Environment

Pandora’s Box is Just a Few Miles Off the Coast of Scotland

The MoD must start monitoring sites like Beafort Dyke as a matter of urgency

, says Deidre Brock

Beaufort Dyke is one of those places that doesn’t get much attention. It’s a bit inaccessible, being a trench in the Irish Sea which goes down to a depth of 263 fathoms, but it’s important and it should be getting attention.

It’s important because it’s only six miles off the Scottish coast and because it’s where the Ministry of Defence dumped a load of unwanted munitions from the end of the First World War up until around the middle of the 1970s. The UK Government’s Scottish Office also allowed private companies to dump low-level radioactive waste there – Ferranti was one of them in the 1950s and the 1960s.

There’s no comprehensive record of what was dumped there but what records there are suggest that it’s over a million tons of high explosive, poison gas and chemical weapons. Some of it has come back to us; phosphorous flares have washed up on beaches and fishing boats have had incidents with munitions caught in their nets – one, at least, resulting in injury to crew.

There have been reports of underwater explosions in previous years and the laying of a gas pipe between Scotland and Northern Ireland revealed that some stuff had been dumped in shallower waters outside of the exclusion zone.

We have no idea what the possible environmental effects might be because we don’t know everything that’s been dumped there.

We do know, however, that things corrode, that the casings of munitions and the containers that chemicals were in will be rusted, bashed about by currents, ground down by rocks and so on. That would make you think that someone must be keeping an eye on this, wouldn’t it?

You’d be wrong. I asked the MoD what monitoring it did down at Beaufort Dyke and I was told they didn’t do any. No-one looks at Beaufort Dyke; it’s out of sight and out of mind. It’s a high explosive, poison gas, chemical weapon, radioactive waste underwater dump that gets ignored.

It took years of pressure on the MoD to get it to admit that it was responsible for the radiation in Dalgety Bay – radiation that came from breaking up and dumping parts of aeroplanes after World War Two – and it took more years to get it to agree to do something about it. They told me that work will only get started this year when I asked about that.

The environmental impact of the MoD’s actions has never been measured.

Cape Wrath is off-limits to us but there have been claims that uranium-tipped shells have been used there. At Kirkcudbright Training centre unexploded ordnance litters the ground. Barry Buddon and Cape Wrath are sites of special scientific interest and are conservation sites but they endure live firing.

It’s time the MoD faced up to its responsibilities, properly surveyed its areas of operation – current and historic – and gave us an environmental audit, tell us what’s in this Pandora’s box.

Then it should be telling us what it intends to do to start putting things right.

[Read more at https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/pandora-s-box-is-just-a-few-miles-off-the-coast-of-scotland-deidre-brock-1-4943323]