Letter 'cynically misrepresented' talk by Dr Miles Hoskin
11:54am Wednesday 30th May 2012 in Letters
I write with reference to the letter from Graham Hall regarding my recent talk on the dredging controversy at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society ("lecture was little more than 'bluff and bluster'", Falmouth Packet 23/5/12). Since Mr Hall claims to have heard my talk, I can only assume that either he chose to cynically misrepresent what was said, or that prejudice rendered him deaf to anything that he didn't want to hear. He obviously enjoyed sounding off in his letter, but nothing he said caused me the least unease for the validity of my case against the dredging.
Before addressing the litany of gross inaccuracies and false premises in his letter, I must first question his description of me as a "self-appointed expert". This was clearly meant to be disparaging, but what exactly did he mean by this? Would he prefer that only officially-approved persons should be allowed to speak publicly on this matter? The last time I checked this was an open and democratic society. If Mr Hall has a problem with that, then I'm afraid that's just something he's going to have to live with.
Mr Hall's first substantive claim was that my case against the dredging was 'blown out of the water' by my inability to state the percentage of maerl that would be affected by the dredging. The discussion he's referring to concerned live maerl, and he's quite right, I don't know the percentage of this habitat locally that dredging would affect. I freely acknowledged this at the time. What Mr Hall failed to take on board was my subsequent point that, as a member of the public, it is not my responsibility to establish the facts of this matter. By law, this duty falls to the dredging proponents; A&P Falmouth Ltd and the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners (FHC). The fact that this information doesn't exist is their failing, not mine.
Mr Hall also claimed that I was unable to answer his question as to why live maerl in the dredging zone couldn't be transplanted elsewhere. Wrong again, Mr Hall. I explained the problems with this at least twice. The gist of what I said was this: it's impractical to pick up individual pieces of live maerl, so it could only be removed from the dredging zone by skimming off the surface layer of sediments (as proposed for the trial). If one dumps this material on live maerl habitats elsewhere, they will also be impacted. The alternative of putting it somewhere where live maerl doesn't currently exist is also risky because its absence could well mean that conditions there aren't conducive to live maerl. Is this bringing back any memories, Mr Hall?
He also seems to think that I negated my own case by agreeing that live maerl can grow back after being impacted. As I explained at some length in my talk, the critical issue is not whether live maerl can eventually recover from human impacts (it can), but the rate of recovery relative to the rate of loss. Given the range of widespread and intensive disturbances inflicted on the seabed around Falmouth in recent decades (e.g. maerl extraction for agricultural use, scallop dredging, scouring from vessels' anchor-chains, etc) and the fact that live maerl takes decades to fully recover, it is highly likely that it is being killed faster than it is recovering (again, the fact that the precise losses and gains aren't known is the fault of the relevant authorities, not members of the public such as myself). This is why I am so concerned about yet further disturbance to this rare, conservation-priority species from dredging the approaches to Falmouth docks.
Mr Hall went on to claim that I "pooh-poohed the University of Exeter's trial dredge". This is wrong on two counts. First of all the trial is being carried out by the University of Plymouth, not Exeter. Second, far from 'pooh-poohing' the trial, which implies unfairly that I dismissed it out of hand, I explained its limitations in considerable detail in my talk (with the help of eleven power-point slides). The main issue being that the trial won't replicate the types, intensity, extent or duration of environmental disturbances that the full dredge would create. This means that it cannot reliably predict the ecological impacts of the full dredge. My views on the trial have been known by the University of Plymouth and the dredging proponents for at least two months now and as far as I am aware they have not been challenged.
I also stand accused by Mr Hall of being "keen to see the end of big ships coming to Falmouth for repair". Yet again he is both wide of the mark and unfair. I concluded my talk by proposing a compromise that involved deepening the berthing pockets alongside the jetties (where sediments are highly-polluted), but not dredging the approach channel across the western bank, where the best quality maerl habitats are found. This would allow the docks to accommodate bigger ships than they can presently, but with some tidal constraint on accessibility.
So, if anyone here is relying on 'bluff and bluster' to further their cause, it's Graham Hall, not me. His credibility is shot. Viewed in this light, his eager plea for spending £23 million of Cornish taxpayers' money on a (potentially illegal) subsidy to A&P Falmouth Ltd rather than stretched public services is less than persuasive.
Dr Miles Hoskin