MEMBERS of the public are continuing to risk their lives by ignoring the threat posed by collapsing cliffs above a Dorset beach.
Coastguards have closed a large section of the north beach in Swanage, including Burlington Chine and Sheps Hollow, amid fears that tonnes of sandstone, clay and vegetation could come tumbling down at any time.
But despite the area being taped off, people are continuing to dice with death by walking through the danger zone – sometimes accompanied by children and dogs.
Exasperated Swanage Coastguard Station volunteers are pleading with them to heed their warnings. They have been monitoring the situation closely and have seen at close hand how the landscape can change in a matter of minutes.
One man was even photographed trying to clear debris off the roof of his privately-owned beach hut as the rest of the landslip loomed menacingly above him.
Gareth Kitching, deputy station officer at Swanage Coastguards, said: “He would have been through about five lots of tape. People on the beach were calling up to him but he was ignoring advice.
“Ultimately he’s foolish. He has ignored numerous warnings and safety cordons, put his own life at risk and endangered emergency services. We didn’t have a chance to chat to him, but if we do, we will offer him strong words of advice.
“On the Sunday before Christmas we spoke to 200-300 people and explained the danger. It was incredible how they thought the closure didn’t apply to them. The majority turned back, because they were putting other emergency workers at risk.
“The tape is there for a reason: there’s immediate danger. Ultimately we don’t know when the cliff will fall – it could be many months or it could be two days – but it will fall at some point and there won’t be any warning. We need to protect life.”
The Echo visited the area on Saturday with Gareth and two of his volunteer colleagues, Nick Field and Steve Lacey. Large cracks have opened up in the cliff and one householder has had part of her garden taped off because the ground under her fence is disappearing.
In one place, a beach hut has been pushed forward by a slippage, and in another, old railway sleepers at the base of the cliff are bowing. At least one householder has lost part of her garden, and one of a pair of World War Two pillboxes has been buried.
The material washed on to the beach by the rain is also creating areas of quicksand on the beach, raising concerns that a child or a dog could become stuck.
“So far we’ve spent more than 150 man hours on this, which is quite significant for a 10-man team of volunteers,” said Gareth.
He advised anyone setting out to walk by the coastline to check weather conditions before leaving, take a mobile telephone, and call 999 if they find themselves in difficulties.