Dame Joanna calls for change - 'Stop blasts killing whales around UK'

DAME Joanna Lumley had a real blast yesterday while setting off detonations to demonstrate how to cut marine-life carnage.

Dame Joanna Lumley

Let us spray... actress Dame Joanna Lumley detonates an explosion with George Eustice in Somerset (Image: Jonathan Buckmaster) Sign up for FREE for latest news plus tips to save money and the environment Invalid email

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She visited a quarry in Somerset to reveal a greener way of clearing undetonated explosives left in the sea from the First and Second World Wars.

The explosions can confuse whales into lethal strandings by damaging their hearing.

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First Dame Joanna, 75, and Environment Secretary George Eustice ducked into a metal bunker where they set off a ruinous bang which shot a jet of water up 60ft and shook surrounding rock.

Then a more eco-friendly blast sprayed water just 10ft high, with a more muted thud.

The Stop Sea Blast campaign, which Dame Joanna fronts, is calling for a change in how munitions left in the water from the wars are disposed of when building offshore wind farms.

Detonations can cause huge seabed disruption and threaten lives of whales and dolphins.

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Dame Joanna said it was "indefensible" to use more damaging methods with half a ton of explosives because the less harmful alternative costs the same and is just as easy to use.

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She said: "They are far less damaging to the seabed, marine life and to the sonar system used by whales and dolphins. It's been tested. It's reliable so I don't see what the argument is."

The Government last year called for low-noise alternatives to be prioritised over high-order detonations when developing protocols to clear underwater unexploded munitions.

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In 2011 nearly 40 long-finned pilot whales entered a bay at the Kyle of Durness, Sutherland, at high tide and became stranded, with 19 dying. A report found nearby bomb disposal was the only external event with the potential to cause the whale stranding.

Marine mammals need their auditory system for navigation, feeding and communication.

Mr Eustice said: "If we're going to build thousands of new wind farms offshore, we must deploy environmentally friendly ways to deal with unexploded ordnance." There is about 100,000 tons of explosive material left in the sea surrounding Britain following the world wars.

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The Stop Sea Blasts campaign is pushing for the Government to mandate the use of quieter deflagration, which involves firing a magnesium cone at the munitions and causing the explosive contents to burn out.

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COMMENT BY DAME JOANNA LUMLEY

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend a thrilling two hours with the Environment Secretary George Eustice at a quarry in Somerset.We watched as the brilliant people at Alford Technologies demonstrated two methods of how explosive ordnance is cleared from the sea floor.

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First we saw a high-order detonation, which produced an enormous plume of water and a bone-jangling shockwave.

Then we saw a low-order deflagration on an identical munition, which was ever so much quieter. The reason this all matters is there are about 100,000 tons of explosive ordnance in the waters around the UK - and in order to safely build wind farms, these need to be cleared. Unfortunately, the way this country has been disposing of ordnance until very recently is to use highorder detonations, which are incredibly damaging to the marine environment.

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Whales and dolphins have hearing systems that can be severely affected by the enormous underwater explosions.

But things have begun to change, in part due to campaigning by us at Stop Sea Blasts. It led the Government to state two months ago a preference for low-noise alternatives several hundred times quieter. This brings us back to the quarry - where I was so grateful for the minister's time to see the new approach in action.

We are continuing to press for the Government to mandate the use of the low-noise techniques, and after yesterday I feel sure we are heading in the right direction.

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It would be simply unforgivable to allow clearance companies to continue to use Second World War technology to clear these bombs when there are tested, quieter, safer and environmentally kind techniques available right now.

  • Dame Joanna Lumley - Actress and Activist

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