Реферат: Water World as Another Home for English Nation Reflected in the English Folklore


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The history of <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Britain</st1:place></st1:country-region>’srelations with its “waterworld”.Why did it inspire the emergence of the richEnglish folklore ?

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The water world in the Englishfolklore: tales, stories fears, prejudices, poems connected with seas, rivers,lakes and their inhabitants.

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Does the English nation try topreserve its precious “waterworld” both as the natural resource and  the cultural inheritance. <span Times New Roman",«serif»; mso-fareast-font-family:«Times New Roman»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: RU;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">

The British area most curious nation in many aspects. When a tourist from whatever continentcomes to visit <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Britain</st1:country-region></st1:place>the first conclusion he arrives at is how bizarre the people living there are.The main reason to their uniqueness will certainly lie on the surface: <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Great Britain</st1:country-region></st1:place>is an island that had to grow up and all the long way of its history alonebeing separated from the rest of the world by great amounts of water. This verycharacteristics turned them into not only a curious nation, but also aninteresting and special one, whose history and culture one of the richest inthe world. And the water surrounding the island played not a minor part in itsforming. So the British people respect and cherish their “watery” neighbour whofrom the earliest stages of their history up to now gave them food, drink,work, power, respect of other nations, wealth and after all entertainment. Itinspired a huge number of stries, tales, poems, superstitions and prejudiciesand it has always been worshipped by the people.

The field of thecountry’s economy connected with water was always a great concern for those whoruled it for they naturally attached much importance to it. From the times whenthe English society was being born and only beginning to take shape kingsalready would interest themselves in the conditions of trading across the sea.In the eleventh century Cnut on a pilgrimage to <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>Rome</st1:City></st1:place> took the opportunity of obtaining fromthe Emperor and other rulers he met there greater security and reduction oftalls for his subjects, traders and others, travelling in their lands. Alreadyin the eighth century an English merchant called Botta was settled atMarceilles, perhaps as an agent for collecting goods to be sold in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>England</st1:country-region></st1:place>.The Viking rades of the late eighth  andninth centuries disrupted trade on the Continent, but Englishmen may well havetaken part in the Baltic trade opened up by this time. At least, there is noreason to deny English nationality to a certain Wulfstan who described to KingAlfred a journey taken to the Frisches Haff; he has an English name.

On the otherhand, we hear of foreign traders in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>England</st1:country-region></st1:place> from early times. Bedespeaks of <st1:City w:st=«on»>London</st1:City> as the “mart of many nations,resorting to it by sea and land”, and mentions the purchase of a captive by aFrisian merchant in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>London</st1:City></st1:place>.But the strongest evidence for the amount of sea traffic in Frisian hands is theassumption of an Anglo-Saxon poet that a seaman is likely to have a Frisianwife:

Dear is the welcome guest to the Frisianwoman when the ship comes to land. His ship is come and her husband, her ownbread – winner, is at home, and she invites him in, washes his stained raimentand gives him new clothes, grants him on land what his love demands.

Men from other lands came also. At the end of the tenthcentury a document dealing with trade in <st1:City w:st=«on»>London</st1:City>speaks of men from <st1:City w:st=«on»>Rouen</st1:City>, Flanders, <st1:City w:st=«on»>Ponthieu</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st=«on»>Normandy</st1:State>, <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>France</st1:country-region>; from about the same date comes adescription of <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>York</st1:City></st1:place>as the resort of merchants from all quarters, especially Danes.

The merchants and seamen plied an honoured trade. The poetsspeak with appreciation of the seaman “who can boldly drive the ship across thesalt sea” or “can steer the stem on the dark wave, knows the currents, (being)the pilot of the company over the wide ocean”, and it was at least a currentopinion in the early eleventh century that the merchant who had crossed the seathree times at his own cost should be entitled to a thane’s rank. The merchantin Aelfric’s “Colloquy” stresses the dangers of his lot:

I go  on board my ship with my freight and row overthe regions of the sea, and sell my goods and buy precious things which are notproduced in this land, and I bring it hither to you with great danger over thesea, and sometimes I suffer shipwreck with the loss of all my goods, barelyescaping with my life.

As we see people working in the sea or over the seas gainedmuch respect in the society and were loved by others. But so much for the economical aspect. The water, as we alreadymentioned earlier, was one of the greatest attractions as a source ofentertainment.

Fishing, like hunting, was highly popular in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>England</st1:country-region></st1:place>,but these were pleasures reserved for the nobility. In the twelfth century,when the kings had normally been so strong, they had claimed such oppressivefishing – rights that all the classes had united in protest. One of the demandsof the rebels in 1381 was that hunting and fishing should be common to all; notonly was this refused, but in 1390 Parliament enacted a penalty for one year’simprisonment for everyone who should presume to keep hunting – dogs or useferrets or snares to catch deer, rabbits, or any other game. Fishing andhunting, said the statute, was the sport for gentlefolk.

So this is a scetch or an outline of reasons explaining whyour ancestors valued so much the rivers, lakes, seas of their land – and it isworth mentioning that their land abounds in all that – and why they respectedthe work of sailors, merchants or travellers. All this is important for theunderstanding of how it was becoming an unseparable part of their culture andhow it is reflected in their culture.  Inthis work we would like to pay close attention to just one  aspect of the whole rich culturalinheritance, and that is folklore.

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What isfolklore?  Funk and Wagnall’s “StandardDictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend” (1972) offers a staggering 22definitions, running to half a dozen pages. In recent years definitions havetended to be all – embracing in their simplicity: folklore is made up of “thetraditional stories, customs and habits of a particular community or nation”says the “Collins Cobuild Dictionary” of 1987.

