Respect Northumberland

Ian Woods
Ian Woods, Station Officer, HM Coastguard.
Badge says Northumberland, love it like it's yours

“The increase in visitors to the coast is staggering - nationwide this year, we are expecting 30 million people to line the beaches and coastal areas. That is half our population and, although we have around 350 stations, keeping our coasts safe is an enormous task for our 3,500 voluntary Coastguard Rescue Officers.”

The Howick HM Coastguard Rescue Station now has one of the largest teams of volunteers in the county at 14, and every one of them is highly skilled; from paramedics, to retired firefighters to police officers to youth workers. The selfless volunteers come together for the same purpose, to protect people from coastal dangers. 
 

When catching up with Howick’s Station Officer, Ian Woods, it was clear that a staycation in this part of the country can be enjoyable for, but it isn’t without risk. Here is his story on how we can ‘Respect Northumberland’. 

“HM Coastguard is the only national emergency service covering vast areas of coastline. In Northumberland we have seven Coastguard Rescue Teams and all our vehicles are equipped with kits for water rescue, missing people searches and medical emergencies. Where there is a specific risk in the area, we also have teams equipped with rope rescue and mud rescue equipment. We are all trained to a very high standard in a wide range of skills, but we can also call upon the fleet of HM Coastguard Rescue helicopters, RNLI lifeboats, ambulances, the fire service and of course, the police.

“The increase in visitors to the coast is staggering - nationwide this year, we are expecting 30 million people to line the beaches and coastal areas. That is half our population and, although we have around 350 stations, keeping our coasts safe is an enormous task for our 3,500 volunteer Coastguard Rescue Officers. 

“Our location is at Craster [Lord Howick donated his land for the station, hence the name of the team] and our area of operations is Alnmouth to Beadnell primarily, which are major hot spots for tourists - however, we’ve been getting significantly more callouts north of Beadnell in the Seahouses to Budle Bay area, again very popular tourist spots. 

“There are so many wonderful places in Northumberland that, with a little bit of research, you can virtually have an unspoilt area to yourself. Take Embleton Bay or Rumbling Kern for example, both stunning areas of our coastline, or if you head inland to the likes of the Coquet Valley, you will see breath-taking landscapes with half the visitors. 

“One of the most common problems the teams are facing at the moment is inconsiderate parking, whether that is in illegal spots or in front of gateways and so forth. We had a case recently where someone had parked their campervan in a no parking zone that was clearly signposted, but he put his towel over the sign, thinking no one would notice. The reason parking is not allowed there is so emergency vehicles such as ourselves and ambulances can get through. It’s highly dangerous and could cost lives. 

“Cold water shock is also extremely common and sadly can be fatal. Our waters never really get above 11-12 degrees and that’s on a very warm day. If you jump in, your body will go into shock and start to shut down.

“Even in Alnmouth where the river looks calm, the water at the river mouth can run at 12 knots, whereas a world class swimmer swims at around 4 and dolphins at 6-7 - it’s a disaster waiting to happen. 

“Being prepared is the best advice I can give visitors. Read the signs on beaches and don’t just assume you know the tide. There is a lot of information online and you can always ask locals for advice, if you’re unsure. As an example, the weather at the coast can change very quickly and the temperature can drop by 10 degrees if a sea fret comes in, so going on long walks in shorts and tee-shirts can lead to hypothermia. Be prepared for all eventualities! If you need help, you should call 999 and ask for the coastguard and we will always attend. 

“We want each and every person to enjoy their trip to the coast and to remember it for all the right reasons. I wholeheartedly believe that Northumberland is the most beautiful county in the UK and it should be enjoyed but not spoiled. It’s our county and we want people to look after it.”