‘The Goodwin Sands are loved as much for what they represent as for the physical presence they are… they are a still-living history that connects us to a past and present too easily forgotten’ – William Horwood 2018
The news we have all been waiting over six years for has finally arrived.
The Port of Dover has announced that it has abandoned its plans to dredge the Goodwin Sands! CEO Doug Bannister has confirmed that the port will not be applying to extend its licence which expires on 31st December and that they have sourced a cost neutral alternative for the landfill.
This news is very welcome for all those supporting the SOS campaign, clearly demonstrating that development does not need to be at the expense of the environment.
We are aware however that there is still much work to be done. We now need to ensure that the major stakeholders such as The Crown Estate, the Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation do not allow any future exploitation of the Goodwins to take place – ever.
THE GOODWIN SANDS SOS CAMPAIGN
Though not as visible as their famous neighbours the White Cliffs of Dover, the Goodwin Sands are just as important a part of our subconscious national psyche.
The Goodwins, as they are known locally, are currently under threat from marine aggregate dredging. Dover Harbour Board want to take over 2 million cubic metres of sand and gravel to use as landfill for their Dover Western Docks Revival development.
Feared by seafarers for centuries, the 10-mile long sandbank lying just four miles of the East Kent coast earned the nickname ‘the ship swallower’. Ever since the first recorded wreck in 1298, the quicksand nature of the Goodwins has hastened the demise of over 2,000 ships, scores of military aircraft and four submarines.
The treacherous sands have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of mariners and scores of servicemen from both World Wars. In 1940 alone,
research has shown that 60 planes and 80 aircrew from Britain, Poland and Germany perished in this area of the English Channel. Only one plane, a Dornier 17 has ever been recovered.
According to Wessex Archaeology, the sands are ‘archaeologically extraordinary’, holding the highest density of maritime heritage assets in UK waters.
Ironically, although feared by mariners, the Goodwins provide a safe anchorage, The Downs, that is still used today. The sands also provide a vital natural coastal for the chronically eroding East Kent foreshore and are the haul out site for a 500 strong colony of grey and harbour seals. The sands are included in DEFRA’s third and final list of possible Marine Conservation Zones to be designated, we hope, in 2018.
Forty years ago, in the days before regulation, the Goodwins were dredged for sand and gravel to use in the on going construction of Dover’s Eastern docks,
the Channel Tunnel and Ramsgate Port. No archaeological surveys were done, nor any surveys or modelling to predict what effect the removal of 10 million cubic metres of sand would have on either our coast or the marine environment itself.
Since the first dredging however, regulations have changed and so has public awareness. Unfortunately, Dover Harbour Board has not moved with the times and still considers the Goodwins a conveniently placed, low-cost sand supply, ripe for exploitation.
We are not just fighting this licence application; we are fighting for the very survival of the Goodwin Sands as we know them today: marine aggregate dredging is destructive and irreversible. Should dredging be allowed now, it will set a dangerous precedent, opening the floodgates for other developers seeking aggregate for a sand-hungry construction industry.
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During the filming of Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, I was at times at sea a few hundred yards off the actual beach of Dunkirk. I was very aware that we were reenacting a real and horrific tragedy for tens of thousands of brave young men who never made it home but died and fell to their resting places in the sand beneath our little boats. The memory of their all too brief lives was almost palpable in the shallow waters surrounding the beach of Dunkirk.
I wondered what the outcry would be in England if it was announced that France was going to dredge the sands of Dunkirk to make concrete and other construction products. Outrage I imagine.
Yet, here we are still fighting to defend the last resting place of many such brave young men who perished off the coast of Dover. I have to ask, What is the problem with us, that we are so disrespectful of these honourable souls who perished in the English channel defending the rest of us from fascism? Who is responsible for this insulting ongoing enquiry? Let it conclude as soon as possible and let there be apologies from all involved for the poor behaviour towards our fallen youth.