Morespecific definitions also abound; perhaps, folklore should be identified as thecommunity’s commitment to maintaining stories, customs and habits purely fortheir own sake. ( A perfect example of this would be the famous horse race at <st1:City w:st=«on»>Siena</st1:City> in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Italy</st1:country-region></st1:place>:the   p a l i o   attracts many thousands of tourists, yet ifnot a single outsider attend, the people of the community would still supportthe event year after year).

But whatabout those events or beliefs which have been recently initiated or which aresustained for reasons of commercial gain or tourism? Many customs are not asancient as their participants may claim but it would be foolish to dismiss themas irrelevant. Some apparently ancient customs are, in fact, relatively modern,but does this mean they cannot be termed as folklore? The spectacular firefestival at Allendale, for instance, feels utterly authentic despite the factthat there is no record of the event prior to 1853. There are many other casesof new events or stories which have rapidly assumed organic growth andtherefore deserve the status of being recognised as folklore.

Any workcovering the question of folklore must be selective, but here we shall attemptto explore and celebrate the variety and vigour of <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Britain</st1:country-region></st1:place>’s folklore concerning“waterworld” traditions, beliefs and superstitions. A wide geographical area iscovered: <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>England</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Wales</st1:country-region>with some reference to <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Ireland</st1:country-region></st1:place>and other territories.

Entirebooks – indeed, whole libraries of books – have been written on every aspect offolklore: on epitaphs and weather lore, folk medicine and calendar customs,traditional drama and sports and pastimes, superstitions, ghosts andwitchcraft, fairs, sea monsters and many others. While trying to cram much intolittle work I have avoided generalisation. Precise details such as names, datesand localities are given wherever possible and there are some references tofeatures that still can be seen -  amountain, a bridge, a standing stone or a carving in a church.

Classic folklorebelongs within the country to the basic unit of the parish. Most parishes couldproduce at least a booklet and in some cases a substantial volume on their ownfolklore, past and present. It would be a mistake, however, to think thatrural customs, dance and tale were the whole picture, because there is a richpicture of urban and industrial folklore as well – from the office girl’sprewedding ceremonies to urban tales of phantom hitchhickers and stolencorpses.

In this ageof fragmentation, speed and stress, people often seem to thirst for somethingin which they can take an active part. There is a need to rediscover somethingwhich is more permanent and part of a continuing tradition. By tapping into ourheritage of song and story, ritual and celebration, our lives are given shapeand meaning.

In somecases all we have to do is join in with an activity which is already happening;in others it will perhaps mean reviving a dance or a traditional play. Buthowever we choose to participate, as long as we continue to use, adapt anddevelop the elements of our folklore heritage it will survive.

So thiswork may be regarded as an attempt to encourage us all to seek out the storiesand customs of country, county, town, village, to understand and enjoy them andto pass them on.


Not a single townor village in <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>England</st1:country-region> issituated more than a hundred miles from the sea, except for a few places in theMidlands, and most of those in <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Wales</st1:country-region>and <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:country-region></st1:place>are nearer still. The coastline lies for thousands of miles, with a host ofoff-shore islands ranging from Scilly to Shetland and Wight to Lewis. It ishardly surprising then that our long and eventful maritime history iscomplemented by a rich heritage of nautical stories and superstitions, beliefsand customs, many of which continue to affect our daily lives – even oil rigs,very much a twentieth – century phenomenon, have tales of their own. Inlandwater, too, are the subjects of stories which echoes the folklore of the coastsand seas.


Many tales aretold of submerged lands, and of church bells ringing ominously from beneath thewaves. Between Land’s End and the Scilly Islands lies a group of rocks calledThe Seven Stones, known to fishermen as “The City” and near to which the <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>land</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Lyoness</st1:PlaceName></st1:place> is believed to lie, lost underthe sea. There is a rhyme  whichproclaims:

                                        Between<st1:place w:st=«on»>Land’s End</st1:place> and Scilly Rocks

                                        Sunklies a town that ocean mocks.

Lyoness was saidto have had 140 churches. These and most of its people were reputed to havebeen engulfed during the great storrn of 11 November 1099. One man calledTrevilian  foresaw the deluge, and movedhis family and stock inland – he was making a last journey when the watersrose, but managed to outrun the advancing waves thanks to the fleetness of hishorse. Since then the arms of the grateful Trevilian have carried the likenessof a horse issuing from the sea. A second man who avoided the catastrophe erecteda chapel in thanksgiving which stood for centuries near Sennen Cove.

Another area lost under water isCantre’r Gwaelod, which lies in Cardigan Bay somewhere between the river Teifiand <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Bardsey</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Island</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>. Sixteen towns and most of theirinhabitants were apparently overwhelmed by the sea when the sluice gates in theprotective dyke were left open. There are two versions of the story as to whowas responsible: in one it is a drunken watchman called Seithenin; in another,Seithenin was a king who preferred to spend his revenue in dissipation ratherthan in paying for the upkeep of the coastal defences.

A moral of onekind or another will often be the basis of tales about inland settlements lostbeneath water. For example <st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Bomere</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Lake</st1:PlaceType> in <st1:place w:st=«on»>Shropshire</st1:place> –now visited as a beauty spot was created one Easter Eve when the town whichstood there was submerged as a punishment for reverting to paganism. One Romansoldier was spared because he had attempted to bring the people backtoChristianity, but he then lost his life while trying to save the woman heloved. It is said that his ghost can sometimes be seen rowing across the lakeat Easter, and that the town,s bells can be heard ringing. There is anotherversion of the same story in the same place, but set in Saxon times: the peopleturn to Thor and Woden at a time when the priest is warning that the barrierwhich holds back the meter needs strengthening. He is ignored, but as thetownsfolk are carousing at Yuletide the water bursts in and destroys them.

