RNLI lifeguards in Thanet have teamed up with members of the Saxon Shore Metal Detectors Club to clear dangerous debris on the beaches following storms at the end of April.
Lifeguard supervisor Stuart Cattell, who is based in Thanet and who organises RNLI lifeguard patrols for isle beaches, became very concerned after the storms destroyed beach huts at Minnis Bay and Westbrook Bay, scattering debris from the properties and leaving it buried in the sand, which had been churned up by the extreme weather.
He said: “It was incredible to see the destruction that was left behind after the waves and wind took their toll.
“The beach huts were thrown around like matchboxes, some were smashed to bits and the once neat line of huts had gone, with many pushed some distance from their original location.”
Many of the contents of the beach huts had been thrown all over the beaches and buried in the sand, including knives, forks and other kitchen utensils which could prove a hazard to people visiting the beaches, now the weather has improved.
Stuart’s fears were confirmed when he heard about an accident, earlier this month, involving a five-year-old boy who suffered a deep cut to his knee caused by a sharp object when he was visiting his family’s beach hut at Westbrook Bay.
Henry McCoy had been playing with his dad James when the accident happened. James had been throwing a boomerang and Henry had been diving into the sand to retrieve it. Suddenly Henry screamed as his knee went into the sand and revealed a large and nasty wound.
Shocked and in pain, Henry ended up spending two days in hospital in the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. He was given an X-ray and then had to have surgery to repair the wound and flush out all the sand which had got beneath the skin. Following the procedure he had a cast fitted down the entire length of his leg to protect his knee and needed to use a frame to walk.
His mum Amy said: “The hardest part for Henry is that he was banned from any sports for over two weeks. It’s difficult to explain to a 5 year old boy that he can’t run, jump or climb!”
It was following Henry’s accident that Stuart, who has been with the RNLI for six years, with the past three years as a lifeguard supervisor, was determined to do something to protect visitors to the beaches.
Although more used to alerting beach goers to dangers above the sand, rather than lurking beneath it, Stuart, who previously worked for 14 years as a lifeguard for Thanet council, had the idea of teaming up with local metal detectorists to use their detectors to scan the beach, not for buried treasure, but for hidden hazards.
An appeal was also made by Westbrook beach hut owners for metal detecting help to make sure the beach was clear and safe.
Last weekend the lifeguards meet up with Henry and members of the Saxon Shore Metal Detecting Club to scan the sands of Minnis and Westbrook bays and clear up any dangers.
“The volunteer detectorists from the club were absolutely brilliant,” said Stuart. “Using their equipment they were able to do a thorough sweep of the areas affected and they uncovered an extraordinary range of objects, many of them with sharp edges that could have caused serious harm.
“Although we aren’t completely sure what cut Henry’s knee, we know it was a sharp object to have caused such damage.
“We are grateful for all those involved in various beach clean attempts and especially to the Saxon Shore Metal Detectors Club for their efforts in making the beach a safer place. In the short time that Henry was with the metal detectors, they found two huge nails and a broken can. This was in a few square metres.
“We are hoping that Henry’s story can be turned into a lesson for all; to be extra vigilant on our beaches and to remember that we don’t know what dangers lurk under the sand!”
RNLI beach patrols
RNLI lifeguards, clad in their distinctive red and yellow uniforms, will be returning to patrol many of Kent’s beaches from this Saturday,May 26.
Patrols will take place on the following beaches until Sunday, September 2:
Minnis Bay, West Bay, St Mildred’s, Westbrook Bay, Margate Main, Botany Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay, Broadstairs (Viking Bay) and Ramsgate.
Visitors to RNLI patrolled beaches are advised to swim between the red and yellow flags. The lifeguards, who receive world-class training and are equipped with the very latest safety equipment, are on hand to respond to anyone in difficulty in the water and provide both major and minor first aid.