Measures to support public safety in response to the high visitor numbers at East Lothian’s beaches and open spaces throughout the spring and summer this year have been hailed a significant success.
A Multi Agency Coast and Open Space Working Group - comprising council officers from Sport, Countryside and Leisure, Countryside Rangers Service, Roads Services, Safer Communities Team, Protective Services, Planning Service and Communications - worked closely with Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue, RNLI and Coastguard representatives to consider and implement actions as Covid-19 restrictions were eased throughout the year.
This followed challenges in 2020 when East Lothian experienced record numbers of visitors to popular beauty spots including beaches, coastal towns and villages including some inland countryside sites.
On occasions the volume of visitors caused disruption to local communities for example by inconsiderate, unsafe or illegal parking; inappropriate use of countryside sites; lack of understanding of personal responsibilities under Scottish Access Code; high numbers of ‘wild campers’; open fires; litter and human waste; and uncertainty about social distancing requirements.
Most of East Lothian’s coastline, which is believed to be Scotland’s busiest in terms of visits per kilometre, is subject to national, European and international designations to protect natural heritage and a key focus of the work has been on helping to safeguard the local environment.
Range of measures
Councillor Norman Hampshire, Cabinet Spokesperson for the Environment, said:
“The easing of restrictions has seen incredibly large numbers of visitors at East Lothian’s wonderful beauty spots. With the challenges associated with international travel, holidaymakers to East Lothian have been warmly welcomed, which is good for our local businesses which have had such a tough time.
“As a result of the increased visitor numbers, a multi-agency approach has been taken to oversee visitor demand at our open spaces, with a particular focus on East Lothian’s popular coastline and ensuring public safety.
“New land management rules - to promote the responsible use of countryside, parks, nature reserves and greenspace – were put in place ahead of the summer season and a water safety group was formed which has worked to create a strategy that will be developed to eventually encompass East Lothian’s coast and inland water courses.
“Following on from the problems encountered in 2020, the remit of the Working Group has been to consider and put into place a range of measures to advise local residents and visitors about current guidance. In partnership with Police Scotland, we have been supporting local communities by encouraging appropriate and safe use of our open spaces.
“This has included multi agency patrols, traffic management plans and the allocation of overflow beach car parking areas, and action to deal with indiscriminate parking in residential areas.
“Signage and promotional material highlighting the requirement for physical distancing and following ‘FACTS’ was rolled out around the county, while advisory signage targeting those ‘wild camping’ and advising on fires and barbecues, littering and appropriate ‘toilet’ usage was put in place. The main theme was to reinforce a ‘leave no trace’ message. Countryside Rangers and Community Wardens were also present at popular coastal and inland countryside sites to advise visitors.
“I would like to pay specific thanks to the Ranger Service who were on site and operational seven days per week engaging with residents and visitors, protecting our environment and enhancing the experience for all. Their commitment supported by the seasonal rangers and volunteers has made an enormous difference to the success of the working group’s plans.
“Although challenges were still encountered, the work which has taken place has been extremely successful in helping to protect our coastline and maintain public safety and has been recognised at national level.
“Further work will continue throughout the winter months in preparation for next year but this achievement gives us a strong basis to build on in future years.”
Continued partnership working
Chief Inspector Neil Mitchell, Local Area Commander for East Lothian said:
“There is no doubt that our continued partnership working has resulted in this summer being a safe and successful season.
“Across Scotland we experienced significant challenges at all our beauty spots, however, the planning and foresight of the open space working group mitigated many of the challenges experienced elsewhere. It also significantly reduced disruption to our towns and villages.
“One of the key benefits of a single police force is the ability to utilise a wide variety of specialist resources. Throughout the summer, we routinely deployed many of our specialist officers, such as the motorcycle unit, the mounted branch, the marine unit and our special constables. We performed joint patrols with partners and hosted water safety pop up events, highlighting water safety.
“It is the continuing commitment to this joint working that has led to the partnership ensuring East Lothian continues to be a safe place to live, work and visit.”