There is acautionary tale told of Semerwater, another lake with a lost village in itsdepth. Semerwater lies in north <st1:place w:st=«on»>Yorkshire</st1:place> notfar from Askrigg, which is perhaps better known as the centre of “Herriotcountry”, from the veterinary stories of James Herriot.  The story goes that a traveller – variouslygiven as an angel, St Paul, Joseph of Arimathea, a witch, and Christ in theguise of a poor old man – visited house after house seeking food and drink,but at each one was turned away, until he reached a Quaker’s home, just beyondthe village: htis was the only building spared in the avenging flood thatfollowed.

One lost land off the Kent coastcan be partially seen at high tide: originally, the Goodwin Sands were in factan island, the island of Lomea  whichaccording to one version disappeared under the waves in the eleventh centurywhen funds for its sea defences were diverted to pay for the building of achurch tower at Tenterden. The blame for that is laid at the door of a n abbotof <st1:City w:st=«on»>St Augustine</st1:City>’s at <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>Canterbury</st1:City></st1:place> who was both owner of Lomea andrector of Tenterden. However, sceptics say that Tenterden had no tower beforethe sixteenth century, nor can archeologists find any trace of habitation orcultivation of the sands. Even so, the tales continue to be told; one of theseblame Earl Godwin, father of King Harold, for the loss of the island. He earlpromised to build a steeple at Tenterden in return for safe delivery from abattle, but having survived the battle, he forgot the vow and in retributionLomea, which he owned, was flooded during a great storm. The Sands still bearhis name.

Yet worse was tofollow, for scores of ships and the lives of some 50 000 sea farers have beenlost on the Goodwins, and ill-fortune seems to dog the area. For example, in1748 the “Lady Lovibond” was deliberatly steered to her destruction on theSands by the mate of the vessel, John Rivers. Rivers was insanely jealeousbecause his intended bride, Anetta, had foresaken him to marry his captain,Simon Reed. The entire wedding party perished with the ship in the midst of thecelebrations, but the remarkable thing is that the scene made a phantomreappearance once every fifty years – until 1948, when the “Lady Lovibond” atlast failed to re-enact the drama.

Another fifty-  year reappearance concerns the Nothumberland; she was lost on the Goodwindsands in <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1703 in» w:st=«on»>1703 in</st1:metricconverter>a storm, along with twelve other men – of  — war, but  in 1753 seen again bythe crew of an East Indiaman – sailors were leaping in to the water from thestricken vessel though their shouts and screams could not be heard.

The Nothumberlandwas under the command  of Sir CloudesleyShovel, to whom is attached a further tale. Three years afterwards, theadmiral’s flagship, the Association, was wrecked on the Gilstone Rock near theScilly Isles. The fleet was homeward bound after a triumphant campaign againstthe French and some maintain that the crews were drunk. But the story whichScillonians believe to this day is that a sailor aboard the flagship warnedthat the fleet was dangerously near the islands, and that for this he washanged at the yardarm for unsubordination, on the admiral’s orders. The man wasgranted a last request to read from the Bible, and turned to the 109 psalm: “Let his days be few and another take his place. Let his children be fatherlessand his wife a widow”. As he read the ship began to strike the rocks.

The admiral was avery stout man and his buoyancy was sufficient to carry him ashore alive,though very weak. However, official searches found him dead, stripped off hisclothing and valuables, including a fine emerald ring. The body was taken toWestminster Abbey for interment, and his widow appealed in vain for the returnof the ring. Many years later a St Mary’s islander confessed on the deathbedthat she had found Sir Cloudesley and had “squeezed the life out of him” beforetaking his belongongs. The hue and cry had forced her to abandon the idea ofselling the emerald, but she had felt unable to die in peace before revealingher crime.

A commemorativestone marks the place where the admiral’s body was temporarily buried in theshingle of Porth Hellick, on St Mary’s <st1:place w:st=«on»>Island</st1:place>.No grass grows over the grave.


Many hundreds ofshipwrecks have their own songs and stories. Although the Ramilies, forexample, was wrecked well over 200 years ago, tradition perpetuates the eventas clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. In February 1760 the majestic,ninety – gun, triple decked ship was outward bound from <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>Plymouth</st1:City></st1:place> to Quiberon Bay when hurricane –force winds blew up in the Channel and forced the captain to turn back and runfor shelter. Sailing East, the master thought he had passed <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Looe</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Island</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>,and had only to round Rame Head to reach the safety of Plymouth Sound. In factthe ship was a bay further on and the land sighted was <st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Burgh</st1:PlaceName><st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Island</st1:PlaceType>, in <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Bigbury</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Bay</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>.The Promontory was Bolt Tail with its four hundred foot cliffs, and beyond layno safe harbour at all, but several miles of precipitous rocks. As soon as thesailing master realised his mistake the ship was hove to, but the wind was soviolent that the masts immediately snapped and went overboard. The two anchoresthat were dropped held fast, but their cables fouled each other, and afterhours of fierce friction, they parted and the ship was driven to destruction onthe rocks.

Of more than sevenhundred men on board only about two dozen reached safety. Led by MidshipmanJohn Harrold, they scrambled up the cliffs, by pure luck choosing the one placewhere this was possible. Next day a certain William Locker travelled to thescene to try to find the body of his friend, one of the officers. Lockerhimself would have been aboard the “Ramillies” but his lieutenant’s commissionhad come from the admiralty too late, arriving just a few hours after she hadsailed. He found the shores of <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Bigbury</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Bay</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> strewn with hundredsof corpses, their clothing torn away by the sea’s  pounding, their features unrecognisable. Thevillage nearest to the scene of the wreck was Inner Hope, and some there stillmaintain that a Bigbury man aboard the “Ramillies” pleaded with the captain toalter course; but he was clapped in irons, and went down with the ship. Theysay that only one officer survived because others were prevented from leaving the stricken vessel.

