Why the ‘Visit’ tourism agencies should be afraid . . .

Coastguard storm 2I am very blessed to live in our sceptred isles; they are truly beautiful. Our coastlines are magnificent, separating the ever evolving land from the strength and majesty of the sea. And the sea’s fury and malevolence was clearly seen in this year storms, when our coasts were well and truly battered.

Thank goodness for the Coastguard MRCCs, their experience, expertise and local knowledge kept everyone safe. So many people owe their lives to them, not just in the storms but every day of the year. The RNLI and all the independent coastguards are also guided by them; they are the experts. The Transport Select Committee in the Houses of Parliament knows this, experienced sea travellers know this, a large number of MPs knows this, and, basically, lots and lots of us know this. It’s common sense.

Forth CoastguardCLYDE-ribbonThe Department for Transport (DfT) and the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) choose to ignore this and, in their never ending quest to save money for what they consider to be inconsequential matters, they are closing half the coastguard stations we have round our coasts.

So?

So, Visit Britain, Visit England, Visit Scotland, Visit Wales and Discover Northern Ireland, should all sit up and take notice of what is happening. They should read today’s story in the Express about the subject. It states facts not spin, it states facts from people who know, people who are experienced, not guys in grey suits saving a few pounds here and there. One can but hope they put the tourists’ safety before anything else.

Yarmouth coastguard deathMistakes have already happened. East Anglia is a beautiful destination. But due to the indifference and arrogance of the Great Yarmouth MP, Brandon Lewis, Yarmouth MRCC was allowed to close. East Anglia, is now covered by the Coastguard stations at Dover and Humber! And local knowledge was nowhere to be found in a diving incident earlier this year. Humber sent a lifeboat that was not the nearest to the incident. The nearest lifeboat, which is an independent one, saw the one sent go past it. Big mistake. The busiest shipping area in the world and the MCA closes the Coastguard station, it beggars belief.

And then there is Wales; hugely diverse landscapes to explore, beaches, prehistoric caves, limestone cliffs, woodland, salt marsh, and so much more.coastguard gower

The Gower is designated an area of outstanding beauty and it’s easy to see why, the peninsular is stunning and the Swansea Coastguard, which was built as a main communications centre, does an incredible job of monitoring and responding to one of the largest number of incidents a station has. 

coastguard swansea signGuess what?  Yes, the MCA has decided Swansea, the ‘Maritime and Coastguard Agency Headquarters, Wales and West of England’ is one to close. Sir Alan Massey, ‘affectionately’ known as SAM, has stated that response times may be ten minutes longer, doesn’t take anywhere near that long to drown!

Involved in our wonderful travel and tourism industry as I am, I fear for the safety of the tourists we are trying to attract to our beautiful coastal areas. With incidents increasing and responsible travel becoming more popular, having holidays and short breaks in our own wonderful isles is on the up.

I pray the rookies aren’t hung out to dry and the MCA and DfT is held totally and utterly responsible for incidents which are not handled correctly. The future isn’t bright.

Positively Portugal

Last month we went on a lovely long weekend break to Portugal, booked through TravelZoo – they have some great deals. We live in the bodacious shire of Bedford, so going from Ldn Luton Airport was a bonus.

DSC_0019Leaving early-ish on Saturday, we were at Faro Airport before we knew it. Picking up the hire car we made our way to Albufeira, to the Clube Praia da Oura. Great resort, not our normal choice but very well thought out, and for all ages – look at the fabulous swimming pool with a ramp :-)

DSC_0020The sky was very grey when we wandered along the pathway nearest to the sea. There really is something special about being by the seaside, your senses are heightened, your appreciation of the power of mother nature is ever present.  But so much had changed and expanded, the last time I came here was about twenty-eight years ago when it was wonderfully unfashionable.

DSC_0023This sculpture was about half way to the old town of Albufeira and is by the boats and the old way of life. There was a group of locals standing nearby, more mature men, chatting and laughing at what the day was bringing to them.

DSC_0025And then we came across this wonderful bicycle, it was outside the restaurant called flavours. Well, we just had to go in – and it didn’t disappoint. It was long and the front was out onto the beach. Lovely cups of coffee and an admirable apple pie too.

lynne and cowThe angels of the weather decided to be kind to us and the sun emerged from a blue sky. Time to walk further afield. We walked through the square and into the shopping part and there we felt right at home – look, anything Milton Keynes can do . . . . . .

