Article - volunteers enhancing our safety

The variability of the weather in our island's is, of course, legendary. We all grow up with the knowledge that, in contrast to some other parts of the world, you can't rely on anything other than continuous change when it comes to predicting what the heavens will send us from day to day.

I was never more struck by this than during the recent general election - when those of us who were trudging the streets and roads in search of electors were baked and drenched by turns.

Most of the time, this climatic variability merely adds spice (or, for those of a more Eeyore-ish disposition, annoyance) to life. But, in some locations on some occasions, it has a more serious effect - as we have seen recently along the West Dorset coastline, where unseasonal downpours have caused another series of rock-falls at West Bay.

Luckily, no one was hurt on this occasion - but we have been reminded once again of the instability and fragility of the coastal cliffs.

We must make sure that the coastal path is restored as soon as possible - a never-ending task. And this episode should also serve to remind us how important it is for tourism along the coast (and hence for the economy throughout West Dorset) that we should provide the greatest possible safety for those on and near to the sea.

I was delighted, therefore, to participate recently in the opening of a new Coastwatch Station at Charmouth.

The volunteers who serve in these Coastwatch Stations do fantastic work, helping the RNLI, the Coast Guard and other emergency services to save the lives of those in small vessels on the sea who encounter unexpected turbulence - a very British response to a very British problem.

The newly opened station also provides a splendid example of how our heritage can be put to modern use.

Perched high on a cliff overlooking the sea, there is a small turret-shaped building which once served, I understand, as a look-out in the Napoleonic Wars. Now this has been turned from military to civilian purposes - but with a splendid continuity of local people providing protection by gazing out to sea.

In a further, charming and sensible mixture of the ancient and the modern, the radio equipment installed in the look-out by Coastwatch is powered by batteries that are recharged using solar panels - a fine example of mankind harnessing the power of the sun through the latest technology to secure us in the face of wind and rain.

And all done by volunteers who, like their comrades in the RNLI, are providing an invaluable enhancement of the security afforded by the statutory professionals in the Coastguard.