Orkney Dive Boat Operators' Association
The Voluntary Underwater Conservation Zone
This is a transcript of a leaflet printed to publicise the Voluntary Underwater Conservation Zone, copies of which are available from ODBOA or the Harbours Dept, OIC.
What is the Voluntary Underwater Conservation Zone?
The Voluntary Underwater Conservation Zone for wrecks in Orkney waters is a commitment by ODBOA to help protect the wrecks in Orkney waters and not to allow the irresponsible removal of souvenirs from them. The objective is to ensure that our wrecks are protected for future generations of divers to enjoy and that our maritime heritage can be shared and learnt from by all. This policy is supported by Orkney Islands Council.
Many artefacts may be of historical importance without you realising it. What is the point of lifting objects for them to end up hidden away in someone's back garden or garage. It is far better that their existence is known of and recorded.
ODBOA aims to encourage wreck responsibility and respect by all divers through education. This leaflet explains the laws referring to wrecks and gives useful contacts for finding out more information. It also gives a brief history of the wrecks, in particular those in Scapa Flow.
ODBOA's policy is in line with the national Respect our Wrecks Code of Practice prepared by the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, the British Sub-Aqua Club, PADI and the Sub-Aqua Association. (see links)
Finding New Wrecks
As a diving community, it is often our activities that uncover new or forgotten wreck sites. ODBOA continues to encourage the location and careful investigation of new wrecks, in order to increase our understanding of Orkney's maritime history.
Wreck location and investigation must be undertaken responsibly and within the law. This means careful lifting, care and recording of finds, reporting anything lifted to the Receiver of Wrecks and where necessary, donating important finds to the Orkney museums. Newly discovered wrecks in Scottish waters can be reported to the National Monuments Record of Scotland. A number of organisations can give advice and assistance and these are listed under useful contacts. Note: there are some wrecks in Orkney waters, where removal of artefacts is not allowed at any time.
Researching the wreck's history can be as much fun as diving the wreck itself. There are a number of sources of information and advice and these can be found listed under useful contacts. The Orkney Archives in the Kirkwall Museum are an invaluable resource for researching wrecks in Orkney Waters.
What is the Law?
The German High Seas Fleet is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This gives them the same legal protection as other historical monuments such as Stonehenge and Skara Brae in Orkney. It is a criminal offence to tamper and remove artefacts from these wrecks.
There are a number of notable war graves in Orkney waters, in particular HMS Royal Oak and HMS Hampshire. These wrecks are the final resting place of many sailors who gave their lives while serving their country. HMS Royal Oak and HMS Vanguard are protected under the Orkney Harbour Byelaws 1977 and all diving is prohibited. HMS Hampshire is a controlled wreck under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, as is HMS Royal Oak. Diving is only permitted with a licence and tampering and removal of artefacts is forbidden under this Act. ODBOA does not endorse the removal of souvenirs from known war graves at any time.
Wrecks of historical importance may be protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Diving and salvage is prohibited on these sites without a licence.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, it is a legal requirement for all recovered wreck to be reported to the Receiver of Wreck. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also applies to any salvage work for commercial gain.
Scapa Flow - The Natural Harbour
Scapa Flow is a large, natural harbour, protected on all sides by landmasses. Because of this, it has been used as the base for the British Fleet since Napoleonic times, most notably during the two world wars. It is still possible to see the Martello Towers used in the Napoleonic war to defend our shores against the Americans.
There is also evidence of Scapa Flow being used by sailors long before this, and the Orkney Heritage collections include a prehistoric oak log boat to prove it. Very good records of more recent use of Scapa Flow as a harbour can be found in the museum at Lyness, and in the Archives in the Orkney Library.
The German High Seas Fleet
The German High Seas Fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow towards the end of the First World War. Many of the wrecks were salvaged, but seven major wrecks remain. These wrecks make up some of the most exciting dives in Scapa Flow. The wrecks of the Coln, Dresden, Brummer, Karlsruhe, Markgraf, Konig, and Kronprinz Wilhelm have recently been scheduled as Ancient Monuments, which means they can be visited, but not damaged in any way. Information about the German High Seas Fleet wrecks can be found at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness and at the Stromness Museum.
Block Ships and Churchill Barriers
Because of the use of Scapa Flow as a base for the British Fleet during the wars, hostile parties have wanted to get in, to damage, or destroy the ships at anchor. The first attempt to keep such unwelcome visitors out was the use of Block Ships, towed to narrow and shallow channels at the eastern and western ends of Scapa Flow, and then scuttled to cause an obstruction to shipping.
Despite this, on 14th October 1939, Captain Gunter Prein brought his U-Boat 47 into Scapa Flow through Kirk Sound. Never more than 50 yards from the shore, and on the surface at all times, he managed to torpedo HMS Royal Oak, which sank with a loss of 833 lives. This brilliant seamanship earned Prein a medal back in Germany, and instigated Winston Churchill to order the construction of the Churchill Barriers. These barriers, made out of 10-ton blocks of concrete, now hold the A961 road, which runs down through the south isles to Burwick in South Ronaldsay.
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, Lyness
Orkney Heritage, part of Orkney Islands Council, runs this small but interesting museum. It is contained within the pump house and the only remaining oil tank of the twelve, which used to sit on the site. It uses audio-visual material, objects, text, and photographs to tell the story of Scapa Flow. Many of the artefacts are objects retrieved from the wrecks in Scapa Flow and allocated to the museum by the Receiver of Wreck. There is a cafe and gift shop, together with a comprehensive reference section, which visitors can use. The museum is located a very short walk from the pier at Lyness and opens daily in the summer, and Monday-Friday off-season. Admission is free.
Stromness Museum is located at the south end of the town of Stromness. It contains a wealth of artefacts and information on Orkney's natural and maritime history, including a very good display on the German High Seas Fleet. It is open daily in the main tourist season, with more limited opening off-season. There is a small admission charge.
Housed in a brand new building, Kirkwall Library is an important source of historical records, especially in the Archive section and the Orkney Room.