The Environment Secretary George Eustice today met Joanna Lumley to discuss ways in which they can work together to reduce the impact that clearing unexploded bombs can have on marine mammals.
Joanna Lumley is a supporter of the StopSeaBlasts campaign which advocates the use of alternative methods to remove unexploded ordnance in order to reduce the impact that any removal can have on marine life.
It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from World War I and II in UK waters. Many of these unexploded bombs lie in areas which are heavily used by marine industries, including offshore wind, and the bombs must be removed to allow safe working conditions.
However, clearance of these munitions using traditional high order detonation (explosions) causes significant underwater noise which has the potential to disturb and injure marine mammals.
The Government recognises the importance of tackling marine noise. We are investigating the nature and intensity of the underwater noise resulting from the detonation of unexploded ordnance alongside alternative methods of clearance such as low-order deflagration. Controlled inland quarry trials of deflagration, funded through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Strategic Environmental Assessment research programme, have indicated a positive reduction in noise.
Further research is planned to determine if these initial findings are transferable to the offshore marine environment where environmental variables and conditions can make bomb removal more challenging when compared to a controlled quarry environment.
At-sea trials are planned to begin this summer to characterise, for the first time, the resulting noise and chemical contaminant releases in the marine environment; and to determine whether the technology is safe and effective on historic ordnance that have been left in the marine environment for many years.
The Government is committed to protecting the marine environment and ensuring that we are able to deliver healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystems. Officials and regulators are working closely with, and being advised by, a range of scientists and specialists, including the Ministry of Defence, on the evidence needed to enable the safe use of these alternative methods in the marine environment.
With an improved evidence base, and with continuing support and advice from the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies, the Marine Management Organisation (as the regulatory authority) will be able to make better informed licensing decisions around the use of such techniques in English waters. Improving the evidence will mean licence conditions will become better defined, measurable and enforceable.