Swanage Coastguard subjected to “unnecessary aggression”

After an eventful week of landslips, high winds and flooding, Swanage Coastguard is appealing to the public to understand that safety measures are only put in place to help protect lives.

The Swanage Coastguard team have had to close roads and tape off areas of the beach as rock falls from the cliffs and large waves have overtopped the sea wall.

They do this as part of their job to keep pedestrians and motorists away from the risk of danger but have been disappointed by the reaction of some members of the public over recent days.

Road closed sign on Swanage seafront

“We’ve even encountered unnecessary aggression”

Swanage Coastguard station officer, Ian Brown said:

“I’ve been surprised by the number of people who think it is ok to ignore the signs and we’ve even encountered unnecessary aggression when we have closed roads for safety reasons. One man even shouted at us that we couldn’t stop him going into the closed off section of road, but actually we can under the Emergency Workers Act, as it is there to help us do our job.

“However, we do only close roads and get out our tape when it is really necessary – we don’t do it to spoil anyone’s fun, or to wrap the town in tape, as has been suggested. I’d really like people to understand that.”

As reported by Swanage.News, the coastguard team were investigating reports of landslips on Saturday 6th February 2021 along the north end of Swanage Beach towards Sheps Hollow when they witnessed rocks falling from the cliff.

Landslip near Sheps Hollow
Swanage Coastguard

“I’ve never seen someone move so fast”

Ian Brown said:

“We were on the beach and looked round just as a great lump of rock fell from the cliff near a beach groyne. There was a man nearby and I’ve never seen someone move so fast. It was quite terrifying how close the rock fall was to him. When we see something like that, as coastguards, we have to react and take action.

“People are walking into the debris. If an accident subsequently happened then we could be subject to a coroner’s court and could be held accountable. We have to take our responsibility seriously.

“So when it was reported a week later by a resident that part of her garden had fallen onto the wooden beach huts below, damaging them further and making one of them unstable, we taped the area off and informed Dorset Council, who have now completely closed the path in front of the huts. We’d really ask people not to ignore the signs for their own benefit.”

Warning sign by beach huts affected by landslip

Flying seafoam, large waves throwing debris on roads and high winds

The weather over last weekend was very challenging for the coastguard as Friday 12th February brought flying seafoam, large waves throwing debris on roads and high winds.

The force of the breaking waves was so strong that it pushed out of line the temporary winter concrete flood barriers that weigh over a tonne. The coastguard in conjunction with Dorset Council closed parts of Shore Road and lower High Street in Swanage.

Shore road covered with seafoam and debris
Swanage Coastguard

“We need to make sure there’s space for emergency vehicles”

Ian Brown explained:

“When we close roads we do so for a number of reasons. Firstly to keep people away from imminent danger like strong breaking waves, but also to stop people driving through, as we are working in the road to keep people back and to clear up debris.

“Sometimes it may look like the waves have calmed down but the situation can quickly change and if we need to call the fire crew out quickly to stop flooding, we need to make sure there’s space for emergency vehicles.

“For example, when the concrete blocks got moved, the Environment Agency sent out a truck to lift them back into place, so we had to ensure that the area was accessible and safe for them to work when they arrived.”

Flood defences moved by sea
Swanage Coastguard

Sea defences moved out of alignment by the force of the sea

Sea defence blocks

Sea defences after the blocks were put back into position

In Cornwall, a dog on a beach was killed by a rock fall

At the end of January 2021, crowds had gathered to watch the large waves along Chesil Beach and three coastguard officers from Portland Bill were injured after they were hit by a large wave as they tried to move people away from the danger.

On Sunday 7th February 2021 in Cornwall, a dog on a beach was killed by a rock fall and his owner was lucky to escape uninjured.

Love your coastguard poster

“We would really like people to listen”

With the weather warming up and rain forecast, meaning more landslips along Swanage Beach are expected, Ian Brown added:

“These accidents do happen, so when we ask people to avoid certain areas, or not to go body boarding in dangerous conditions, we would really like people to listen.

“We want people to exercise, stay safe and enjoy themselves within the guidelines, not to make the headlines for the wrong reasons. And certainly no dogs getting squashed or worse.”

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