DSC_0026We decided to walk along the main road gong back and so glad we did. The first roundabout we came to had this amazing structure on it. It was massive and breathtaking and based on Portugal’s wonderful seafaring history.

DSC_0030We had more surprises on our journey back – they had named a Chinese restaurant after Tim! His eating prowess was obviously gaining international fame.DSC_0037 Then we saw a restaurant advertising all manner of sumptuous ice cream desserts, so we found a table.  Imagine our disappointment when they told us they’d run out of ice cream! Boo. Walking further on we saw an orange tree and a lemon tree – real ones!

DSC_0031The sky was going grey again and, lo and behold, the Algarve showed us its quirky side.  Two huge watches in the centre of the next roundabout. How could you not know what the time was – just brilliant! DSC_0034

The sky was staring to show blue again and then, the best was yet to come, the next roundabout held wonderful, funky, funny worms and, even better, their tails came out of the central reservations on each side.

DSC_0035Can you see the tails?

Back to the hotel, we had half board so there was time to chill before dinner.  The food was good, as was the restaurant and all the team who worked there.

A very nice break, thank you.

Samoa and falling in love (number 2)

IMG_1295Samoa and Paradise in the same sentence is as natural as bread and butter! You really don’t need any rose tinted glasses – the beauty is there in all its glory.

Vailima - the home of Robert Louis Stevenson - now a museum.

Vailima – the home of Robert Louis Stevenson – now a museum.

It’s where Robert Louis Stevenson settled and made his home after saying, during an amazing long voyage of discovery; ”For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

It’s where Rupert Brooke said, “Sheer beauty, so pure that it is difficult to breathe it in”.

It’s where we went and found peace, tranquillity, beauty and smiles.

It’s where you can soothe your soul and saturate your senses.

It’s the sacred centre of the Polynesian Islands.

It’s the treasured islands of Samoa.

It’s Paradise.

DSC01760DSC01759IMG_1297And why do I wax so lyrical, why is it Paradise? Because it is virtually unspoilt – you can tell it is Samoa by how the buildings are crafted by hand from natural, local materials (apart from a couple of white, modern government buildings looking totally out of place).

The artistry and the purpose of traditional Samoan houses, resorts, fales are what makes Samoa unique. It really is like the sense of being enveloped in a great big hug, you feel safe and cherished. The wondrous thing is that it has stayed true to its heritage, so far it hasn’t let big business come in and spoilt its beauty. There are so many beautiful islands that the corporates have invaded and taken over – and always to the detriment of the environment and its true roots.  For those who want to get close to the country, its natural wonder and the people and their culture, it remains one of the best places in the world to do this.

It is Paradise because of the beauty of the flowers and plants, the beauty of its natural landscapes and the beauty of its people – but all that’s for another post!

Peace and love.

The destruction of the Coastguard – lies, damn lies, and statistics . . .

We have so much to see and do in these sceptred isles of ours and our coastlines are like treasures.  

IMAG0460Some are flawless gems, others are rough cut and then there are the downright dangerous ones. And looking after us and our safety is the wonderful front line Coastguard Service we have. The Service co-ordinates the rescues, searches and everything else to do with incidents in the seas surrounding us and the estuaries, tributaries and even on land. The men and women are highly skilled, experienced, hard working and respected, and have saved many thousands of people.

But far from being respected by everyone, for the last two years, the Coastguard has been badly betrayed by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and this government, in the form of the Department of Transport.In September 2011, I read an article, in The Independent, about pollution and the withdrawal of the four tugs that patrolled and protected the UK. I wrote about it on another blog of mine; the post was called SOS – Save Our Souls. It went on to state that Mike Penning, the then Shipping Minister, was also responsible for the potential closure of some of our Coastguard Stations. Eight of them were threatened, Brixham, Clyde, Forth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea, Thames and Yarmouth.  Please read for background information of how this whole shabby fiasco started.This got me involved with the wonderful team at Coastguard SOS and I am, indeed, very proud to be one of the three founding members.  What has happened since then beggars belief really.You do need to know that Mike Penning stood up in Parliament and stated that not one Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre would close until a new HQ was completely operational and all communications systems were proven and up & running.  This is written into Westminster history. Yeah, right!

