Wind farms are putting whales and dolphins at risk by blowing up WWII bombs to make way for turbines, warns a new campaign led by Joanna Lumley.
Hundreds of WWII ordnances have been detonated during the course of constructing offshore wind farms around the British coast, with the noise threatening the health of marine life.
Ms Lumley and marine conservation groups fear that more whales and dolphins could be harmed after Boris Johnson promised to ramp up the UK’s offshore wind capacity and are calling for less harmful methods to be used.
There is limited data on the impact of exploding ordnance in the sea, but a 2015 study on one area of the North Sea suggested 88 explosions had “very likely” caused permanent hearing loss in 1,280 Harbour Porpoises.
There are thought to be around 100,000 tonnes of explosives left in Britain’s seas, some weighing up to half a tonne.
The actress, along with conservation groups Marine Connection, the World Cetacean Alliance and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is calling for detonations to be halted.
“It’s crazy to me that wind farm developers, aided by government regulations that are far too relaxed, are able to just blow up bombs that are left over from the Second World War,” Ms Lumley said.
One alternative could be a technique known as ‘low order’ deflagration which causes unexploded bombs to burn out without detonating and is significantly quieter.
The technique was pioneered by a British explosives company but has so far only been used by the Navy.
“It just seems completely nuts to me that we are allowing these giant explosions to cause considerable harm to some of our most precious whale and dolphin species when there is a viable alternative available, and a British-inspired one too,” Ms Lumley said.
The campaign is being funded by Eodex, a private company which sells deflagration technologies.
Renewable UK, which represents the wind industry, said it was aware of the issue and actively investigating alternatives, including deflagration. It said detonation was only ever “a last resort if there is no other way to ensure the safety of our workers and operations.”
The UK is already a world leader in the production of offshore wind, which generates up to 10 per cent of the country’s electricity.
Boris Johnson has pledged to scale up its capacity, promising to make the UK as rich in wind power as Saudi Arabia is in oil.
The offshore wind industry is also looking into the potential use of underwater “bubble curtains” which absorb sound waves” as an alternative to detonations.
Mr Clark added: “Climate change poses the greatest threat to our ocean habitats and wildlife, so it is vital that we rapidly develop effective solutions, like offshore wind – and that we do so in an environmentally sensitive way.”
Current methods to mitigate the impact of detonations include using a lower decibel noise to scare marine life away.
By law, windfarm developers must clear a 1km mitigation zone, but campaigners say damaging levels of noise can reach up to 25km away from the largest detonations.
In 2011 39 long-finned pilot whales became stranded at the Kyle of Durness in Scotland, with 19 eventually dying.
A Government report found that nearby bomb disposal operations in the days leading up this tragedy were “the only external event with the potential to cause” the whale strandings.