Posted on March 7, 2016
Environmental campaigners are up in arms after new licences were issued to dump mud, dredged from the Tamar and Plym estuaries, off Rame Head in South East Cornwall.
The Marine Management Organisation approved the licences this week.
They will allow 63,448 cubic metres (92,000 wet tonnes) dredged in and next to Devonport Naval Base to be discharged into the sea in Whitsand Bay over the next 14 months.
The dredging is done to prevent silting up around Devonport.
The MMO has also given permission for 16,800 wet tonnes of silt to be taken from the Cattewater in the east of Plymouth to the same site, Rame Head South.
More than six million tonnes of spoil – mainly dredged from the River Tamar to enable the passage of ships to Devonport Dockyard – have been dumped at the site over the past 30 years.
Opponents say the deaths of experienced divers on the Scylla, a naval ship sunk a decade ago to create an artificial reef, have been recorded by the coroner as being due to disorientation caused by siltation.
Last year the MMO was forced to quash a licence to dump 370,000 tonnes of silt about 800 metres from a Marine Conservation Zone at Whitsand Bay. Papers filed at the High Court said there were inadequacies in the way it took the decision.
Campaigners fear dumping silt from around Devonport docks at Whitsand Bay could affect protected species, and said in a judicial review that the MMO did not consider the protection of sensitive habitats.
The MMO said in a report on its latest decision: “Disposal will only take place during the winter months, where bathing, amongst other water-based activities, is expected to reduce.
“Recreational use of the areas is not expected to be at risk.
“The MMO considers there to be no likely significant impacts on tourism, recreation, and landscape and seascape issues associated with this project.”
Dave Peake, from the Stop Dumping in Whitsand Bay group on Facebook, said: “We are very angry about this. They have had plenty of time to seek alternative sites.
“They always go on about it not affecting inshore areas, but in the storms we’ve had the whole bay is turned upside down and this dispersal site goes everywhere.
“Nobody in their right mind would be dumping this filthy, contaminated muck from the Tamar next to a Marine Conservation Zone.”
He said the site in question was about 750 metres west southwest of Queener Point on Rame Head.
It was wrong that the taxpayer-funded MMO should “constantly side with commercialism rather than the public”, he said.
Sheryll Murray, the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, said that at the end of last year she talked with John Tuckett, chief executive of the MMO, to raise the concerns of her constituents about the potential damage to the marine environment.
A spokesman for the MP said she was pleased that the MMO had listened to local concerns and was working hard to classify a new disposal site.
“John Tuckett has confirmed to Sheryll that the MMO recognises the need to de-conflict the existing Rame Head site and the marine protected area within Whitsand Bay.
“However, in the interim period, we have to accept the Dockyard and Cattewater are of vital importance to the economy of Plymouth, South East Cornwall and the wider South West.
“Ongoing disposal is necessary until an alternative site is found. Therefore the Rame Head site will be used in a limited way with disposal restricted to areas furthest away from the marine protected area.”
She said the new licences were “regrettable but necessary”.
Mr Peake said they were in touch with solicitors, and believed that the MMO had again failed to follow correct procedure.
He said that John Tuckett from the MMO and Mrs Murray had said in press statements that disposals would continue in 2016.
“This announcement came before the end of the consultation date and preempted these decisions.”
The MMO said it had consulted widely on the dumping and had received no objections from organisations including the Environment Agency, Plymouth City Council and Cornwall Council. Cornwall Council said it neither supported nor objected to the project.
Tonny Steenhagen from Milbrook, an environmental campaigner and co-signatory to last year’s judicial review, said: “The issuing of this new licence is a massive slap in the face of the environment and the local population.
“Concerned locals have campaigned for years to stop the continued dumping of dredged spoil which contains elevated levels of toxins in Whitsand Bay, right next to a Marine Conservation Zone.
“The need to dredge the Tamar has never been in question; what to do with the dredged spoil is the issue at stake here.
“Last year a license was declared illegal through a judicial review which was brought about by concerned locals. Yet here we are again, back to square one, with the MMO issuing a new licence as if nothing has happened.”
He claimed the new licence again breached legislation, making it liable to another judicial review.
“Meaningful engagement with the local population was promised by the MMO but this has not materialised. Instead the MMO have worked very hard with everybody apart from the local population to ‘whitewash’ this new licence.
“We are continually kept in the dark by both the MMO and our local MP about promised long term alternatives to the current situation.
“This is a sad day for both the environment as well as for those who still have any faith left in the political process.”