Thanet councillors on a scrutiny committee have recommended that the authority considers keeping the Thanet Coast Project officer role funded as part of its 2020/21 budget.
Last year the role, carried out by Tony Child, came under threat of being axed as part of proposed cuts across the council’s tourism, coastal and operational services departments.
It resulted in a huge public outcry and a petition launched by resident and coastal warden Sam Bessant, which gained thousands of signatures.
Public pressure resulted in a decision to fund the coast project officer role for another financial year with exploration on how it could then be self-funded. But if alternative funding was not found then the role could be made redundant.
Now the overview and scrutiny committee have approved a recommendation made by Ramsgate councillor Peter Campbell to ask Cabinet members to find a way to continue funding the role.
The Thanet Coast Officer and Thanet Coast Project remain key to the conservation and protection of the isle’s coast as well providing education and engagement to the coastal community and its visitors.
Another successful year of events, talks, litter picks and education was completed by the project in 2019, with the volunteers receiving a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Kent Volunteering Awards.
Sam said: “I am delighted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee have put forward the recommendation to support the role in the 2020/21 budget and trust that Cabinet will fully back the recommendation and Tony Child and volunteers will be able continue to carry out their excellent work in 2020.
“If the role is funded for 2020/21, the Thanet Coast Project and its volunteers will be able to continue protecting and monitoring our beaches as well as providing a range of public and community events that all ages can both learn from and enjoy.
“Thanet’s coastline is its main asset and Thanet District Council has a real responsibility to not only protect it but to encourage all beach users, whether locals or visitors, to respect and understand the amazing habitat it provides.
“The loss of this role would signal the end of the Thanet Coast Project and put our precious coastline at risk. With no-one coordinating and training the 100-plus volunteers, receiving surveys/reports, carrying out statutory duties (as required for the Marine Conservation Zone) or coordinating with other local and national wildlife organisations – the coastal habitat, and the species it provides a home for, would all be in danger.
“In addition, with no educational or public events provided, community engagement and understanding of our unique coastline would be lost. This just cannot happen! Especially at a time when so many people are realising the importance of protecting the natural environment.”
Thanet has the longest continuous stretch of coastal chalk in the UK, which makes it a very special and unique habitat. Coastal wardens are the eyes and ears of the coast – reporting any problems they spot on their ‘patch’ to maintain the beaches for both the local community and visitors to enjoy.
Regular beach surveys are conducted and provide information to Thanet District Council and their partners so they can make informed decisions for the coastal community. Volunteers also offer their time freely to provide public and community events to engage and educate both locals and visitors alike.
A large proportion of the project officer role includes statutory duties for the North East Kent Marine Protected Area which, if not conducted, could incur significant fines to the council.
Last year the project held 35 community events including ‘Scavenger Hunts’, ‘Sand Art’ and ‘Seashore Safaris as well as exhibitions. They were attended by some 9,889 members of the public.
Wardens also made 148 incident reports ranging from vandalism and fly tipping to missing lifebuoys or stranded wildlife, as well as reporting where coastal codes have broken, such as illegal shellfish harvesting, use of fixed nets or bird disturbances.
Cabinet members are due to discuss the budget proposals, and scrutiny recommendations, on January 28.
A thousand thanks to Sam Bessant and the others for this extremely important and vital service in protecting this unique and valuable coastline.