Joanna Lumley plea over disposal of WWII bombs at sea

Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley | Image: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Boris Johnson is told that exploding wartime ordnance to clear the way for windfarms harms marine life

Actress Joanna Lumley is calling for wartime bombs found in British waters to be burned out rather than detonated for the sake of marine life. The star and activist has teamed up with marine conservation charities to call for a change in how unexploded war munitions found during the construction of wind farms are disposed of.

Military operations in the first and second world wars have left an estimated 100,000 mines and bombs scattered around our coasts, some as large as 600lbs. Many of these munitions need to be cleared for safe construction of wind farms, which is currently done by detonating them.

Ordnance detonated in the Thames estuary off Shoeburyness, Essex
Ordnance detonated in the Thames estuary off Shoeburyness, Essex in 2018 | Image: PA

The effect of an underwater explosion can affect marine life in different ways. If close to a blast, the pressure wave can cause physical harm, such as lesions, haemorrhage and decompression sickness. Marine mammals can also suffer pathological damage to their hearing, which renders them unable to navigate, feed or communicate properly. They can also become shocked by the blasts.

A German second world war bomb being detonated off shore
A German second world war bomb being detonated off shore | Image: James Crawford/PA

Ms Lumley said the “blow it up” approach is “completely nuts” and called for devices to burned out instead, using a technique called low order deflagration. Her intervention came after a report last week said that noise pollution in the ocean was being dangerously overlooked. A government-funded study also concluded that one of Britain’s largest mass strandings of whales was likely caused by offshore bomb disposal.

Unexploded ordinance on the seabed
Unexploded ordinance on the seabed | Image: MAT LE MAITRE

Last year, a German study concluded that eight porpoises were deafened and died in August 2019 as a result of explosions used to clear second world war mines in German protection zones in the Baltic Sea. Autopsies were carried out on 24 of the mammals after 41 were found dead on beaches.

beached whales

The UK is expected to ramp up its wind energy capacity significantly in the coming years. The Stop Sea Blasts campaign is supportive of windfarms but is calling for contractors to use an alternative and quieter method of clearing ordnance, called “deflagration”, which has been used by the Royal Navy since 2005. Deflagration allows a small charge to penetrate the bomb casing without detonating it, which causes the explosive to burn out. petition: ‘Stop harming Whales and Dolphins with leftover WWII Bombs!’


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