THE Westmorland Gazette is today launching a campaign to heighten awareness of the dangers posed by the treacherous Morecambe Bay sands.
Thousands of Safety on the Sands posters, produced by the paper, are to be distributed to businesses across South Lakeland and north Lancashire in a bid to save lives.
It follows two recent incidents in which holidaymakers found themselves trapped in quicksands and rescued by coastguards.
The initiative is being supported by South Lakeland District Council, Lancaster City Council, Queen’s Guide to the Sands Cedric Robinson, the HM Coastguard, Bay Search and Rescue and Ulverston Inshore Rescue.
The rapid and fast-rising incoming tides, unpredictable quicksands and shifting channels already make the sands some of the most dangerous in the UK.
But Mr Robinson warned they have ‘never been so dangerous’ as they are this year.
His stark message was issued following the rescue of a teenage girl who was sucked into quicksand up to her waist near Silverdale earlier this month.
Two weeks later a woman was also submerged to her waist, and a man stuck to his knees, near The Ship Inn, Sandside.
Rescue volunteers have criticised some of the 60 warning signs in place from Silverdale to Bardsea, describing them as ‘old’ and ‘tatty’.
Bay Search and Rescue Training Officer Mike Davis said: “They need a refresh. Some are good but there needs to be consistency.
“If people have not read anything about the dangers then the signs are the last line of defence before they go onto the Bay. An audit of them all needs to be done.”
Bruce Chattaway, Station Officer at Ulverston Inshore Rescue, was also unhappy about the state of the signs and has taken matters into his own hands.
“There is at sign at Canal Foot but it is has been there for donkeys’ years and when things are old fashioned and tatty people do not pay attention,” he said.
“Last summer we had 33 call-outs to that area so we are in the process of having our own noticeboard made, with more detail on and timetables of the tide times.”
Coun Tom Harvey was successful in his campaign to get new signage at Grange two years ago, and said he was ‘sure they made a difference’.
But Nigel Capstick, Arnside Coastguard Station Officer, said the ten new signs at Arnside, donated to the parish council by United Utilities in October, had not made any difference.
“We tried to make them more dynamic, and get across the message that there was ‘extreme’ danger, but there is a limit to what you can do and people obviously are not taking notice because they are still going out,” he said.
South Lakeland District Council said it was responsible for the signs on council-owned land, which numbered 22, and that they were replaced with newer ones in 2011.
Phil Greenup, Public Protection Manager, said: “The change was made after the council became aware of the national RNLI signing scheme, and we replaced 22 because they are the ones on council land.
“Historically signs across South Lakeland were probably installed by SLDC or parish councils, but now those on private land fall to the responsibility of the landowner. SLDC is happy to work with any landowner to give them advice on what would be the most appropriate signage.”
He added that council workers did regularly assess the signs they were responsible for.
Safety on the Sands is prominently aimed at visitors, who appear to be the most frequently caught out.
But Mr Capstick said residents also had a significant role to play.
“It is important that local people keep an eye on what is going on and that they do not hesitate to contact 999 if they think someone is in danger.
“We would rather be called out to 1,000 false alarms than to one fatality.
“A campaign like this has absolutely been needed because the information presented in safety messages is crucial.”
Mr Robinson added: “I whole heartedly think it is a wonderful idea.”
A long list of incidents
- 2004 February – More than 30 Chinese cockle pickers were caught by high rising tide near Hest Bank. Twenty-one perished.
- 2005 February – A 47-year-old walker was saved from certain death after he became stuck up to his neck in mud near Silverdale.
- 2006 March – A woman who had parked on the Bolton-le-Sands shore to enjoy the view and carry out book work had to be rescued after her car was caught by the high tide.
- 2006 October - A 29-year-old man sparked a major rescue when he got stuck in mud and quicksand 300 metres off Scalestone Point, Morecambe.
- 2006 October – Coastguard members rescued a man who was stuck up to his waist in mud near Happy Mount Park, Morecambe.
- 2007 June – A number of people were rescued from the tide after taking to the sands in the Arnside area during a weekend of warm weather.
- 2010 May – Four visitors were rescued from the West Plain Marshes by Bay Search and Rescue after their Land Rover Discovery began to sink in quicksand.
- 2010 June – Firefighters and search and rescue teams were involved in a man-hunt for three teenage girls who had become stranded on the sands in growing darkness between Silverdale and Morecambe.
- 2012 March – A Preston family had a ‘close call’ after getting stuck in quicksand near The Albion pub, Arnside, as the tide was coming in.
- 2012 May – Rescuers responded to numerous callouts involving 33 walkers caught out by the Bay. This included a Silverdale couple who were almost swept to their death, two men in chest-high water near to the Leven Viaduct and five men stranded on a sand bank after attempting to walk from Chapel Island to Ulverston.
- 2013 June – A 14-year-old girl from Burscough, near Ormskirk, was plucked to safety after she was sucked up to her waist in quicksand at The Dip, near Silverdale.
- 2013 June – A 25-year-old woman became submerged up to her waist and a 46-year-old man stuck up to his knees close to The Ship Inn, Sandside.