Most of the bodieswere washed ashore at Thurlestone, a few miles to the west. There used to be adepression in the village green which marked the place where many of the seamenhad been buried in a  mass grave; thishas now been asphalted to make a carpark. Then in the mid – 1960s a childdigging in a sand dune found a bone. He showed it to a man on the beach whohappened to be a doctor and identified it as human. Further digging revealedthe skeletons of ten men, small in stature and buried in five – foot intervals  — perhaps these had been washed up after themass burial. No scrap of clothing or equipment was found, and finally the boneswere thrown into a lorry and consigned to a rubbish tip. Even though twocenturies have elapsed since their deaths, one feels that the men of the“Ramillies” deserved better. The ship still lies six fathoms down in the covewhich which has borne her name since 1760, and Wise’s Spring on the cliffs iscalled after one of the seamen who scrambled ashore with the tiny band ofsurvivors.


Great pains aretaken when first launching a vessel so as to ensure good fortune, and one ofthe most important portents is the ritual bottle of champagne which must breakfirst time ( the liquid may be a substitute for the blood of a sacrifice ). Itis interesting that the various ships to bear the name “Ark Royal” have alwaysbeen lucky; for example when the World War 11 vessel sunk there was minimalloss of life. The original ship dated from Elizabethan times and had a crucifixplaced beneath the mainmast by the captain’s mistress; this apparently securedthe good fortune for all her successors. On the other hand there are vesselswhich seem perpetually unlucky, some even jinxed and quite incapable ofescaping misfortune.

Brunel’s fine shipthe “Great Eastern” was launched in 1858 after several ominously unsuccessfulattempts. She ruined the man in whose yard she was built, and caused abreakdown in Brunel’s health – he died even before her maiden voyage. Anddespite her immense technical advantages, she was never successful as thepassenger  — carrying vessel.

In 1895 she was inport in Holyhead. When the “Royal Charter” sailed by, homeward bound from <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Australia</st1:place></st1:country-region>, thepassengers expressed a desire to see her and their captain was only too pleasedto oblige. However, the ship strayed off course and a wild storm blew up. Theship was wrecked, with great loss of life. Some of the trouble was attributedto the story of a riveter and his boy who were said to have been accidentallysealed to the famous double hull. Unexplained knockings were heard at varioustimes but although searches were made, nothing was found. When the vessel wasbroken up at New Ferry, <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Cheshire</st1:place></st1:City>,in 1888  it was rumoured that twosceletons were discovered, their bony fingers still clenched round the worn –down hammers which had beaten in vain for rescue.

The “<st1:State w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Victoria</st1:place></st1:State>” wascommissioned on Good Friday, the thirteenth of the month – and if this were notill-luck enough, the fact that her name ended in ‘a’ was considered another badsign. In 1893 she sank with heavy losses after a collision during themanoeuvres in the Mediterranean off Beirut, and interestingly, various thingshappened which indicated calamity: two hours earlier a fakir had actuallypredicted disaster, and at the time of the collision crowds had gathered at thedockyards gates in Malta, drawn by an instinctive apprehension of impendingdoom. At the same time during lunch at a <st1:City w:st=«on»>Weymouth</st1:City>torpedo works the stem of a wine glass had suddenly cracked with a loud retort;and in <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>London</st1:place></st1:City>’s<st1:Street w:st=«on»><st1:address w:st=«on»>Eaton Square</st1:address></st1:Street>the ship’s Admiral Tryon was seen coming down the stairs at his home. He was infact aboard the “<st1:State w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Victoria</st1:place></st1:State>”,where he survived the impact but made no effort to save himself. As he sankbeneath the waves he is said to have lamented: “It was all my fault” – and soit was, for he had given the incorrect order which led to the collision.

Generations afterher loss the  “Titanic” is still a bywordfor  hubris. In 1912 the “unsinkableship” struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and went down with  1 500 passengers and crew. Again, a variety if omens anticipated the disaster:a steward’s badge came to pieces as his wife stitched it to his cap, and a picturefell from the wall in a stoker’s home; then aboard the ship a signal halliardparted as it was used to acknowledge the ‘bon voyage’ signal from the Head ofOld Kinsale lighthouse – and the day before the collision rats were seenscurrying aft, away from the point of impact. After the calamity Captain Smith,who went down with the ship, is rumoured to have been seen ashore.

One cause of the“Titanic” disaster is said to have been an unlucky Egyptian mummy case. This isthe lid of an inner coffin with the representation of the head and upper bodyof an unknown lady of about 1000 bc. Ill-fortune certainly seemed to travelwith the lid – first of all the man who bought it from the finder had an armshattered by an accidental gun shot. He sold, but the purchaser was soonafterwards the recipient of the bad news, learning that he was bankrupt andthat he had a fatal disease. The new owner, an English lady, placed the coffinlid in her drawing – room: next morning she found everything there smashed. Shemoved it upstairs and the same thing happened, so she also sold it. When thispurchaser had the lid photographed, a leering, diabolical face was seen in theprint. And when it was eventually presented to the <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>British</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Museum</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>,members of staff began to contract mysterious ailments – one even died. It wassold yet again to an American, who arranged to take it home with him on the“Titanic”. After the catastrophe he managed to bribe the sailors to allow himto take it into a lifeboat, and it did reach <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>America</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Later he sold it to aCanadian, who in 1941 decided to ship it back to <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>England</st1:place></st1:country-region>; the vessel taking it,“Empress of Ireland”, sank in the river St Lawrence. So runs the story, but inreality the coffin lid did not leave the <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>British</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Museum</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>after being presented in 1889.

