Part of Cowden Beach (Yorkshire) was the scene of a major incident as coastal erosion released numerous items. At the time, the beach was packed with holidaymakers.

The cliffs have been breaking up for years. As a result, a wide range of projectiles and bombs fall onto the sands below. High tides then drag some items out to sea before redepositing many with the next high tide. 

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An explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team from the army’s 35 Engineer regiment located / identified all the live devices and tagged them for disposal. Having dug pits in the sand, EOD engineers then destroyed the hazardous devices in controlled explosions.

Many were inert practice weapons, however to the untrained eye it is not possible to identify the dangerous live weapons.

Picture2 1 Major military clearance operation as >1,000 items of unexploded ordnance appear on a busy beach
One of the many controlled explosions required.

The MOD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) closed a section of the beach for almost a month to protect the public. Signs and red flags warned visitors of the danger.

The MOD said in a statement that ‘unexploded ordnance (UXO) is dangerous and should not be touched or removed as it can cause serious injury’ and reminded the public that ‘it is an offence to pick up military materials from the beach under the RAF Cowden Byelaws 1977’. There has been numerous UXO incidents in the area over the past few decades.

What UXO was found?

An EOD engineer confirmed the presence of ‘practice bombs and aircraft projectiles’. However,’  two-inch mortar and howitzer rounds’ were also found. As an RAF (aircraft bombing) range, the presence of the latter projectiles is somewhat surprising. It is likely therefore that the area was used by the army during WW2 also.

Mappleton and Cowden has long been a UXO hotspot. The beach and inter-tidal zone has a long history with Allied air forces. The RAF operated a 600 acre (240 ha) bombing range here between 1959 and 1998. The range was eventually closed due to extreme coastal erosion.

As well as practice bombs, the wider area has seen various air to ground and air to air rocket finds, as well as small, yet still dangerous auto-cannon shells. The last biggest incident was in 2012, when approximately 1,000 items were revealed by a landslide.

Capture2 1 Major military clearance operation as >1,000 items of unexploded ordnance appear on a busy beach
MOD signage at the beach.