A despatch by Susie Mesure for the Radio 4 program “From our Home Correspondent” – 27th November 2016.
An excellent article supporting the campaign to save the Goodwin Sands
A serene sandbank off the Kentish coast is the hidden home of more than 1,000 sunken ships… and a war grave
By Fiona Young-Brown
21 November 2016
Six miles off the coast of Deal in East Kent, England, seal pups frolic on the ever-changing, intricately-patterned sands that are exposed at low tide. Beneath the water’s surface is a thriving ecosystem of blue mussels, sand eels and peeler crabs.
These are the Goodwin Sands, a 10-mile stretch of sandbank that has been recommended by the Wildlife Trusts as a future Marine Conservation Zone. In addition to providing a home for a wide variety of sea life, the Sands help bolster coastal protection against erosion.
But they may disappear. The Dover Harbour Board wants to dredge 2.5 million tons from the Goodwin Sands as part of plans to expand the port – one of Europe’s busiest – and provide much-needed regeneration to Dover’s seafront.
However, the board has met resistance. Some of that is due to environmental factors. But there is another reason, too: the Goodwin Sands are home to Britain’s largest underwater graveyard.
Hidden just beneath the water’s surface at high tide, the Sands are one of the most dangerous spots in the English Channel. During storms they can be particularly deadly.
In late November 1703, when southern Britain saw the worst natural disaster in its history, a massive cyclone now known as the Great Storm, more than 1,000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands.
The Goodwin Sands are home to Britain’s largest underwater graveyard
Among the many ships lost that night was the HMS Stirling Castle, which was discovered by local divers in 1979. Since 1980, it has been a designated protected wreck under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act – meaning access to it is restricted in order to prevent vandalism and salvage operations.
A century later, on 24 January 1809, the East India Company ship the Admiral Gardner departed from London bound for Madras. It carried a cargo of iron, guns, anchors, and 48 tons of company coins – currency for the workers in India.
As the ship passed the coast of Kent, a fierce gale blew in. It ran aground on the Goodwin Sands along with two other East India ships that same night. Efforts to save the ship were futile, although somewhat miraculously, only one life was lost.
These three East India Company ships, as well as the HMS Stirling Castle, are just a few of more than 1,000 shipwrecks buried beneath the Goodwin Sands. Some believe the number of wrecks may be as high as 2,000.
When the Sands were dredged in 1979 for construction at Dover Harbour, workers found East India Company coins in the material. A few years later, salvage operations at the Admiral Gardner recovered more than one million coins before the wreck was designated a protected area. There is now a 300m (985ft) exclusion zone around its remains.
The Dover Harbour Board says these exclusion zones will remain untouched. The dredging process will be limited to an estimated 0.22% of the total volume of the Goodwin Sands, says the board’s spokesperson Antony Greenwood. What’s more, anomalies that have been identified by archaeological surveys – potentially other shipwrecks – will be left untouched.
The Goodwin Sands serve as breeding grounds for the local seal population
But opponents point out that the Goodwin Sands are a closed system, meaning that the Sands are all one entity, constantly moving in a circular direction, with little material moving in or out. As a result, says Stephen Eades of the marine conservation nonprofit Marinet, “If they were to dredge this site, any hole will be filled by sand from elsewhere within the Goodwin Sands system, thereby exposing and damaging other sites.”
In other words, work in one area could place the whole Sands at risk.
Greenwood disagrees, noting that larger amounts of sand were dredged from the area in the 1970s and again in the 1990s when construction of the Channel Tunnel was underway. These procedures appear to have done little to no damage to the Goodwin Sands – though it is worth noting that detailed before-and-after surveys were not carried out to measure possible changes in the marine ecosystem.
That ecosystem is another part of why campaigners are fighting against dredging. Among other things, the Goodwin Sands serve as breeding grounds for the local seal population and as a spawning site for herring and other fish.
This entire area is a collective war grave – Stephen Eades
The Sands also provide coastal protection against erosion and flooding. A natural breaker, they absorb some of the energy from the waves that pound this part of the coast. That is particularly important to the communities of Deal and Kingsdown, where flood defences are currently under construction at a cost of almost £10 million.
The best chance anti-dredging campaigners have, though, might have nothing to do with flooding, marine animals or even shipwrecks at all. “This entire area is a collective war grave,” says Eades.
In 2013, the last surviving Dornier World War Two bomber was raised from the Goodwin Sands, where it had been shot down during the Battle of Britain. The German aircraft is now undergoing restoration work at RAF Cosford.
But a number of World War Two planes and their crews remain buried beneath the Sands. David Brocklehurst of the Kent Battle of Britain Museum has compiled a list of 60 aircraft believed to have landed or crashed on the Goodwin Sands in 1940 alone. Of these, at least 50 had crews listed as killed or missing.
They will only see the damage or destruction once it has occurred
Air Force historians are double-checking the accuracy of Brocklehurst’s list, which could upend the plans to dredge. Under the terms set out in The Protection of Military Remains Act (1986), it is an offense to disturb a site where there is military aircraft wreckage and likely human remains.
Greenwood points to a series of procedures that will mitigate any potential damage to historic sites, like having an archaeological consultant on board the dredger to ensure correct protocols are followed. But opponents believe more needs to be done.
In a letter to the Marine Management Organisation opposing the licensing application, the Nautical Archaeology Society argues that having observers on the dredging vessels will not help, since “they will only see the damage or destruction once it has occurred.”
