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Project Cleansweep – Beyond the Post-Military Landscape in the United Kingdom

Avonmouth Bristol 2013. This site was part of the National Smelting Works, which at one stage during WWI was the main centre of the production of mustard gas. In 2012 workers clearing the site for the building of a large ASDA distribution building suffered from skin irritations and nosebleeds after discovering some buried munitions. The site today has been given the all clear and building has recommenced.

Project Cleansweep-Beyond the Post-Military Landscape in the United Kingdom, photo essay by Dara McGrath

[P]roject Cleansweep takes its name from a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report issued in 2011 identifying sites in the UK where tens of thousands of tonnes of mustard gas, phosgene and other lethal chemicals were, since World War 1, made, processed, stored, burned and dumped in England, Wales and Scotland. To this day such sites remain problematic even when they have been returned to civilian usage.

The MoD released details of Operation Cleansweep in 2011 to provide “reassurance” that residual contamination at UK sites did not pose a risk to human health or the environment. In all 14 sites were identified in this report. Subsequent research uncovered a further 56+ sites in the UK where chemical and biological weapons were once manufactured, stored, and tested. These sites are now almost all returned to civilian use, and are now within the landscape as local bathing spots, public parks, pathways, deer sanctuaries, industrial estates and petro-chemical facilities amongst others.
They are post militarized environments and infrastructure, and a reminder still of what was a sustained military land grab in the 20th century, when over 371,000 hectares of the British landmass was reserved and appropriated for military use.

Grangemouth, Scotland 2013. During WWII the airfield was used in the storage of bulk mustard gas. According to former crew stationed there, secret experiments involving the spraying of mustard gas took place. Today the site is occupied by INEOS. A giant petro-chemical complex that supplies most of the petrol for Ireland and the UK.
Beaufort’s Dyke, Irish Sea 2013. Located between in narrow sea channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland. The dyke is the world’s largest marine munitions dump. It is estimated that there are approx 1 million tonnes of munitions dumped there including 14,500 tonnes of phosgene shells.
RAF Yatesbury, Wiltshire 2015. On the 18th of May 1954, zinc cadmium sulphate was sprayed from a low flying aircraft on the base to test the effects of a biological weapons attack on the site. Zinc Cadmium Sulphate was known even then to be a carcinogen. This test was one of over 750 field trials carried out between 1946-76 Re-development of the former airforce base site into luxury apartments commenced in 2007 but collapsed amid the financial crisis in 2008.
Wigg Island, Merseyside 2014. Also know as the Randle Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) plant. It produced mustard gas from 1938 onwards. As production increased it soon became clear that a safer site was needed and the Rhydymwyn plant was constructed in 1939 to facilitate this. Production ended there in the 1960’s. In 2002 part of the site was declared a local nature reserve, however some of the site is off limits and there are numerous sarcophagi like structures that have entombed the highly polluted parts of the site, indefinitely.
Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire 2012. Was a dedicated road/rail siding for the transfer of chemical weapons and vesicant to Forward Filling (FFD) Depot No.2 at RAF Riseley, Codenamed Lake Site during WWII. This was to facilitate quick retaliation with chemical weapons if they were first used by the Germans Today the site is in private ownership and is used as a feeding place for cattle.
RAF Hullvington, Wiltshire 2014. On the 22nd July 1954, Zinc Cadmium Sulphate was sprayed over the base by a low flying aircraft to simulate the effects of a biological weapons attack, as they have similar dispersion properties. Today part of the site is still used for military parachute training and part of it is leased as a go-kart track.
Sandown Bay, Isle of Wight 2014. In 1951 prior to the biological weapons test program, codenamed Operation Cauldron. A series of mock trials took place in the bay on the Isle of Wight. Scientists from Porton Down conducted a series of preliminary trials in order to test whether their proposed trial would work. Operation Cauldron which then took place off the Isle of Lewis in Scotland involved the releasing of biological agents, including pneumonic and bubonic plague, brucellosis and tularaemia on caged monkeys and guinea pigs on a floating pontoon.
Nancekuke, Cornwall 2014. Also known a Portreath, was the main site for the production of nerve gas in the 1950’s. Although production ceased in 1959, the site was operational ready for the re-commencement of production until the 1970’s. Many of the contaminated buildings and equipment used for the production were dumped in quarries on the site. Where they remain to this day. Over the years the site has been blamed for the high rate of deaths of former employees. A rate far higher than the national average. Presently the Nancekuke Remediation Project is as assessing the site for what is actually buried there. Today the site is a military radar station, rumoured to be part of GCHQ.
Westwood Quary, Wiltshire 2015. Between 1950-51 a series of experiments were conducted underground at this filled in quarry near Bath. Serratia marcescens, a known human pathogen and was sprayed in the part of the tunnel that held the British Museum Art repository during WWII, while 200 workers from the Royal Enfield factory worked in the other part. Later on the bacterium was also combined with phenol and an anthrax simulant and sprayed across south Dorset by US and UK military scientists as part of the DICE trials which ran from 1971 to 1975 Today the underground site is used for the sealed storage of documents.
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis 2015. Located half a mile off-shore on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebridies Operation Cauldron was a series of biological weapons tests (UK Biological Weapons Program 57) involving the spraying of pneumonic plague bacilli on a series of floating pontoons in September 1952 During the trials 3,492 guinea pigs and 83 monkeys were used in this manner. Humans as well as other animals ended up being exposed in these trials. On the last day of Cauldron, a fishing vessel, the Carella, strayed into the path of a trial using the plague. The trawler was tailed by two naval vessels for 21 days, waiting for any distress call causing concern about a possible plague outbreak around its homeport in northwest England. When none came, almost all records of the incident were burnt. The crew of the Carella were unaware of the incident until approached by a BBC documentary crew more than fifty years later.
Woodside, Flintshire 2015. Located on a back road near the Rhydymwyn Valley Chemical Works. It was used as a spill over storage site to store bulk chemical weapons. The storage at Woodside was in 31 partially buried 55 ton tanks and 1-250 ton tanks. The site also became experimental as it was built as a model for other bases to be built around the country. These Forward Filling Bases would receive and store chemicals and were ready to weaponize it in quick response to any chemical attack on the UK. Today the field is used for the rearing of grouse.
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