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Beaufort's Dyke

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Beaufort's Dyke Location, from Wikipedia
Beaufort's Dyke location

Beaufort's Dyke is a deep trench which lies between Scotland and Northern Ireland, south of the Firth of Clyde, and west of the Solway Firth. The trench measures some 30 miles long by 2 miles wide (50 km by 3.5 km) with a depth in excess of 200 metres, and has been used extensively for the disposal of munitions since World War I, although records only exist from the end of World War II.

Following the end of World War I, large quantities of surplus munitions remained, including chemical warfare agents. These could not be broken down safely, stored, or disposed of on land, and sea disposal was seen as the only option. Unfortunately, no formal records identifying quantities or locations were kept.

Following the end of World War II, an estimated 2 million tons of surplus munitions remained in the UK, including munitions seized from captured enemy vessels. Since then, an estimated 1 million tons of munitions has been dumped in the Beaufort's Dyke area. There are no detailed material listings, but the following general description is often quoted:

29" Spigot mortar bombs; Smoke generators (Numbers 5, 8 and 14); Shrapnel mines; .303 Small arms ammunition (SAA) (incendiary); .50 Ammunition (incendiary); 3" Mortar bombs (smoke); 2" Mortar bomb (smoke); 40mm Light anti-aircraft (LAA) gun shells (Bofors); 20mm LAA shells; Percussion fuses percussion (Number 101E); Hand Grenades (Number 79: smoke); Instantaneous detonation fuses (Mk3); Rockets 'U': 3" (Type 'K': Anti-Aircraft with parachute and wire); Rockets 'U': 5" (Type 'G1': Phosgene); USAF 500lb HE bombs; RAF 9 lb bombs; RAF 500 lb cluster bombs (Number 17).

Until 1960, the military port at Cairnryan was used as the main port for sea-dumping operations. It had been constructed for a reported £12 million during World War II (along with Faslane to the north), as reserve capacity in the event that enemy action closed or destroyed ports such as Liverpool to the south and east.

By 1973, only one area remained with approval for MoD dumping, the Atlantic Deep, a circular area, 15 miles in diameter located off the Continental Shelf some 400 miles south west of Land's End. The only dumping recorded thereafter was a batch of corroded aluminium casings, in 1976.

Radioactive waste

In 1997, the Government announced that low level radioactive waste had been dumped in Beaufort's Dyke between 1953 and 1957. This had come from Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, and three Scottish companies: Babcock and Wilcox Ltd, Ferranti Ltd, and Luminisers Ltd. Accompanied by the usual cries of "cover up", the records of this material were found in public records by MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) or CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science) officials, depending on which report you read.

The London Convention of 1972 implemented a global ban on sea dumping of high level radioactive waste, but did not cover intermediate or low level waste.

Stating that the practice of sea dumping of intermediate and low level waste had been discontinued by the UK in 1983, the MoD agreed to an indefinite ban on such disposal in 1993, with the arrival of the OSPAR Convention.

Newspaper article

Three years after this announcement, January 2, 2000, the Mail on Sunday ran a short article describing what it referred to as the secret dumping of radioactive waste at various sites around Scotland until 1960, describing it as being ditched by Scottish companies in the sea, and buried on the mainland, with drums of radioactive waste being regularly dumped in the Firth of Forth. Commenting on the information, a Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) spokesperson said there were no regulations in force at the time, and that there was no risk to public health. SEPA monitors the level of radiation at a number of sites around the country, including the Firth, and levels were currently well within international limits. Ferranti was noted to have dumped drums into the Forth at three to four month intervals until 1957 without "any official authority". The Chief Chemical Inspector for Scotland at the time believed Ferranti had simply decided to do this without any consultation, as did a number of other Scottish companies with radioactive waste to dispose of. Another company referred to was UK Time Ltd, Dundee, which used local boats to make annual trips to dump radioactive scrap materials. UK Time Ltd is assumed to be Timex, and the waste concerned will have been radium based luminous paints, as used on the hands and faces of clocks and watches. S Smith & Sons, Wishaw, was also listed, and described as having burned its radioactive waste before burying the remains in a 16 foot pit on their site.

List of dump sites

The listing given below come from a number of sources (which are acknowledged), and it should be remembered that the locations were fixed by traditional sighting methods at the time, not by the highly accurate GPS (Global Positions System) methods we use today. On moving vessels, with no land references in sight, positions would only have been known to within a few miles at best.

There appears to be little doubt that many of the dumping operations were carried out by crews only to keen to get rid of their unwanted and hazardous cargo at the first opportunity, and while they may not have just dumped them indiscriminately, the patterns seen in the present day charts do suggest that they were offloaded at the earliest opportunity in a number of cases. This is relevant to current events, as it impacts on the laying of underwater cables and pipelines, and the appearance of munitions from the period which are washed up on nearby beaches.

List of explosives dumping grounds published by the MoD. Click to highlight on map.

Scottish Areas

English Areas

External links

Aerial views

Centred on the Beaufort's Dyke area.



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