CLYDE-ribbon Forth Coastguard Yarmouth coastguard death

So far we have lost three Coastguard Stations; Clyde, Forth and Yarmouth. Not sure which one is next on the list, and all this ….. 

DESPITE . . . . .  
  • Concerns raised over two long and arduous sessions of gruelling questions by the House of Commons Transport Committee
  • Grave concerns from personnel at the MRCCs over the loss of local knowledge with all calls going into the HQ first
  • Huge concerns from the experienced and expert personnel over the extra time that each incident would take to get through
  • Serious concerns from MPs, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament over the loss of local knowledge and the vast expanses of unattended coast
  • Plummeting morale of the Coastguard members
  • Large numbers of personnel leaving the service
  • The undermanned stations now in operation
  • The huge cost of having to fly people to and from different stations to maintain a certain number of skilled operatives
  • The threat of industrial action over revised pay scales
  • Promises and assurances given, being broken
coastguard flares

The final salute at Clyde MRCC

What next?

Please go to CoastguardSOS

Read all the articles concerning this, the betrayals made, the promises broken.

Write to your MP please, we’re an island country – we need the local knowledge of our Coastguards at the front line by the sea, not in some landlocked HQ, where the MCA has already admitted that the new way could add ten minutes onto the time taken to respond!

 

 

Sneak thieves and wharf rats in Scotland, rubbing salt into the wound

Forth Coastguard Station

Just when you thought things could not get any worse, the dangerous, and seriously flawed, Government & MCA plans to close eight of our wonderful Coastguard Stations, have been put into action – early!

As announced on the Milford Haven Coastguard page on facebook –

“At 1330 utc the final Maritime safety information broadcast will be sent by the staff at MRCC Forth. On completion of this broadcast all operational responsibility will be passed to MRCC Aberdeen and Forth Coastguard will cease to exist, bringing to an end 109 years of Coastguards being at Fifeness. Safe seas, calm waters and light winds to all.”

Forth Coastguard Station was due to close on the 28th September; big mistake in itself, but to rub the salt into the wound, they sneakily closed it this Friday, 21st September!  Why would they do that?

There are several potential reasons:-

  1. Negligent management by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), under the ‘guidance’ of Sir Alan Massey. By allowing staffing numbers to become so dangerously low, they could not achieve a full compliment for the shift patterns. To close the station early would hide this appalling situation.
  2. Just three days before the closure, on Tuesday 18th, Sir Alan Massey and Stephen Hammond, Under Secretary of State for Transport Minister, were answering questions, in front of The Scottish Affairs Committee.  Luckily, most of the focus was on the Clyde Coastguard Station with Sir Alan Massey explaining about the pairing between Stornoway & Belfast, although he could not answer a few, very important questions, such as would the exams for the pairing knowledge take place before the closure (Sir Alan stated that you could not go on watch without having passed the exams) and the answer being I hope so! When Sir Alan Massey seemed to be unable to answer a question directly, Stephen Hammond blustered in with patronising quotes he had read since taking over the position from Mike Penning, a few days earlier. You should watch the committee in action to form you own opinions, my opinion is the four Scottish Ministers were thorough in their questions, knowledgeable and credible; whereas, Massey and Hammond did a lot of puffing, postulating and posing, but definitely showed no credibility. How sad. The number of contradictions and mistakes, in what they are saying is pretty incredible, even for politicians!

I am sorry that I did not publish this when I wrote it, I was so angry and upset at this tragedy unfolding that I wanted to continue the post later, but I just can’t.  It is only a matter of time before our coastal jewels become our poisoned chalices!

Oh, and by the way – there was much said about the Forth Coastguard Station closure (all of it against) and so they pretended to have another closure the following Friday, the scheduled date!  Normal service will be resumed when the blood pressure has gone back to normal!

Why the jewels in our crown will become poisoned chalices

I recently published two posts about our wonderful coastal areas – they are magnificent, and magnets to visitors and tourists. As summer is here (well, in theory anyway!), and people are being encouraged not to go abroad for their holidays, our coasts are getting busier and busier.  Visit Britain, quite rightly, spent the not inconsiderable amount of £3 million pounds on a marketing campaign to encourage us all to holiday at home.  A successful campaign it was and is; well, if you ignore the fact that both our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are taking holidays abroad. Shame on them, but then, our MPs do not always lead by example – don’t do as I do, do as I say!

