RNLI safety campaign as almost 50 cars trapped by tide on Holy Island Causeway in last four years

The rising number of cars being stranded on the Holy Island Causeway is set to be subject to a new RNLI publicity campaign this summer.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17 July, 2019, 18:47
A horsebox cut off by the tide on Holy Island causeway. Picture by Seahouses RNLI

Almost 50 cars have been trapped on the causeway in the last four years and the new posters, which will be shared with tourism businesses and holiday parks, are the latest attempt to tackle the problem of motorists ignoring the safe crossing times.

In response to increasing concerns from islanders and rescue teams, Northumberland County Council installed flashing message signs in 2012 to try to alert drivers to the dangers.

This did seem to have an impact at first with the number of call-outs reducing, but this was relatively short-lived and the numbers have been on the rise once more.

A car on the Holy Island Causeway. Picture by Jane Coltman

Figures reported by HM Coastguard’s Martin Lowe at a meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Council on Tuesday, July 16, revealed there just four rescues in 2015 from April until the end of the year.

This jumped to 10 call-outs each year in 2016 and 2017, rising to 12 in 2018 and there have already been 10 this year before the school summer holidays have started. There are also a handful of incidents each year of vehicles getting stuck in the sand beside the causeway.

He said that those caught out were almost always holidaymakers and that 90% were people heading back to the mainland who were ‘not wanting to be stuck on the island for six hours’.

Rachael Farr, regional marketing manager for the RNLI, added that there hadn’t been any fatalities yet, but recent rescues had involved a 90-year-old woman and a baby.

She explained that images of submerged cars had been tried before so they had decided to go down a different route with this campaign, while the posters all include QR codes, which smartphones can read and will link straight to the tide times online.

Coffee cup covers, paper bags and drip mats with the images are also to be produced for use in businesses where they will be seen by visitors.

The next steps could include initiatives such as welcome packs at holiday parks and training programmes for staff to share the messages effectively.

lmost 50 cars have been trapped on the causeway in the last four years and the new posters, which will be shared with tourism businesses and holiday parks, are the latest attempt to tackle the problem of motorists ignoring the safe crossing times.

In response to increasing concerns from islanders and rescue teams, Northumberland County Council installed flashing message signs in 2012 to try to alert drivers to the dangers.

This did seem to have an impact at first with the number of call-outs reducing, but this was relatively short-lived and the numbers have been on the rise once more.

Figures reported by HM Coastguard’s Martin Lowe at a meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Council on Tuesday, July 16, revealed there just four rescues in 2015 from April until the end of the year.

This jumped to 10 call-outs each year in 2016 and 2017, rising to 12 in 2018 and there have already been 10 this year before the school summer holidays have started. There are also a handful of incidents each year of vehicles getting stuck in the sand beside the causeway.

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He said that those caught out were almost always holidaymakers and that 90% were people heading back to the mainland who were ‘not wanting to be stuck on the island for six hours’.

Rachael Farr, regional marketing manager for the RNLI, added that there hadn’t been any fatalities yet, but recent rescues had involved a 90-year-old woman and a baby.

She explained that images of submerged cars had been tried before so they had decided to go down a different route with this campaign, while the posters all include QR codes, which smartphones can read and will link straight to the tide times online.

Coffee cup covers, paper bags and drip mats with the images are also to be produced for use in businesses where they will be seen by visitors.

The next steps could include initiatives such as welcome packs at holiday parks and training programmes for staff to share the messages effectively.

Nick Ayers, RNLI community safety partner, said: “We want people to be safe and enjoy the beautiful coast here.”

As well as the Coastguard, the RNLI is also working with the county council on this latest campaign.

Director of local services Paul Jones said: “We are more than supportive and our communications team will be plugging this.”

He also offered reassurances that physical barriers were not on the table as a solution.

“There’s absolutely no appetite from islanders and also it’s not something we think is appropriate for that location,” he said.

Mr Ayers said that red and green lights had been tried on another causeway in the country, but motorists still went across.

However, he added that rumble strips to slow the traffic in the hope that drivers might consider their actions more carefully could be an option for Holy Island.

Reacting to the campaign, Coun Georgina Hill said: “This is great. It happens all through the summer and the public are really unsympathetic.”

Coun Wendy Pattison suggested that the rise in the figures ‘is probably down to the rise in tourism so it will only get higher’, adding that she thought the campaign was a good one.

Coun Trevor Thorne said: “That’s been really encouraging, you seem to making the right moves. As was said, tourism is increasing and it’s about educating those tourists.”