A popular recreation area that has been out of bounds for over thirty three years for the people of the Falkland Islands, Yorke Bay, only a few miles away from the capital Stanley, because of the mines laid by the invading Argentine forces in 1982, could in a near future be cleared and again open to the public.
In effect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (responsible for the Falklands foreign affairs) has given permission to undertake an investigation in the Yorke Bay area this summer, which could eventually lead to the entire beach being cleared of the Argentine mines.
The site is within the National Nature Reserve of Cape Pembroke and prior to the Argentine invasion was a popular beauty and recreation area for the residents of Stanley. It has been out of bounds for more than 33 years; fenced with barbed wire carrying ‘danger mines’ signs.
At the latest meeting of the Falklands' Environmental Planning Committee, Nick Rendell (Environmental Officer) noted that the activities proposed are different to previous de-mining work with large amounts of sand and material being removed from within the minefield fence to coastal green areas currently accessed by the public.
This would impact on access along the south-side of Yorke Bay and the material could be left there for several years with minefield fences moved to surround it, he said.
However it would hopefully lead to the opening of the entirety of Yorke Bay, said Mr. Rendell, adding, “This is great, but there will be some short/medium term impact on access and aesthetics.”
It was agreed that bringing the land back into public use outweighed the potential damage to existing vegetation which would gradually return to its original state over time.
The Committee chaired by MLA Michael Poole considered points put forward by Grant Munro on behalf of the Friends of Cape Pembroke Group and also Falklands Conservation.
Both suggested that groundwork to achieve best standards for the environment be carried out, while FC’s Chief Executive Officer Esther Bertram added that FIG should ensure, “a formal commitment to the long-term management of the site’s natural assets occurs.”
Ms Bertram questioned why the work was being carried out in summer which could lead to undue disturbance to breeding wildlife and added that the meteorological parameters would differ to those of a winter investigation.
Director of Public Works Colin Summers explained that a conscious decision had been made for the investigation to take place in summer when the sand would be drier and there was more wind to measure the movement of the material. There would also be less impact on the environment with machinery in the area during the dry months.
The area had been selected as most suitable because aerial photographs which have monitored the sand dune movement over a period of time had provided better information for that particular site.
Mr. Summers said there was a commitment by the FCO to clear the minefields by 2019, but added that it was dependent on what the investigation this summer revealed; it is expected to be completed by January 2016.
“They know what they are looking for and where to look for it,” he said, adding, “they don’t expect the mines to have moved, but to have become more covered by sand.”
Committee member Gary Clement noted that this had also been the case at Surf Bay where an extensive area of sand had been mechanically shifted and sieved to clear a minefield.
“You can hardly tell that operation took place now,” he said.
Approving the application the committee agreed seven conditions be attached which included that access would be from the east end of the FIGAS runway to reduce vehicular impact on the area. (Penguin News).