What should be good news for the travel and tourism industry will turn into a disaster. It is only a matter of time. We are an island nation, we are a proud nation.  Unfortunately the government doesn’t seem to have the same values of respect, integrity and gratitude as do most of the population of the UK.

When the Transport Minister, Mike Penning, announced the closure of eight of the Coastguard Communication Stations protecting us, there had been no independent risk assessments carried out.  There were no in-depth consultations, to the extent that both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have called for risk assessments before implementation. No respect for the professional front-line guys and girls in the coastguard service.  Above all, no consideration for the trawlers, yachts, climbers, bathers, surfers, walkers, locals or tourists, who will be put in danger if these plans go through. It is not that there will be regional centres – the like of which, Mike Penning fought against for the fire service. There will be one national call centre in Fareham (Penning’s Folly) and all emergency calls to the Coastguard will be directed there ~ so where will the local knowledge be?  How will the visitor from abroad, walking along the cliffs of Scotland, be able to say where he is (should an incident occur) to someone the opposite end of the United Kingdom? It’s like the blind leading the blind – absolutely without common sense or reason.

I love my country, that will never be in question, but working in the travel and tourism industry and seeing such a crazy, ill thought-out plan makes me want to cry. And all for the sake of saving a small amount of money, which will probably be spent ten-fold in getting an empty shell of a building up to the standard it needs to be.

Norfolk is where I spent my holidays as a child, stunning countryside and seaside places.  But the Coastguard Station at Yarmouth is one of those being closed down, and the MP, Brandon Lewis (Conservative), has voted for the closure plan!  Why would he do that when there are so many miles of coastline in his constituency? I doubt his constituents realise he thinks it’s okay for Norfolk to lose its Coastguard Station!

There are far more MPs voting against the plans in a survey the CoastguardSOS team carried out; well, from those who deigned to reply anyway.  There are 189 MPs with responsibility for coastal areas and only 14 have voted for the plans, whereas 89 MPs are against the plans. Of the remaining coastal MPs, 13 have ignored the requests and 73 haven’t bothered to answer. Have a look and see what your MP said.

This government is not listening to the  people of the United Kingdom.This government is arrogant and without integrity on how it has handled these Coastguard Station closures.  The Transport Select Committee is now looking into the whole matter again and has invited written new evidence to be submitted on the changes to the Coastguard Service.  I hope to goodness this all-party group will be able to halt plans that will result in fatalities, of that there can be no doubt.

Our travel and tourism industry, both domestic and inbound, would suffer greatly should deaths occur. I am somewhat surprised that the commercial arm of the industry has not spoken out about this.  The tourist boards and town councils all report back (ultimately) to the government …….  I should imagine, if they are aware that the Coastguard personnel had gagging orders put on them, they would not want to rock any boats, so as to speak!

First they want to sell off our forests, our heritage; now they want to take away our safety at sea and by the coast.  What next?

Great Britain’s coast – huge jewels in our crown : 2

Pembrokeshire, near Castlemartin – with thanks to Dr DJ Davies, Historian & Author. http://www.jddavies.com

Recently, we published a post on the beautiful coastline around Britain.  A question was asked on Facebook and Twitter as to whether anyone had any relevant photos and the ones published were given by the photographers. The co-incidence was, they were all of England, which actually, was very pertinent as it was St. George’s Day!  But there is so much more!

Pembrokeshire, Porth Clais to St Justinian 5 Mile Walk – with thanks to Mike Hillen.

Today, to redress the balance, here are some piccies of the amazing Welsh coastline. Wales is leading the way with coastal pathways; this weekend you will be able to walk the entire coast ~ an incredible feat and deserving of much praise.

Mumbles, Gower Peninsular – with thanks to Dr DJ Davies, Historian & Author. http://www.jddavies.com

Tenby Lifeboat RNLI 16 – 02 – with thanks to Mike Hillen.

It will run from the outskirts of Chester in the north to Chepstow in the south, via the major town and cities, small villages, cliff tops and beaches, a total of 870 miles (1,400 km).  What is refreshing is that the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) has co-ordinated the development of the path with 16 coastal councils and national park authorities. A clear case of ‘Winning By Sharing’ :-)

Deganwy on the River Conwy looking over to Conwy town side – with thanks to Coastal Joe