Busiest year ever for Dorset Search and Rescue as incidents double

A charity that helps find missing people in Dorset, including Purbeck, is marking its 20th anniversary in 2024 by calling for more volunteers as demand for its services increases.

Annual figures just released for 2023, show that Dorset Search and Rescue (Dorsar) had its busiest year ever with a total of 65 callouts and standbys, with a huge spike in the number of incidents where the person involved was deemed to be at risk of taking their own life.

Dorset Search and Rescue

Dorset Search and Rescue joined Dorset Police on dozens of searches in 2023

Help search for high risk missing people

Dorsar was founded in January 2004 to help search for high risk vulnerable missing people in Dorset and since that time has had nearly 600 callouts.

In 2023 alone there were 65 incidents – more than one a week on average, a massive increase from the 2022 total of 38 incidents – and nearly half of them were to help find people believed to be at risk of taking their own life.

This compares to 2022 when Dorsar tackled 38 callouts or standbys, where 12 missing people were deemed to be suicidal.

Even in 2021, at the height of Covid fears, there were only 49 incidents with 18 people said to be suicidal.

The cost of keeping Dorsar operational throughout 2023 was more than £21,000, with volunteers spending a total of 2,723 hours on live callouts, but as the charity’s workload continues to rise, so does the need to raise funds and apply for grants.

Standbys and callouts 2023

  • Suicidal: 28
  • Dementia:13
  • Despondent: 10
  • Mental health: 6
  • Child: 3
  • Other: 5

Total: 65


Volunteers from Dorset Search and Rescue take part in a training exercise

Deploy anywhere in Dorset in 90 minutes

Throughout 2024, Dorsar will be attending carnivals and other fundraising public events around the county to spread the word about what it does, and hopefully attract new volunteers to help with a growing workload.

Spokesperson for Dorsar, Edward Brereton, said:

“We would like to thank every person who has ever given their time to search for high risk vulnerable missing people in Dorset and those who supported the team in doing so.

“Our team, both past and present, have given thousands of hours of their time to help locate those who need us most, and we look forward to helping the Dorset community for the next 20 years and beyond.

“To celebrate this year, there will be several events taking place across the county which can be attended by the public, volunteers and their families, as well as sharing stories across social media.

“We were founded on a snowy night in Dorchester in 2004 by Bob Knott and since then have grown in both size and reputation.

“We are now on call 24/7, 365 days of the year, with a commitment to Dorset Police that we can deploy anywhere in the county of Dorset within 90 minutes of being called upon.”


Fitness training includes covering five miles of rough ground in two hours, in all weathers

Mandatory fitness training

When called on by Dorset Police, Dorsar’s role is to support the county’s emergency services in times of crisis. There are more than 80 members who are all qualified Lowland Rescue search technicians.

The charity, which is based at Winfrith, has three vehicles – a well equipped search control vehicle, a bespoke water team support vehicle and a 4×4 Land Rover.

Search teams of between four and six people with a team leader will be deployed in designated areas under the instruction of Search Control and work with the police to cover as much ground as possible.

Each member will have qualified in skills which include first aid, navigation and radio communication, but Dorsar also has medics trained to a higher level of first aid, as well as water rescue, river bank search and bike search specialists.

Volunteers have to undergo mandatory fitness assessments, crossing five miles of rough ground in two hours while carrying a standard search kit and regularly take on search exercise and first aid training.


A classroom training session for Dorsar volunteers at Kingston Maurward College

“We are aware of mental health issues”

Edward Brereton said:

“It’s essential that our volunteers practise these skills so that they are prepared for these situations when searching for high risk missing people in Dorset.

“As an organisation we are well aware of the mental health issues of those we are searching for, and as we can sometimes neglect our own mental health, Dorset Search and Rescue has recently created a welfare team to consider the teams’ wellbeing.

“One of the theories discussed in the mental health first aid course that we have started employing is the idea of a stress container – a vessel that can only hold so much before overflowing.

“A person’s various concerns and issues act as rocks within the container which reduces its capacity over time. Some issues are considered as big boulders others as smaller rocks, but by managing the load we can help to prevent the container overflowing.”


Wellness walks are being held monthly across Dorset to improve mental health

Wellness walks to discuss problems

Edward Brereton added:

“Using this theory, we have launched our wellness walks. Once a month, the Dorset Search and Rescue welfare team holds a walk somewhere in Dorset for our members and allows them to freely discuss their issues, big or small, within a safe and informal setting.

“We hope this helps allow people to manage their stress container capacity in order to increase their mental health robustness.

“The wellness walk is not just open to operational members either, we have extended the invitation to our support members and have already received positive feedback. It helps that we have the beautiful Dorset countryside and coastline to set the scene!”


Volunteers took part in a two-day first aid training session at Kingston Maurward in March 2024

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