Although there are some handmade signs at the bottom of the steps at one of Dorset’s iconic beauty spots asking people to take their litter home with them, the piles of rubbish grow, with visitors leaving their waste on the beach every day at Durdle Door.
The volume of rubbish is unacceptable and a risk to public health.
A small army of local volunteers wished they had the magic solution to the problem, but despite all their hard work, sweat and toil, it seems they are fighting a losing battle. Many volunteers live within a few miles of Durdle Door and find it impossible to stand by and do nothing as they see this stunning World Heritage Site suffer because of the complete disregard shown by some members of the public.
Having cleaned the beach on several occasion in May, following the easing of lockdown rules, these volunteers gathered on the Lulworth Estate on 2 June to deal once again with the issues that are plaguing the coast. They gave their time to pick up the litter, bag the discarded items, including sanitary towels and broken glass and dragged the bin bags across the beach and up flights of steps up the cliffside. This was a gruelling task and injuries were not uncommon as metal and glass protruded from the bags. One volunteer had a deep gash in his right leg, it looked as though it would need stitching.
Some onlookers valued the work that was being done. A man from a speed boat boarded his dinghy, landed on the shore, grabbed some bags and hauled them up the cliff. Other beach visitors missed the point entirely. Okay, they brought their rubbish to the piles being collected by the volunteers at the bottom of the cliff, but then they tried to leave it there. When told politely that it wasn’t a litter collection point and they should take their litter home, they argued and responded with anger.
Volunteers should be applauded, so this unfair situation was difficult to witness. However, as life always seems to throw up the good with the bad, maybe all we can hope for is a balance. But these situations could be avoided if stricter regulations were put in place to prevent the masses from amassing filth and feeling it is their right to have someone clean up after they’ve left.
This worrying mentality is unfortunately causing tension to build up between volunteers and day trippers. Those out to enjoy themselves, do not like being asked to take their rubbish home and here’s an example: a man wanted to leave a parasol on the beach and when he was asked to take it home, he carried it all the way up the steps, stood on the edge of the cliff, shouted to draw attention to himself and threw the parasol back down. Such a dangerous display of disrespect needs to be met with more force from the authorities.
Volunteers are passionate about what they do. They don’t get paid, they don’t look for praise, they simply want a better quality of life. Dorset beaches are now being compromised more than ever before by visitors who not only want to have a good time and enjoy the coastline, but who want to create arguments and clashes with fellow members of society who are, at the end of the day, picking up the pieces of a broken system – one that creates a World Heritage Site and then does little to protect it.
Some onlookers on 2 June praised the volunteers but were reluctant to carry even one bag up to the clifftop themselves. Volunteers were left speechless by the hollow words and playground mentality – if one person leaves their rubbish, it is okay for everyone to leave their rubbish. Government and local authorities need to look at the root cause and put a stop to littering now. Laws should be passed requiring people to take their rubbish home and hefty fines imposed for those who don’t do it.
The feelings between the volunteers at the end of the day on 2 June were mixed. There was a sense of relief that the beach was clean, yet a sense of deflation at the amount of rubbish at the top of the hill. Opinions were shared, frustrations aired and there was an overwhelming sadness that within the timeframe of a day, all the hard work, sweat and toil would be required again. This is unfair on the coastline, on the wildlife and on the planet.
Littering on beaches increased dramatically after people were permitted by the government to travel an unrestricted distance for outdoor exercise on 13 May. Thousands of day trippers made a beeline for the Dorset coast from as far away as the Midlands and London.
James Weld from the Lulworth Estate issued a statement saying the reason the car park at Durdle Door had been opened following the easing of lockdown rules was to relieve the pressure on the local road network and local community, although [the statement says] the publicity surrounding the opening of the car parks undoubtedly added to the number of visitors.
He explained that Natural England and the Dorset Council are responsible for the public right of access to the beaches and cliffs. In his statement he said, “The Lulworth Estate has no power or authority to close the beaches at Lulworth, including Durdle Door beach; everyone has a legal right of access to our coastline and beaches following the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009.”
And they did this in their thousands. Having been ‘released’ from lockdown as the rules were eased, a kind of madness appeared to have been released too.
The tombstoning incidents on 30 May, which culminated in air ambulances having to land on the beach at Durdle Door, and the kettling of tourists who had to be evacuated up the cliff path without any social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, brought despair to Dorset leaders and organisations.
Cllr Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset Council said, “Last weekend saw issues in popular destinations with littering, people urinating and defecating in public, people camping overnight and people having dangerous campfires and BBQs – despite extensive warnings against this from all local agencies.
“We were very disappointed to see huge numbers of visitors ignoring manned roadblocks. Council employees were abused by the members of the public as they tried to manage the traffic. This is not acceptable.”
Spencer Flower has written to the Prime Minster calling for changes to the government’s travel rules to require people to stay local for now.
There has also been a meeting today (Friday 5 June) between Dorset Council, Dorset Police, Lulworth Estate and South West Ambulance Trust. The authorities are keen to reassure local people that steps have been taken to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s scenes. A new pre-booking system for the Lulworth Estate car parks is due to go live next week. In the meantime, the estate will be monitoring arrivals and limiting the overall number of visits to both Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. Other traffic management measures will be introduced. There will be increased marshalling and civil enforcement officers who will be issuing fines to people who park illegally on the roads. Marshalls will be on site to warn people of the dangers of tombstoning and encouraging visitors to take their litter home.
The bottom line is, if we want the stunning World Heritage Site on the Jurassic Coast to remain beautiful, visitors must show it respect. It’s not a lot to ask and will preserve our iconic landscapes for future generations.
To find out more about volunteering please visit www.cleanjurassiccoast.uk or follow the collective on instagram @_projectplanet_ @cleanjurassiccoast @jcbeachcleaners.
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