Goodwin Sands : Marinet takes legal action to protect “war graves”

BBC News reports, 10th March 2017 : Campaigners opposing plans to dredge a sandbank off the Kent coast have begun legal action to protect what they describe as “war graves”.

Marinet wants to stop Dover Harbour Board (DHB) dredging up to four million tonnes of sand from Goodwin Sands for use in construction at the port. It says the area is the “final resting place” of aircraft and ships from both world wars and should not be disturbed.

The Port of Dover said the measure is vital for the town’s regeneration.

Sand and gravel will be taken from Goodwin Sands and used on construction projects in the Port of Dover. Featured here are seals which use the Goodwin Sands as a haul out site.
Photo: BBC News.


Marinet — a national marine conservation organisation — wants the whole of the sands to be designated a “controlled area” so all ships and aircraft can be protected without the need to pinpoint their location. Its lawyers have made a direct appeal to Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon to intervene in the case.
The Dover Harbour Board (Port of Dover) has applied to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for a licence to dredge the site. A Port of Dover spokesman said: “Protesters need to be clear that 99.7% of the Goodwin Sands will be untouched.”

The 10 mile (16 km) long sandbank lies about six mikes off the coast of Dover.
Photo: BBC News.


The Dover Harbour Board says the sands had been dredged on numerous occasions since World War Two and the dredging is “vital to deliver the sympathetic regeneration of Dover, awaited for over 70 years”.

But law firm acting for Marinet, Bindmans LLP, says it has made a 16-page submission to Sir Michael urging him to use his powers to protect the site under the 1986 Protection of Military Remains Act. Solicitor John Halford said: “If the remains of dozens of British soldiers were known to be buried throughout a forest, no-one would contemplate granting a licence to locate a quarry there.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The final resting places of those who bravely gave their lives serving our country must be treated with respect and disturbing those sites is not allowed. Having become aware of proposals to dredge areas of Goodwin Sands, we have reminded the Dover Harbour Board of their legal responsibilities.”

Marinet director David Levy said: “We want the dredging application declined and the area properly protected.”


Source: BBC News, 10th March 2017. For further details, see


Marinet observes: Marinet has chosen to go down the expensive legal route, and to commit precious financial resources, because we believe most strongly that the Goodwin Sands should not be dredged.

To do so will raise the possibility of the obliteration of what are in effect the war graves of around 60 aircrew who crashed there during the Battle of Britain. For many of these airmen the Goodwin Sands are their final resting place.

For the Dover Harbour Board to say that “99.7% of the Goodwin Sands will be untouched” is incorrect. This is because the Goodwins receive and release virtually no sand to the wider inventory and movement of sand within the English Channel, and are therefore effectively a closed system where sand moves about solely within the sandbank itself. Thus when excavation — a large hole — arises in one place this hole will be filled by sand arriving from elsewhere in the sandbank, so causing erosion of sand levels within the whole sandbank, leading as a consequence to the potential exposure of crash sites (war graves) throughout the Goodwin Sands.

Additionally the Goodwin Sands have high conservation importance, and are a candidate Marine Conservation Zone under the UK’s 2009 Marine Act.

Marinet has presented the full range of arguments against this dredging, and particularly the “illegal” damage that will be caused to the military crash sites and shipwrecks arising during WWII and earlier, to both the Marine Management Organisation and the Ministry of Defence, but neither authority has responded.

Marinet knows that the MMO regards its brief as facilitating marine licensing applications wherever possible because its CEO has told Marinet precisely this. Thus given the absence of any response by the MMO and MOD to our concerns, the legal route has become the only option.

The MOD claims it recognises the importance of the Goodwin Sands under The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which makes it a criminal offence to damage the final resting places of World War military personnel, so we will now see whether this claim is true.

The MMO claims that it considers all licence applications on the basis of the evidence, so we will now see whether their claim is also true.

The Dover Harbour Board asserts that it has dredged for construction sand in the Goodwins before, and so should be allowed to do so again. However in the past the amount it took was a small fraction of what it proposes to take today, and since then the factual evidence of the war graves has come to light. In short, these are different times and the facts have changed.

It is also to be noted that the sand which the Harbour Board want from the Goodwins is not to be used as a high grade material in the production of concrete, but simply as an infill material. Abundant alternative sources of infill material exist.

Marinet is not hostile to the regeneration of the Port of Dover. That is good news and will benefit everyone. However Marinet is strongly opposed to damaging the war graves of the Goodwin Sands and the conservation importance of this extensive offshore sandbank. Such action cannot be to the benefit of anyone.

Now that the legal facts have been made very clear to the authorities, Marinet hopes that wiser minds will prevail.
Note: To see the legal case that Marinet has presented to the Ministry of Defence, the Marine Management Organisation and the Dover Harbour Board, click here.


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