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Ministry of Defence issues update on Shoeburyness Range in relation to Sheppey cliff collapse at Eastchurch

Noise and vibration from munitions testing at Shoeburyness Range are monitored regularly, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said, after concerns they could have been connected to the cliff collapse on Sheppey.

MP Gordon Henderson asked if investigations had taken place into whether there was any possible connection between the activity at the firing range and the cliff erosion on Sheppey.

An aerial image showing the extent of the recent cliff collapse at Eastchurch. Picture: RLH Media
An aerial image showing the extent of the recent cliff collapse at Eastchurch. Picture: RLH Media

The Sittingbourne and Sheppey representative said he wanted clarification on the matter following questions from constituents asking why the MoD was continuing to detonate ordnance with the possibility the cliffs remained unstable after the major collapse at Eastchurch in May.

People living on Sheppey often say they can feel the tremors coming from the range in Shoeburyness, Essex - more than 30 miles away.

It is operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the MoD and is used to test new weapons, and dispose of old ammunition.

However, in a response to Mr Henderson, the MoD said noise and vibration from the testing were monitored regularly.

A spokesman said: "I am sorry that explosions arising from range activity are the cause of concern for your constituents.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson

"Both the MoD and QinetiQ take their responsibilities regarding excessive noise and vibration very seriously.

"There is a comprehensive noise management process in place and noise arising from the facility is limited to a maximum of 125 decibels (dB), as recorded at several off-site monitors. This limit is considerably lower than the maximum exposure limit of 140dB for peak sound pressure, as set out in the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. It is, however, possible that on occasion prevailing weather conditions can affect where and how the activity is perceived."

He added: "Prior to the start of any potentially noisy activity, QinetiQ undertakes acoustic forecasts and conducts test shots and, throughout the duration of the work, the decibel levels are monitored by specialist equipment at key locations along the Essex and Kent coastlines, including at Sheerness, Birchington and Whitstable. The activity is adjusted or postponed if the indications are that the predicted noise levels are likely to exceed 125dB.

"In addition to this work, an independent Noise and Vibration Study was undertaken by Southdowns Environmental Consultants Limited in 2015 to re-validate an earlier independent study from 2004. This involved placing additional specialist advanced monitoring equipment at properties in Essex and Kent and all range activity was recorded over a six-month period.

"The report concluded that there was no evidence that ground-borne vibration arising as a direct result of range activity has the potential to damage buildings including worst case scenarios, such as the possible effects of the highest permitted level of range-generated noise on older buildings containing large commercial plate glass windows.

A stock photo of a missile test at Shoeburyness. Picture: QinetiQ
A stock photo of a missile test at Shoeburyness. Picture: QinetiQ

"The study did acknowledge that secondary airborne vibration may be perceptible in certain conditions, but that this will not cause structural damage."

The Mod went on to say an independent study was also commissioned by Swale council in 2011 to look specifically at erosion on the local landscape.

"There is nothing in the report to suggest a link between activity at the Shoeburyness Range and land slippage on the North Sheppey coast," the spokesman said.

"Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the wreck of the S.S. Richard Montgomery and its munitions cargo are affected by range activity.

"The Maritime and Coastguard Agency conducts an annual survey of the material condition. There is nothing in the [latest available] report suggesting that the material condition of the wreck has changed significantly or that there is a link to activity from the Shoeburyness Range.

Cordons have been put in place near the cliff at Eastchurch to stop people going near the edge after the collapse
Cordons have been put in place near the cliff at Eastchurch to stop people going near the edge after the collapse

"This is borne out by the findings of the independent Southdowns' study, and the earlier one from 2004, which found that range-generated ground-borne vibrations dissipated relatively quickly and does not travel sufficiently to have an impact on the wreck. The wreck is also unlikely to be affected by air-borne vibration given that it is almost entirely submerged underwater."

"I hope this response provides reassurance for you and your constituents," the spokesman concluded.

More blasts are due next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 9am and 5pm.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey


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