The former primeminister, Edward Heath, in his book “Sailing” (1975) revealed that he too hadexperienced the warnings of ill omen. At the launch of the “Morning Cloud <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1”» w:st=«on»>1”</st1:metricconverter> the bottle twice refused tobreak, and at the same ceremony for the “Morning Cloud <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«111”» w:st=«on»>111”</st1:metricconverter>   the wife of a crew member fell and sufferedsevere concussion. This yacht was later wrecked off the South coast with theloss of two lives, and in the very same gale the “Morning Cloud <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1”» w:st=«on»>1”</st1:metricconverter> was blown from the mooringson the <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>island</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Jersey</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>, and also wrecked. Meanwhile, theMorning Cloud <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«11”» w:st=«on»>11”</st1:metricconverter>had been launched without incident and was leading a trouble free life with theAustralian to whom she had been sold.

As recently asDecember <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1987 a» w:st=«on»>1987 a</st1:metricconverter>strange case came to light as a  resultof a Department of Health and Social Security enquiry into why members of aBridlington trawler crew were spending so much time unemployed. In explanation,Derek Gates,  skipper of the “Pickering”,said that putting to sea had become impossible: on board lights would flickeron and off; cabins stayed freezing cold even when the heating was on maximum; acoastguard confirmed that the ship’s steering repeatedly turned her in erraticcircles and in addition, the radar kept failing and the engine broke downregularly. One of the crewmen reported seeing a spectral, cloth-capped figureroaming the deck, and a former skipper, Michael Laws, told how he repeatedlysensed someone in the bunk above his, though it was always empty. He added: “My three months on the <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Pickering</st1:place></st1:City>”were the worst in seventeen years at sea. I didn’t earn a penny because thingswere always going wrong”.

The DHSS decidedthat the men’s fears were a genuine reason for claiming unemployment benefit,and the vicar of Bridlington, the Rev. Tom Wilis, was called in to conduct aceremony of exorcism. He checked the ship’s history, and concluded that thedisturbances might be connected with the ghost of a deckhand who had beenwashed overboard when the trawler, then registered as the “Family Crest”, wasfishing off <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Ireland</st1:place></st1:country-region>.He sprinkled water from stem to stern, led prayers, and called on the spirit ofthe dead to depart. His intervention proved effective because the problemsceased, and furthermore the crew began to earn bonuses for good catches.


Sailors used to bevery superstitious – maybe they still are – and greatly concerned to avoid ill-luck, both ashore and afloat. Wives mustremember that  “Wash upon sailing day,and you will wash your man away”, and must also be careful to smash anyeggshells before they dispose of them, to prevent their being used by evilspirits as craft in which to put to sea and cause storms.

Luck was broughtby: 

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a gold ear-ring worn in the left ear

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a piece of coal carried

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a coin thrown over the ship’s bow when leaving port

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a feather from a wren killed on St. Stephen’s Day                             

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a caul

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a hot cross bun or a piece of bread baked on a Good Friday

The last three all preserved fromdrowning. David Copperfield’s caul was advertised for sale in the newspapers“for the low price of fifteen guineas”, and the woman from the port ofLymington in Hampshire offered one in “The Daily Express” as recently as 23August 1904. One <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Grimsby</st1:place></st1:City>man born with the caul has kept it to this day. When he joined the Royal Navyduring World War 11 his mother insisted that he take the caul with him. Variousother sailors offered him up to L20 – a large sum for those days – if he wouldpart with it, but he declined.

For over twohundred years now a bun has been added every Good Friday to a collectionpreserved at the Widow’s Son Tavern, Bromley – by –Bow, <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>London</st1:place></st1:City>. The name and the custom derive froman eighteenth – century widow who hoped that her missing sailor son wouldeventually come home safely if she continued to save a bun every Easter. Someseamen had their own version of this, and would touch their sweetheart’s bun(pudenda) for luck before sailing.

Other things hadto be avoided because they brought ill-luck.

For example:

-      meeting a pig, a priest or a woman on theway to one’s ship

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having a priest or a woman aboard

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saying the words: pig, priest, rabbit, fox, weasel, hare

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dropping a bucket overboard

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leaving a hatch cover upside down

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leaving a broom, a mop or a squeegee with the head upwards

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spitting in the sea

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handing anything down a companionway

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sailing on a Friday

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finding a drowned body in the trawl (in the case of <st1:place w:st=«on»>Yorkshire</st1:place>fisherman)

Although many of these beliefs areobscure in origin, others can be explained.

For example, thepig had the devil’s mark on his feet – cloven hoofs – and was a bringer ofstorms; furthermore the drowning of the Gadarene swine was a dangerousprecedent. Then the priest was associated with funerals, and so taking himaboard was perhaps too blatant a challenge to the malign powers – if he were tobe designated in conversation he was always “The gentleman in black”. The pigwas curly tail, or in <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>“cauld iron beastie” since if it were inadvertently mentioned the speaker andhearers had to touch cold iron to avoid evil consequences; if no cold iron wereavailable, the studs to one’s boots would do. The other four animals were taboobecause they were thought to be the shapes assumed by witches who werenotorious for summoning storms.

