Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Saturday, 9 May 2009 00:13 UK

MoD says environment a 'priority'

As many as 75 aircraft will be used during the exercise

Armed forces about to take part in a massive exercise will make safeguarding the environment a priority, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

Joint Warrior (JW091) - held twice a year and regarded as the largest in Europe - starts on Monday and involves training off Scotland.

Last year, live firing was blamed for starting a heath fire at Cape Wrath.

The MoD said assessments on the potential impact of sonar and weapons were done during planning.

In a statement released ahead of JW091, the ministry said some of the exercise areas would overlap environmentally sensitive conservation zones containing marine habitats, seabird breeding grounds and protected fauna and flora.

Ways to avoid impact on farming, fishing and tourism have also been considered.

Environmental assessments are routine as part of the preparations for the two-week exercise held in spring and autumn.

The MoD said: "Against this background, the MoD recognises the impact of military activity and takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously."

Breeding season

Following last May's Joint Warrior, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) estimated 338 acres at Cape Wrath on Scotland's north mainland coast were affected by a fire.

The agency said it could take 10 years for the area to return to normal.

The details were contained in answers from the then Environment Minister Mike Russell to parliamentary questions from SNP MSP Rob Gibson.

Answers also included information that SNH advised the MoD not to conduct military exercises during the bird breeding season between late April and early July.

Responding to earlier accusations of committing a wildlife crime, the MoD said it did not train irresponsibly.

A spokeswoman said wildlife and flora continued to flourish and be protected on military training areas, often thanks to armed force wildlife and conservation teams across Scotland and the rest of the UK.

She said the environmental advice was that the heather and grass would grow back.

JW091 will involve the UK and up to 12 other countries.

More than 20 warships, 75 aircraft and hundreds of personnel will be tested in various scenarios, including reacting to an act of terrorism.

Autumn's exercise is planned for October.

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