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12-10-2014

 

Article by Charles Clover taken from the The Times Newspaper dated 12-10-2014 (Many Thanks)

 

Silty as charged: the watchdogs letting marine dumpers run amuck!

 

Images taken by a veteran former police diver show something disquieting going on in the newly protected areas around Britain's shoreline. In one, east of Plymouth, there is a healthy rocky reef in 20ft of water with, I am told, native corals and sea fans. Another, in Whitsand Bay, to the west, shows a degraded reef with Devonshire cup corals covered in silt.

 

Which of these pictures do you think was taken in a supposedly protected area? The one with the silt in it, of course. It was taken in the Whitsand and Looe Bay marine conservation zone, among the first in the network of protected areas for England designated only last year. This zone has the specific purpose of bringing back the protected pink sea fan. Other pictures taken there show "dead zones" on the sea bed. What has caused the damage is not in dispute: about 800 yards away from the boundary of the new marine protected area is a dump site for dredging from the naval base at Devonport.

 

The dumping site is just south of the wreck of HMS Scylla, a frigate sunk as a tourist attraction for divers and now festooned with all kinds of marine life. The naval base is in Plymouth Sound, next to the Tamar estuary, both of which are European protected areas. The Tamar is the only estuary in the country protected for a migratory fish, the smelt, killed off by pollution in other rivers. So when a new licence was applied for to dredge from one protected area and dump close to another, did the authorities sit up and say: "We'll have to think very carefully about whether that fits with all the protections we've just put in place?" No, they went out of their way to make sure that the dumping that has happened on and off for 100 years went on just as before. People near Plymouth are proud of the navy and want the Devonport dockyard to go on functioning. But they are also proud of the beautiful Whitsand Bay.

 

The campaign Stop Dumping in Whitsand Bay goes back 20 years. The locals thought the new laws would mean the authorities would be a bit more careful. Apparently not. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) rushed the dredging licence through, but the locals soon realised that the contractor, Westminster Dredging, was not abiding by the terms of its licence. It has been caught dumping material containing arsenic and other heavy metals on an incoming tide and without a "notice to mariners" to alert other users of the area.

 

Eventually the locals gave up appealing to the common sense of the MMO and Natural England, the government's conservation adviser. They began to look at the law and to ask if those bodies were doing the job the public pays them for. They began to question whether the quango's had properly considered whether the dredging or the dumping would have an adverse effect on the environment, as required by European habitats and species regulations, along with the rules on water and waste.

 

They found the regulators hadn't been doing their job: Natural England had not filed status updates on the condition of the European sites since they were designated in 2001. They discovered that the MMO had made scant attempts to find alternative uses for the 367,000 tons of contaminated silt, which in Holland is turned into sandbags and house bricks and in Japan is mixed into road stone. Instead of properly considering these issues, officials had acted according to a set of rules drawn up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that said they didn't have to. Lawyers say this set of rules amounts to "a series of inadequate proxies" for the actual regulations. The official bodies deny this, of course. But a High Court judge decided last week that the locals had a case that should be heard.

 

This matters. For there are 131 dumping sites around Britain, not just for maintenance but also because a new generation of container ships and cruise liners need more space and there has to be a "capital" dredge, where a new channel is dug. The port of Southampton has permission for one in the River Test and Southampton Water. Natural England insists this two-year operation will have only a negligible effect on the native oyster population, currently collapsed. Even if you believe that, which I don't, dredging could be done better. Why not rescue the oysters and lay them somewhere else before a dredge begins?

 

Quite apart from the evident lack of co-ordination, there is the suspicion that quangos such as Natural England are under so much pressure to promote growth that they will find a way of doing anything the developers want. On the Tamar it changed its advice three times, eventually allowing dredging in the smelt's migration season.

 

People are asking whether the government's statutory advisers are sticking up for nature. If they aren't, why do we need them? Often as not, citizens' groups and charities are doing the job for themselves.