Mark Rylance, August 2017
Mark also made comments about the Goodwin Sands campaign in July 2016. Read more
Miriam Margolyes, who owns a house in St Margaret’s Bay, has written directly to the DHB to plead for the board to stop this “dangerous enterprise”.
I own a house on the cliff top at St Margaret’s Bay and we already have to face terrifying cliff erosion.
It seems you have no sense of what damage your project will cause to local people and to the environment.
I would like to place on record my profound disgust at this brutal application and urge you to drop the whole idea.
I’ve always believed in the harbour board until now and have defended the docks and the people who try to earn their living here in the depressed South East, but this is a dangerous and appalling project, which will threaten the whole coastline.
You have become destroyers of what makes this area so wonderful.
She said her objections were based on the sea life that could be destroyed or negatively affected, including 350 grey seals that would be disturbed by the noise and vibration and the impact on their food source.
She claims lowering the seabed could cause coastal erosion and leave sea defences less effective.
Ms Margolyes also said that the buried wrecks of the Admiral Gardner and possibly a German U12 submarine and the remains of Battle of Britain planes and pilots could be disturbed and desecrated.
Extract from http://www.kentonline.co.uk/deal/news/goodwin-sands-campaign-gains-momentum-98945/ 14th July 2016.
Deborah Moggach has appealed to the Marine Management Organisation, which is reviewing the application to dredge.
Myself and my family would like to make the strongest possible objection to this application, to dredge from this very fragile and special ecosystem. There is nowhere like the Goodwin Sands, and to disturb it would do huge damage to the wildlife there – the colony of seals, the spawning fish and the marine life in general.
This site has been recommended by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a Marine Conservation Zone and must be protected for future generations.
Dredging on such a scale would further add to the erosion along the coast, by altering the sea currents. The knock-on effects could be calamitous.
Please, please turn down this application. This wild, unique and magical place would be ruined.
Extract from http://www.kentonline.co.uk/deal/news/goodwin-sands-campaign-gains-momentum-98945/ 14th July 2016.
The Goodwin Sands are one of the last true wildernesses of Britain – and by extension, of Europe. They are loved as much for what they represent as for the physical place they are. I was raised opposite them. When night fishing for codling from Deal’s shingle foreshore I often heard the roar of the rising tides across the distant Goodwins. Walking the chalk cliff path to Dover and back I could sometimes see them out there in the Channel, all greys and yellows ringed with white water. I knew some of the fishermen who worked the rich waters around them; men whose other job was often to serve in the Walmer Lifeboat to save the live sailors marooned on them. When I left Deal and began travelling to research and write I headed mainly north: to the Lakes, Northumberland, the Western Isles, Norway and Iceland. I never saw, nor heard of, a place quite like the Goodwin Sands. Not once.
So if they’re more than a place what is it they ‘represent’? For one thing, they are somewhere humans cannot stand for longer than it takes for the tide to come in. That’s a very humbling thing for a species that has destroyed so much: it’s a reminder of our impermanence. For another they are a still-living history that connects us to a past and present too easily forgotten, which we should always protect. No greater evidence of that forgetting, that losing touch with what we daily need, is the idea that we can treat them as a physical resource. The economic arguments for such despoliation, based as they always are on flawed and partial research, are by definition specious and absurd. We do not any more cut down ancient oaks because the wood is useful; nor do we willingly despoil mountains and moorland, wetlands and heath. We let them be, we cherish them, we honour them.
By simply being what they are day-by-day, tide-by-tide, the Goodwin Sands remind us that one of the greatest arts of being civilized is leaving well alone.
Campaigns like ours must always be fought and fought hard. My mother was one of those who fought the planners in the 1950’s who wanted to demolish the ‘slums’ of North Deal and replace them with ‘improved’ housing. She and her fellow campaigners won that fight – and the so-called slums became the Conservation Area it now is, to be enjoyed for generations to come. We must win our fight for the Goodwins, a place we need never visit to measure its value. It is here already, in our hearts and minds and spirits and it is immeasurable. In respecting such wilderness we respect ourselves.