Perhaps women werealso shunned because they were considered potential witches, although a goodway to make a storm abate was for a woman to expose her naked body to theelements. Bare — breasted   figure –heads were designed to achieve the same result. Nevertheless, during HMS “<st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Durban</st1:place></st1:City>” ’s South Americantour in the 1930s the captain allowed his wife to take passage on the ship.Before the tour was halfway through there were two accidental deaths on board,besides a series of mishaps, and feeling amongst the crew began to run high. Atone port of call a group of men returning to the ship on a liberty boat werefreely discussing the run of bad luck, attributing it to “having that  bloody woman on board”. They did not realizethat the captain was separated from them by only a thin bulkhead and hadoverheard the whole conversation. But instead of taking disciplinary action, heput his wife ashore the next day; she travelled by  land to other ports, and the ship’s luckimmediately changed for the better.

Fridays wereanathema – “Friday sail, Friday fail” was the saying – since the temtation ofAdam, the banishment from the Garden of Eden, and the crucifixion of  Christ had all taken place on a Friday. Oneold story, probably apocryphal, tells of a royal navy ship called HMS “Friday”which was launched, first sailed and then lost on a Friday; moreover hercaptain was also called Friday. Oddly enough, a ship of this name does appearin the admiralty records in 1919, but the story was in circulation some fiftyyears earlier. This fear of Friday dies hard. A certain Paul Sibellas, seaman,was aboard the “Port Invercargill” in the 1960s when on one occasion she wasready to sail for home from <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>New Zealand</st1:place></st1:country-region> at 10pm on Friday the thirteenth.The skipper, however, delayed his departure until midnight had passed andSaturday the fourteenth had arrived.

Whistling ispreferably avoided because it can conjure up a wind, which might be acceptableaboard a becalmed sailing ship, but not otherwise. Another way of getting awind was to stick a knife in the mast with its handle pointing in the directionfrom which a blow was required – this was done on the “Dreadnaught” in <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1869, in» w:st=«on»>1869, in</st1:metricconverter> jury rig afterbeing dismasted off <st1:place w:st=«on»>Cape Horn</st1:place>.

In 1588 FrancisDrake is said to have met the devil  andvarious wizards to whistle up tempests to disrupt the Spanish Armada. The spotnear <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Plymouth</st1:place></st1:City>were they gathered is now called Devil’s Point. He is also said to havewhittled a stick, of which the pieces became fireships as they fell into thesea; and his house at Buckland Abbey was apparently built with unaccountablespeed, thanks to the devil’s help. Drake’s drum is preserved in the house andis believed to beat of its own accord when the country faces danger.


With the mirrorand comb, her ling hair, bare breasts and fish tail, the mermaid is instantlyrecognisable, but nowadays only as an amusing convention. However, she onceinspired real fear as well as fascination and sailors firmly believed she gavewarning of tempest of calamity.

As recently asseventy years ago, Sandy Gunn, a Cape Wrath shepherd, claimed he saw a mermaidon a spur of rock at <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Sandwood</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>Bay</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>. Other coastaldwellers also recall such encounters, even naming various landmarks. In Corwallthere are several tales invilving mermaids: at Patstow the harbour entrance isall but blocked by the Doom Bar, a sandbank put there by mermaid, we are told,in relation for being fired at by a man of the town. And the southern Cornishcoast between the villages of Down Derry and Looe, the former town of <st1:City w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Seaton</st1:place></st1:City> was overwhelmed bysand because it was cursed by a mermaid injured by a sailor from the port.

Mermaid’s Rocknear Lamorna Cove was the haunt of a mermaid who would sing before a storm andthen swim out to sea – her beauty was such that young men would follow, neverto reappear. At Zennor a mermaid was so entranced by the singing of Matthew Trewella,the squire’s son, that she persuaded him to follow her; he, too failed to toreturn, but his voice could be heard from time to time, coming from beneath thewaves. The little church in which he sang on land has a fifteenth – century  bench – end carved with a mermaid and herlooking – glass and comb.

On the other hand,mermaids could sometimes be helpful. Mermaid’s Rock at Saundersfoot in <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Wales</st1:place></st1:country-region> is socalled because a mermaid was once stranded there by the ebbing of the tide. Shewas returned to the sea by a passing mussel – gatherer, and later came back topresent him with a bag of gold and silver as a reward. In the Mull of Kintyre aMackenzie lad helped another stranded mermaid who in return granted him hiswish, that he cpuld build unsinkable boats from which no man would ever belost.

Sexual unionsbetween humans and both sea people and seals are the subject of many stories,and various families claim strange sea – borne ancestry: for example the McVeagh clan of Sutherland traces its descent from the alliance between afisherman and a mermaid; on the Western island of North Uist the McCodums  have an ancestor who married a seal maiden;and the familiar Welsh name of Morgan is sometimes held to mean “born of thesea”, again pointing to the family tree which includes a mermaid or a merman.Human wives dwelling at sea with mermen were allowed occasional visits to theland, but they had to take care not to overstay – and if they chanced to hearthe benediction said in church they were never able to rejoin their husbands.

Matthew Arnold’s poem “The ForsakenMerman” relates how one human wife decides to desert her sea husband andchildren. There is also a Shetland tale, this time concerning a sea wifemarried to a land husband:

On the <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:PlaceType w:st=«on»>island</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName w:st=«on»>Unst</st1:PlaceName></st1:place> a man walking bythe shore sees mermaids and mermen dancing naked in the moonlight, the sealskins which they have discarded lying on the sand. When they see the man, thedancers snatch up the skins, become sea creatures again, and all plunge intothe waves – except one, for the man has taken hold of the skin. Its owner is amermaid of outstanding beauty. And she has to stay on the shore. The man asksher to become his wife, and she accepts. He keeps the skin and carefully hidesit.

    The marriage issuccessful, and the couple has several children. Yet the woman is often drawnin the night to the seashore, where she is heard conversing with a large sealin an unknown tongue. Years pass. During the course of a game one of thechildren finds a seal skin hidden in the cornstack. He mentions it to hismother, and she takes it and returns to the sea. Her husband hears the news andruns after her, arriving by the shore to be told by his wife: “ Farewell, andmay all good attend you. I loved you very well when I lived on earth,   but I always loved my first husband more.”

