A lack of warning signage during work on a stretch of Northumberland beach resulted in potential danger to the public, it has been claimed, after a walker had to be rescued from quicksand.
Earlier this month, a digger had been moving sand on the beach to shore up the dunes at the foot of Low Hauxley chalets, after residents there were concerned at the rate of erosion.
But now criticism has been leveled at the amount of material that was moved, with people claiming that it left the beach full of wet sinking sand.
Surf-kayak star Tamsin Green, from High Hauxley, was walking on the beach near Hauxley Point last week when she sank up to her knees in quicksand, which had been exposed by the excavation of sand to build up the dunes in front of the bungalows.
She told Amble's community newspaper, The Ambler: 'I walk the dog on the beach every day and it certainly wasn’t there before they started excavating.'
Tamsin, who had to shout to the digger operator to dig her out with a spade, added: 'I think it’s dangerous. If someone had been walking there alone when no-one was around they could have been in real trouble, particularly if the tide was coming in.'
Permission to restore the dunes had been obtained from Northumberland County Council and Natural England, and the project was organised and paid for by the Low Hauxley chalet owners themselves.
Chalet owner Karen Burdon told The Ambler: 'Because of the tidal surge a couple of weeks ago, we lost part of the dunes. We are trying to protect our properties. We spoke to Northumberland County Council and they said we don’t need any permission. We’re not moving rocks, we’re just putting the sand back. Natural England also were satisfied that it’s emergency repair work.'
But some residents were concerned at the lack of warning signs to alert the public. One local said: 'I understand that the hut people feel anxious about the erosion but piling sand up and causing damage to the beach seems to be very short sighted. There was no warning, no signs.'
Hauxley Parish Council said it knew nothing about the work.
A letter from Natural England states: 'Natural England understands the emergency repair work to the cliff at Low Hauxley, located within Northumberland Shore Site of Special Scientific Interest is required as a result of the coastal floods from January, which resulted in severe erosion of the cliff face to the front of your property.'
Permission was granted for the work, which was considered minor, and would only last one day.
The letter continues: 'Natural England consents the proposals, if undertaken in strict accordance with the details submitted in the email and confirmed on the phone, is not likely to damage the interest features for which the site has been notified.'
Karen Burdon told The Ambler that she also had permission to re-establish the dune grasses and to put up fencing until it gets established.
However, after seeing photographs of the digger working on the beach, a spokesperson from Natural England said: 'From reviewing the photographs it is evident the works are major and outside the consent granted to the land owner.'
A site visit is to be arranged.
A spokeswoman for the county council said: 'After further investigation, we found some small area that may cause some concerns with regards to works.
'At the base of the dunes the reinstated sand which has been heaped up to create a barrier is still unstable in place, however this is very localised sinking in to a maximum depth of 200mm (eight inches).
'As a result we have placed several warning notice in the immediate vicinity, for the public to be aware and to keep clear of the area until further notice.'