing dinghies are frightened by speeding cruisers and the wash they create. Yachties anchored in one of the quieter parts of the bay detest jetskiers buzzing around them. Last year a man was killed in a collision between two waterski boats.

In April a 10-knot (12mph) speed limit for all motorised craft was introduced. The only place where this is relaxed is in two zones set aside for waterskiing and jetskiing. Maximum fine for breaking the limit is pounds 400.

There are other advisory and compulsory zones in the 15 square miles of shallow water. Windsurfers are not allowed in the entrance to the open sea, nor in the main shipping channel. Half of the harbour is designated a quiet area with an advisory 6- knot (7 mph) speed limit. This is an attempt to protect the remaining calm of a water rich in birdlife and scenery.

The deputy harbour master, Lieutenant Gerry Wareham, believes the Aquatic Management Plan has calmed the waters. With leaflets and posters distributed to boatyards, clubs and pubs and speed limit signs dotted around the harbour, ignorance is no excuse.

But some harbour users are resentful. Jetskiers who come from far and wide want the freedom to speed over the entire water area. Their go-fast zone is small and half a mile out. Some waterskiers are also disgruntled because until this year they used the harbour free. Now they have to pay pounds 60 a year.

Michelle James, a native of Poole who works for the British Waterski Federation, said: 'Because of opposition from other water users there was a real threat of banning waterskiing altogether in the harbour. Our sport had to be more tightly controlled and we welcome that.'

There are five prosecutions pending for by-law breaches, but a gentle warning often suffices.

Poole Harbour Aquatic Management Plan; from Rhona Fairgrieve, Poole Harbour Commissioners, 20 New Quay Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 4AF; pounds 20.

(Photograph and map omitted)