As we know from David Thomson’sfine book “The People of the Sea” (1984), such stories are still widely told inparts of <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Ireland</st1:country-region> and in <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> andmay explain why sailors were reluctant to kill seals. There was also a beliefthat seals embodied the souls of drowned mariners.

The friendly dolphin invariably brings good luck toseafarers, and has even been known to guide them to the right direction. Asrecently as January 1989 the newspapers reported that an Australian swimmer whohad been attacked and wounded by a shark was saved from death only by theintervention of a group of dolphins which drove off the predator.

Also worthy of mention here is another benevolenthelper of seamen lost in open boats: a kindly ghost known as the pilot of the“Pinta”. When all seems lost he will appear in the bows of the boat andinsistently point the way to safety.

Other denizens of the deep inspired fear and terror.The water horse of <st1:country-region w:st=«on»>Wales</st1:country-region> andthe Isle of Man – the kelpie of <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region>– grazes by the side of the sea or loch. If anyone is rash enough to get onhim,  he rushes into the water and drownsthe rider; furthermore his back can conveniently lengthen to accommodate anynumber of people. There are several tales believed of the water horse, forexample, if he is harnessed to a plough he drags it into the sea. If he fallsin love with a woman he may take the form of a man to court her – only if sherecognises his true nature from the tell-tale sand in his hair will she have achance of escaping, and then she must steal away while he sleeps.  Legnd says that the water horse also takesthe shape of an old woman; in this guise he is put to bed with a bevy ofbeautiful maidens, but kills them all by sucking their blood, save for one whomanages to run away. He pursues her but she jumps a running brook which, waterhorse though he is, he dare not cross.

Still more terrible are the many sea monsters of whichstories are told. One played havoc with the fish of the <st1:place w:st=«on»>Solway Firth</st1:place> until the people planted a row of sharpened stakes on whichit impaled itself. Another serpent – like creature, the Stoor Worm, was so hugethat its body curled about the earth. It took up residence off northern <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Scotland</st1:place></st1:country-region> andmade it known that a weekly delivery of seven virgins was required, otherwisethe towns and villages would be devastated. Soon it was the turn of the king’sdaughter to be sacrificed, but her father announced that he would give her inanyone who would rid him of the worm. Assipattle, the dreamy seventh son of afarmer, took up the challenge and put to sea in a small boat with an iron potcontaining a glowing peat; he sailed into the monster’s mouth, then down intoits inside – after searching for some time he found the liver, cut a hole init, and inserted the peat. The liver soon began to burn fiercely, and the wormretched out Assipattle and his boat. Its death throes shook the world: one ofits teeth became the Orkney Islands, the other Shetland; the falling tonguescooped out the Baltic Sea, and the burning liver turned into the volcanosof <st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Iceland</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Theking kept his promise, and the triumphant Assipattle married his daughter.

Perhaps, the most famous of all water monsters is thatof Loch Ness, first mentioned in a life of St Columba written in 700 AD.

Some 150 years earlier one of the saint’s followerswas apparently swimming in the loch when the monster “suddenly swam up to thesurface, and with gaping mouth and with great roaring rushed towards the man”.Fortunately, Columba was watching and ordered the monster to turnback: itobeyed. The creature (or its successor) then lay dormant for some   1 300 years, for the next recorded sighting was in 1871.

However, during the last fiftyyears there have been frequent reports and controversies. In1987 a painstakingand and expencive sonar scan of the loch revealed a moving object of some <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«400 lb» w:st=«on»>400 lb</st1:metricconverter> in weight whichscientists were unable to identify. Sir Peter Scott dubbed the monster“Nessiterras Rhombopteryx”, after the diamond – shaped fin shown on aphotograph taken by some American visitors; the Monster Exhibition Centre atDrumnadrochit  on Loch Ness describes itas “The World’s Greatest Mystery”. Tourists from all over the world flock tovisit Loch Ness, monster and centre.


The seas will always be potentially dangerous forthose who choose to sail them and most seafarers tried hard to avoid incurringthe wrath of Davy Jones – they once were sometimes reluctant even to savedrowning comrades lest they deprive the deep of a victim which would serve as apropitiatory sacrifice though the dilemma could be resolved by throwing thedrowning man a rope or spar. This was a much less personal intervention thanactually landing a hand or diving in to help and therefore less risky.

Various shipboard ceremonies were observed andmaintained religiously: at Christmas a tree would be lashed to the top of themast (the custom is still followed, and on ships lacking a mast the tree istied to the railings on the highest deck). At midnight as New Year’s Evebecomes New Year’s Day the ship’s bell is rung eight times for the old year andeight times for the new – midnight on a ship is normally eight bells – theoldest member of the crew giving the first eight rings, the youngest the second.

“Burying the Dead Horse” was a ceremony which was  continued in merchant ships until late in thenineteenth century, and kept up most recently in vessels on the Australian run.The horse was a symbol for the month’s pay advanced on shore (and usually spentbefore sailing); after twenty-eight days at sea the advance was worked out. Thehorse’s body was made from a barrel, its legs from hay, straw or shavingscovered with canvas, and the main and tail of hemp. The animal was hoisted tothe main yardarm and set on fire. It was allowed to blase for a short time andwas then cut loose and dropped into the sea. Musical accompaniment was providedby the shanty   “Poor Old Horse”:

Now he is dead and will die nomore,

And we say so, for we know so.

It makes his ribs feel very sore,

Oh, poor old man.

He is gone and will go no more,

And we say so, for we know so.