The period for public comment on the dredging closes in November 2016, after which the Marine Management Organisation will make a decision. Even if a license is granted, the Ministry of Defence could prohibit any activity while further research into the World War Two aircraft is conducted.
Some believe the number of wrecks may be as high as 2,000
And if the permissions are granted? It is possible that the dredging will have no lasting effect on the Sands or the coastal towns of Kent.
But with a potentially risky future for local residents, the question remains about whether the dead should be left to rest in peace aboard their vessels – and the Goodwin Sands allowed to keep its mysteries.
The Goodwin Sands SOS group held an Act of Remembrance today, outside Dover Harbour Board’s headquarters overlooking Dover harbour. The dignified service including a two-minute silence was lead by actor Neil Stuke, a staunch supporter of the campaign.
It should also act to remind Dover Harbour Board that many people feel very strongly that the graves of mariners and service personnel lying in the Goodwin Sands should not be disturbed.
Wreaths were laid in memory of all the aircrews who lost their lives in and around the Goodwin Sands during times of combat and all the mariners who perished when their ships foundered on the Sands.We remember especially the two thousand men who died in one night during the Great Storm 26th November 1703.
Report from Meridian News
Individual crosses were laid in memory of the 21 pilots and crew from the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm who crashed into the Goodwins during 1940 and who were never able to be recovered. We also remember those who also paid the ultimate price from Germany’s Luftwaffe. May they all rest in peace forever and their relatives be assured they will not be disturbed.
PILOTS LISTED AS MISSING IN THE GOODWIN SANDS AREA, MAY – NOVEMBER 1940
|Sergeant Arrowsmith||No. 139 Squadron|
|Sergeant Richard Bate||No. 254 Squadron|
|Sub Lt Geoffrey Bulmer||Fleet Air Arm|
|Flying Officer Graham Chambers||No. 610 Squadron|
|Squadron Leader Cooke||No. 65 Squadron|
|Flt Lieutenant John Cunnigham||No. 603 Squadron|
|Sergeant Davidson||No. 139 Squadron|
|Flying Officer Douglas Gamblen||No. 610 Squadron|
|Pilot Officer Keith Gillman||No. 32 Squadron|
|Leading Aircrewman Harrison||No. 254 Squadron|
|Sergeant Frederick Hawley||No. 266 Squadron|
|Squadron Leader Hendry||No. 139 Squadron|
|Sq. Ldr Philip Hunter DSO||No. 254 Squadron|
|Flying Officer John Kerr Wilson||No. 610 Squadron|
|Pilot Officer Frederick King||No. 254 Squadron|
|Flight Lieutenant Mark Kirkwood||No. 603 Squadron|
|Sergeant James Love||No. 254 Squadron|
|Flying Officer Lukaszewicz||No. 501 Squadron|
|Sergeant Richard Roskrow||No. 254 Squadron|
|Pilot Officer Roswadowski||No. 151 Squadron|
|Pilot Officer Zenker||No. 251 Squadron|
You only have one more week in which to lodge your objection(s) to the MMO about the proposed dredging of the Goodwin Sands!
This week is all about remembering those who died in conflict and our campaign is trying to ensure that the resting places of those who perished in and around the Goodwin Sands are left alone. Forever.
As Dover Harbour Board hold and attend Remembrance Services in and around Dover, we are all well aware that they are planning an activity which will disturb the marine graves of the very same drowned mariners and brave RAF pilots.
Even if you don’t attend a Remembrance Service yourself, or observe a two minute silence on Friday 11th, please do spare ten minutes of your busy life to join us in protecting the graves of those who gave their lives for us.
Please email: email@example.com quoting reference MLA/2016/00227 before November 16th 2016.
There are plenty of other reasons for objecting which can be found listed on this website under the ‘Objections‘ tab. There is also a link from there to send in your response. Don’t forget to quote the reference number!
The 2nd Public Consultation Period ends on Nov 16th. We have one last chance to make Dover Harbour Board take notice of the enormous public objection to their greedy dredging plans!
We need as many people as possible to join us for an hour on Friday morning this week (11th November) from 10:30 to 11:30.
Please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to join us for this crucial event. Please share this event and invite your friends too! THE GOODWIN SANDS NEEDS YOU NOW!
This video has been sent to us by Tom Carney who lives in Deal. He has used elements of Deal beach in the film and his intention was to capture the mystery of the war grave at sea.
The campaign has had a fantastic week! The petition has been gathering momentum daily and by the time we delivered it to Number 10 Downing Street the total number of signatures stood at over 12,000. It was a very surreal moment standing on that iconic doorstep and I was immensely proud of all that the campaign and our supporters have achieved together.
Media coverage from BBC South East Today, ITV Meridian and BBC Radio Kent have all contributed in spreading the word far and wide. Let’s keep on getting it out there!
It is now vitally important that as many people as possible write with their concerns and objections to the MMO before November 16th. It doesn’t have to be long, or scientific; just write from the heart about why you personally don’t want the Goodwin Sands to be dredged.
Look at the details on our site for how to respond.
Sign the Petition
- Messages from Dover & Deal prospective parliamentary candidates on
- Judicial Review Granted for Dredging Decision on
- Judicial Review Granted for Dredging Decision on
- Possible WWII bomber discovered on the Goodwin Sands on
- Sir Tim Smit KBE speaks out against the rapacious mining of the Goodwin Sands on
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