 

charles.clover@sunday-times.co.uk

 
 
21-01-2015
 

Article by Ben Webster Environment Editor Of The Times Newspaper Wednesday 21st January 2015 (Many Thanks)


Watchdog allowed poisonous silt to be dumped off Cornwall coast?


The government agency set up to protect coastal waters illegally granted a licence to dump thousands of tons of silt contaminated with poisonous chemicals off the coast of Cornwall.

Campaigners against the dumping in Whitsand Bay are celebrating victory after a 20-year battle to stop silt dredged from the River Tamar from smothering reefs and killing rare pink sea fans.

The group Stop Dumping in Whitsand Bay went to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to grant a licence for the dumping of 367,000 tons of silt dredged to clear channels for ships at Devonport docks in Plymouth.

The organisation contested the case initially, but has now agreed to quash the licence and admitted it was "made unlawfully" because of "deficiencies" in the way it took the decision.

The group had accused the Management Organisation, which was established to protect the seas around England and Wales, of ignoring risks to protected species and failing to observe environmental laws.

The group said the silt contained toxic metals and chemicals, including arsenic, mercury and TBT, a biocide previously used to prevent fouling of ships' hulls. It was being dumped only 800 metres from a Marine Conservation Zone.

They said the silt was washing up on the sands of Whitsand Bay beach and spreading into the sunken warship HMS Scylla, which was scuttled in 2004 to create an artificial reef.

Two divers died in 2007 after becoming disorientated and running out of air in a silt-filled compartment on the ship. At the inquest into their deaths, their families called on the Ministry of De-fence to investigate whether the dumping contributed to the accident.

Julie Elworthy, one of the campaign leaders who lives near the beach, said the silt should be brought ashore for safe disposal. "For the Management Organisation, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. This case exposes how they neglected their fundamental duty to protect the marine environment."

Terri Portmann, a marine consultant who advised the group, said the victory could prompt challenges to other decisions by the Management Organisation, including its licensing of the construction of offshore wind farms. "This admission must now cast doubt on all the licensing decisions around the English coast from this regulator," she said.

"From the largest wind farm to the longest cable-laying project... can we have any comfort that these will have been granted under a robust process? Some licences granted by the Management Organisation could cause irreversible damage to the environment."

Ms Portmann said the government appeared so determined to promote economic development around the coast that it was failing to ensure environmental rules were observed.

An Management Organisation spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the case. She said: "Until the judicial review proceedings are concluded, we will not be commenting further.
 
22nd January 2015.
 
Having had a very brief chat with Julie Elworthy yesterday (A member of the protest group)  it seems that the group and there supporters have proven beyound any doubt what so ever that the latest licence  that was granted to dump 367,000 tons of silt of Whitsand Bay was in fact granted illegally and with little or no concern for the environment what so ever? no surprise there! as a result the latest licence to dump on the site has been quashed? so it's back to the drawing board for the so called Marine Management Organisation (Management that's a laugh!)

What the Whitsand Bay Protest Group and there supporters have achieved here is quite incredible, no counting the fact that it opens yet another can of worms for which our Government's both past and present are responsible for. No doubt no one is going to be held responsible for the fact that to date
six million tons of  waste has been dumped of Whitsand Bay? nor for all the damage done to the environment in and around  Whitsand Bay but they should be? also in my view damages should be given to the group which will enable them to carry on with there aim in protecting our local environment. I hope the Whitsand Bay Protest Groups legal team apply for damages for the 14 years of illegal dumping that has been proven?
 
Personally I have one concern in one of the papers it states that a safer site has been identified about half a mile further out to sea, knowing the area and how the tide and currents work around Whitsand Bay to propose having a new dumpsite just a half a mile away from the current one is ludicrous in the extreme, and even more so as the current dump site sits just 700 metres south of a so called recently-designated Marine Conservation Zone, HELLO? Any way we will see what happens. Last but not least.
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 WELL DONE THE WHITSAND BAY PROTEST GROUP, YOU DID US PROUD, AND THANK YOU.
 
www.facebook.com/StopDumpingInWhitsandBay