So goodbye, old horse,

We say goodbye.

On sailing ships collective work atthe capstan, windlass, pumps and halliards was often accompanied by particularsongs known as shanties.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuriesbig, full-rigged vessels were bringing cargoes of nitrate, guano and saltpetreto Britain to South America ports. When a ship was loaded and ready to sailround Cape Horn and home, the carpenter would make a large wooden cross towhich red and white lights were fixed in the shape of the constellation knownas the Southern Cross. As this was hoisted to the head of the mainmast, thecrew would sing the shanty “Hurrah, my boys, we’re homeward bound”, and thenthe crew of every ship in harbour took turns to cheer the departing vessel.

Seafarers crossing the equator for the first time –and sometimes the tropics of the polar circles – are often put through a sortof baptism or initiation ceremony. The earliest recorded reference to such aritual dates back to 1529 on a French ship, but by the end of the followingcentury English vessels were involved in the same custom, which continues tothis day in both Royal Navy and merchant service.

One of the crew appears as Neptune, complete withcrown, trident and luxuriant beard; others represent Queen Amphitrite, abarber, a surgeon and various nymphs and bears. Neptune holds court by the sideof a large canvas bath full of sea - water, and any on board who have not previously crossed “the Line” areceremonially shaved with huge wooden razors, then thoroughly ducked. Finally,the victim is given a certificate which protects him from the same ordeal onane future occasion. Even passengers are put through a modified form of theproceedings, though women are given a still softer version of the treatment.

When a naval captain leaves his ship he can expect aritual farewell. Even Prince Charles was unable to escape when in 1976 herelinquished command of the minesweeper, HMS “Bronington”; he was seized bywhite – coated doctors (his officers), placed in a wheelchair and “invalidedout” to the cheers of his crew members who held up a banner inscribed: “Commandhas aged me”.

Other marines departed in a less jovial manner. When aman died at sea his body would be sewn into canvas, weighted, and committed tothe deep. The sailmaker was responsible for making the shroud, and would alwaysput the last stitch through the corpse’s nose, ensuring that there was no signof life and that the body remained attached to the weighted canvas. Thispractise was followed at least until the 1960s, the sailmaker receiving abottle of rum for his work. Nowadays the bodies are seldom buried at sea butare refrigerated and brought back to land. However, those consigning a body in this way still receive thetraditional bottle of rum for their trouble.

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We have had a look at some samples of well andcarefully preserved  British folklorethat tells about the British “waterworld”. But a question of our time no lessimportant is whether the people with such an affection for their land try topreserve it from the harm that may cause our age of highly developed machines,ships, tunkers, etc.

Britain’s marine, coastal and inland waters aregenerally clean: some 95% of rivers, streams and canals are of good or fairquality, a much higher figure than in most other European countries. Howevertheir cleanliness cannot be taken for granted, and so continuing steps are beingtaken to deal with remaining threats. Discharges to water from the mostpotentially harmful processes are progressively becoming subject toauthorisation under IPC.

Government regulations for a new system of classifyingwater in England and Wales came into force in May 1994. This system willprovide the basis for setting statutory water quality objectives (SWQO),initially on a trial basis in a small number of catchment areas where theireffectiveness can be assessed. The objectives, which will be phased ingradually, will specify for each individual stretch of water the standards thatshould be reached and the target date for achieving them. The system of SWQOswill provide the framework to set discharge consents. Once objectives are set,the enterprises will be under a duty to ensure that they are met.

There have been important developments in controllingthe sea disposal of wastes in recent years. The incineration of wastes at seawas halted in 1990 and the dumping of industrial waste ended in <st1:metricconverter ProductID=«1992. In» w:st=«on»>1992. In</st1:metricconverter> February 1994 theGovernment announced British acceptance of an internationally agreed ban on thedumping of low-  and intermediate – levelwastes was already banned. Britain had not in fact dumped any radioactive wasteat sea for some years preveously. Britain is committed to phasing out thedumping of sewage sludge at sea by the end of 1998. Thereafter only dredgedmaterial from ports, harbours and the like will routinely be approved for seadisposal.

Proposals for decommissioning Britain’s 200 offshore installationsare decided on a case – by – case basis, looking for the best practicableenvironmental option and observing very rigorous international agreements andguidelines.

Farm Waste

Although not a major source of water pollutionincidents, farms can represent a problem. Many pollution incidents result fromsilage effluent or slurry leaking and entering watercourses; undiluted farmslurry can be up to 100 times, more polluting than raw domestic sewage.Regulations set minimum construction standards for new or substantially alteredfarm waste handling facilities. Farmers are required to improve existinginstallations where there is a significant risk of pollution. The Ministry ofAgriculture, Fisheries and Food publishes a “Code of Good Agricultural Practicefor the Protection of Water”. This gives farmers guidance on, among otherthings, the planning and management of the disposal of their farm wastes.  The Ministry also has L2 million research anddevelopment programme to examine problems of farm waste and to minimisepollution.

<st1:country-region w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>Britain</st1:place></st1:country-region>is a signatory to the 1992 NorthEast Atlantic Convention, which tackles pollution from land – based sources,offshore installations and dumping. It also provides for monitoring andassessment of the quality of water in the convention’s area. In order tominimise the environmental effects of offshore oil and gas operations, specialconditions designed to protect the environment -–set in consultation withenvironmental interests – are included in licences for oil and gas exploration.

Pollution from ships is controlled under internationalagreements, which cover matters such as oil discharges and disposal of garbage.British laws implementing such agreements are binding not only on all ships inBritish waters, but also on British ships all over the world. The MarinePollution Control Unit (MPCU), part of the Coastguard Agency, is responsiblefor dealing with spillage of oil or other substances from sh

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