Exercise Joint Warrior has begun, and its nigh on 6 months since we were last sat on this grassy knoll with our beloved big-eye binoculars, looking over the Minch in this windy and remote part of bonny Scotland. “What has changed in that time?” I hear you cry!
Well, nothing has changed in terms of environmental planning for Joint Warrior, as far as we are aware. But there has been plenty of environmental assessment going on behind the scenes at the Ministry of Defence.
WDCS have been busy too - we made a presentation to the UK government’s Underwater Sound Stakeholder Forum back in December, listing all of our concerns about what the navy are and, perhaps more importantly, aren’t doing in terms of effective planning for exercises, to ensure the protection of Scotland’s valuable marine environment, and it’s cetaceans.
As a result of this, we were invited along with a colleague from the Cornish Wildlife Trust (because we are worried about what happens in the other UK exercise area off Cornwall too!) to spend a couple of days at HMS Collingwood in Southampton. Here we discussed and reviewed all the navy procedures in place surrounding environmental protection - yes, all of them. We learnt a lot.
We also organised workshops and poster presentations at the European Cetacean Society (ECS) Conference, the results of which are in the process of being published in the scientific literature and in reports.
There is no denying that the UK navy are committed to understanding and mitigating any potential impacts. The combination of the time that has been given to us and other concerned groups, as well as the considerable funds that have been spent on existing mitigation measures, are evidence of this.
But during our meetings we did identify some gaps. And whilst the discussions were productive, we are now at the critical point where action is required. And this is no small task.
What we are asking the Ministry of Defence to do (yes, this is the bit that you’ve heard before!) is conduct a full Environmental Impact Assessment of all of its activities. This should include, but not be limited to, sonar use.
Logically, effective completion of such an EIA would then allow the MOD to identify what areas or activities might require further management or research effort to ensure the protection of the marine environment and its inhabitants.
This would naturally lead the MOD on to investigating effective solutions (including, for example, spatio-temporal management, licensing and effective mitigation measures). Funding will be required for independent baseline and impact research.
Having completed all of these steps, the MOD can then be confident that its repeated exercising in the same areas will not be impacting our marine life. In the mean time, Joint Warrior continues as usual, without having conducted an overall EIA.
Here’s what The Scotsman had to say on the subject.