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Military Remains on and around the Coast of the United Kingdom: Statutory Mechanisms of Protection

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image of The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law

This article addresses the protection afforded by UK statute law to the large number of military remains found on and around the coast of the UK. It is concerned primarily, but not exclusively, with remains from World Wars I and II. These remains are varied in nature and include sunken vessels and aircraft; landing craft and amphibious vehicles; fortresses, gun emplacements and other coastal defences. They face a wide variety of threats, including looting, redevelopment, dredging and land reclamation, erosional processes, recreational activities and neglect. The article examines the protection offered to these remains by three statutes: the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The provisions of each statute are examined in order to consider the extent of the protection they may afford. The interrelationship of the statutes is also given consideration and the rather peculiar overlapping of their provisions is discussed. The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 is given particularly full analysis since this statute has been neglected by academic commentators in the past and yet could offer a useful protective mechanism. Although it was enacted after the Falklands conflict primarily in order to protect the sanctity of human remains, its provisions, if fully implemented, would have wide effect. The difficulty which may arise in choosing the most appropriate statutory mechanism for protection of particular remains is illustrated by an interesting case study relating to the German vessels scuttled by their crews in Scapa Flow at the end of World War II. Finally, some comments and suggestions are made concerning the current division of administrative responsibility for military remains in the UK which leads to an unco-ordinated approach to protection.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Law, University of Leicester


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