William Horwood, author, November 2017
Sands of Time
Regarded with awe, apprehension and yet reverence by seafarers over centuries, the Goodwin Sands constitute a rich mixture of maritime history, natural science and marine ecology as well as being a graveyard for so many brave, and for the most part, unsuspecting seafarers. Thousands of merchant and naval sailors of differing nationalities are buried there along with the remains of the wooden, iron and steel ships which remaining undisturbed, mark their graves.
Today the Goodwin Sands are a breeding and feeding ground for so many species of fish, crustaceans and seals to the extent that – if ever there was one – this is surely the definition of a Marine Conservation Zone. Put another way, it would be sacrilege if the Goodwin Sands were to slip the MCZ net.
The Goodwin Sands SOS team have done an excellent job in highlighting the need for conservation of an area of the English Channel that has remained untouched for centuries. There can be no commercial justification in seeing this area desecrated. At high water the Goodwin Sands disappear from view but we must not allow our maritime history and ecological future to disappear from our consciousness in a similar way!
Dr Bill Moses, MBE, MA – July 2018
The Goodwin Sands are one of the most important maritime archaeological areas in English waters. With their wealth of historic wrecks and the potential remains of crashed World War II aircraft it has been suggested that the Goodwins should be treated as a conservation area. Dover Harbour Board’s own Impact Report admits that there is a very high chance of finding nationally important historical and archaeological material in their proposed dredging area.
Dover Harbour Board recognises that damage to heritage assets is irreversible and a permanent loss to mankind. The first indication of discovering fragile archaeological material such as wooden shipwrecks, aircraft structures or prehistoric remains will be after they have been destroyed by the dredge head and appeared in broken pieces on board the dredge vessel. Then it is too late and these irreplaceable historic artefacts will have been destroyed for ever.
Dover Harbour Board has already decided to source the sand and aggregate for the start of their project from another dredge site in the Thames Estuary. Clearly this new source provides a suitable alternative to using the controversial Goodwin Sands and should be used for the whole project.
This marine licence application for dredging the Goodwin Sands should be refused.
Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, August 2017.
The British Sub Aqua Club is the Governing Body for the sport of Sub Aqua Diving and Snorkelling in the United Kingdom. As the governing body we do feel that part of our role is to support the protection of our underwater cultural heritage (UCH) whenever we feel it may be threatened.
The dredging proposals for the Goodwin Sands concern us. We recognise that surveys have been done to ensure that no obvious material culture is threatened with catastrophic removal. However, we are mindful that some UCH may well not show up on the surveys currently undertaken. There is also the need to remember that there may well be material down there that we do not know how to see. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Since the sea covered the land bridge to the continent and we became an island seafaring nation, thousands have navigated the channel and through the historic timeline of our naval history both Royal and Merchant, no-one knows the total thousands of seafarers who have been lost on the Goodwin sands. As a seaman and whilst on watch when coming up the channel heading for the Thames estuary one thing stands out on the Admiralty charts, the vast number of wrecks marked on this foreboding area.
Coming into the channel in good clear weather the senses are calm, in fog and a “Southerly blowing” the first haunting sound of the Dover fog horn catches your ears you become wary and conscious of the danger ahead from those days of study.
There are few other places I can think of that have so many shipwrecks that have been so well preserved in such a small area as the Goodwin Sands. The heritage that lies buried is hard to detect so we know little of what lies within, but occasionally a sandbank shifts a little and some new historical treasure is revealed. The Goodwins is a special place so please let us keep it that way.
PeterHolt BEng CEng CMarEng MIMarEST MCIfA MHydSoc
3H Consulting Ltd
Dover Harbour Board’s own Impact Report recognises that the potential for the presence of previously unrecorded wrecks on Goodwin Sands is very high and that damage to UCH is irreversible and a permanent loss to mankind. In respect of the historic maritime environment it would be difficult, if not impossible, to contemplate a more inappropriate locality in English waters in which to conduct dredging operations.
The Nautical Archaeological Society
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