Although many visitors to the Falkland Islands arrive via cruise ships, most residents and longer-stay visitors arrive by air at Mount Pleasant Airport. They are then usually driven the 35 miles to Stanley, and after admiring the rolling scenery for about 20 miles, the last 10 miles into Stanley brings the road closer to the hills where the final stages of the Falklands War were played out.
|The road from Stanley, with Mts William, Tumbledown, and Longdon. All battlefields.|
It is then that visitors may notice the most obvious and dangerous legacy of the war - road signs warning "Slow - Minefield"!
|Grass wren on minefield fence|
|Minefield 28, with Mt William behind|
|Gypsy Cove and Yorke Bay. Stanley airport beyond the (mined) dunes.|
After leaving the Army in 1990 he formed a company, BACTEC, to continue the work, worldwide, of clearing up explosives. There's no shortage of work.... Recently, a team of BACTEC Zimbabwean explosive disposal and demining experts, have worked for 3 months to locate and destroy unexploded ordnance. Quite simply: finding, and safely destroying, ammunition, grenades, missiles, mines, rockets, explosives etc, which had been abandoned in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Immediate Aftermath -
Immediately after the surrender of the Argentine forces on 14th June 1982, it became obvious that the clearing up of war debris would be a mammoth and dangerous task Millions of shells and bullets had been fired by both sides. It was said that walking around Stanley, it was not possible to walk 5 paces without stepping on ammunition, spent or otherwise.
Worse, it very quickly became clear that many mines had been laid by Argentine troops to prevent British forces moving over the low-lying terrain towards Stanley. Worse still, after interrogating many of the captured teams of mine-layers, it emerged that, as the war neared its end, desperate measure were employed and detailed maps of the minefields had not been produced! It was discovered that some mines had been laid from helicopters.
|Mined sand dunes at Yorke Bay, near Stanley|
Most of the captured Argentine mine specialists were happy to co-operate with British Army engineers to help locate and document the minefields, but after 2 British soldiers were badly injured by mines while following Argentines through a minefield, the decision was made to not risk further lives and limbs. The edges of the minefields would be located, and then the minefields fenced and clearly signposted. The Argentine engineers were repatriated with the thousands of other prisoners. Before boarding the troop ships, the engineers were asked how they had intended to clear the undocumented minefields if they had stayed in the Falklands for the long-term. "With sheep!" was the reply!
The Falklands soil is mainly deep, damp peat and this allowed buried mines to sometimes move at a later date. Also, a bulldozer working on a beach near Stanley was damaged by a mine that had been planted in the nearby dunes. It's assumed the mine had been washed from the dunes by rain (or washed up on the tide). So, these beaches have been cordoned off since 1982 and only penguins now stroll along them.
|The beach to themselves...|
|Yorke Bay. Only penguin feet tread the sand.|
|Magellenic pengiuns at Gypsy Cove. No humans allowed|
|Tranquil Yorke Bay|
Restoring the cleared minefields -
Two years ago, BACTEC cleared ordnance from around the beautiful beach at Surf Bay, about 3 miles east of Stanley, near the airport, and one of the most-heavily defended (by Argentine forces) parts of the Falklands. This, and Yorke Bay, was where invading troops were expected to land.
|Surf's up at...Surf Bay!|
The cleared dunes were fenced off and replanted with native grasses - partly to stabilise the dunes, and also to restore the ground cover with native, rather than alien, species.
|Replanted grasses on reclaimed sand dunes|
This week, I have been helping monitor the progress of the restoration, working with Falklands Conservation as a volunteer. Much of the work involved assisting a scientist record the size of the plants and whether they had seeds, or had been grazed by (introduced) hares or rabbits. We also recorded the presence of all other plants in the trial site.
|Signs ask that the new grasses be undisturbed.|
More details of Falklands Conservation work here -
The beach at Surf Bay is now enjoyed by many Falklanders, and is the scene of the mid-winter swim! Brrrrrr! (On Monday, I wore 2 fleeces, a thermal vest, thermal trousers and a windproof jacket, and was still cold - the wind was gusting!)
RECENT Clearances -
|Map showing Stanley (top), and minefields (red). Cleared area in green.|
But, the most stirring event recently was the clearance of almost 4 million square metres of land, just south of Stanley. Within this area was an old stone corral, built by Jacob Goss in the 1840s. His descendant, Eric Goss, was in attendance at the Land Release ceremony, when the BACTEC representatives officially handed over the land to the Governor, Nigel Heywood. Musicians played local folk songs and beer and snacks were liberally consumed by some.
|Thick walls of stone corral|
|South American TV news team and Zimbabwean mine clearer.|
For more on the clearance, Penguin News has details -
|The corral is about 0.5 mile in circumference. Mt William in distance.|
I know some people (both in the Falklands and in the UK) are rightly horrified at the situation about the minefields, but it just goes to show that, even if the minefields can't be completely removed, improvements can be made.
As well as the immediately-obvious danger to life and limb that these minefields presented to the Forces and local population, there were also some subtle but significant changes to Falklands life.
Pay rates in Stanley, and in Camp, were generally low, but this was offset by access to free peat nearby, for fuel, and a seemingly-unlimited supply of Upland Geese, which grazed on the grasses throughout the islands. No-one went hungry.
However, much of the peat was now in the middle of minefields, as were the geese. Heating fuel (propane and kerosene) and more food now had to be imported from the UK. Wages had to be increased to pay for the extra costs. The economy had to grow to pay for the rising wages.....
I'm told peat stoves are difficult to light and, once lit, need to be monitored to avoid going out. For this reason, almost everyone in Stanley would return home at lunchtime (or is it "dinner"?), to check on the stove. But, even with the advent of mains electricity, it seems most people still return home at lunchtime. Some traditions are worth keeping!
Enjoy your dinner, whenever you have it!
[PS. I gleaned a lot of interesting information from this book - "Falklands Aftermath", by Maj-Gen Edward Fursdon. Well worth a read if you want to know what happens after a small war in your back garden!]