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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 17:36 GMT
Locals resent cockle gangs
by Julia Houston
BBC News Online, Morecambe Bay

Hest Bank
The now-peaceful scene belies the sands' deadly perils
Residents of Hest Bank in Lancashire are shocked, if not surprised, that their once quiet beach has become the scene of a tragedy.

The picturesque village was quiet, cold and windy on Friday.

A handful of people were walking the coast road looking out across the bay, where the search and rescue operation was continuing.

People living in Hest Bank had noticed cocklers coming in increasing numbers to their beach.

The cockle beds in nearby Warton Sands only opened last December; until then there were few fishermen working the bay.

I just think it was daft to go out at that time, we know not to do that round here
Local resident, Jane Law

Cockling is a big business, and there can be up to 300 people - many thought to be of Chinese origin - cockling in the bay at any one time.

One local businessman who declined to be named said the influx of workers had turned the beach near his home into a litter haven.

No regulation

"You can see up to 500 tourists on this beach at Easter weekend, but with so many people working here it's just a mess," he said.

"It's littered with cockle bags, coke cans, just general rubbish."

And these scenes are definitely not good for business.

Gareth Lymer, manager of the Hest Bank pub, said his customers do not want the cocklers in the area.

Hest Bank
Locals have complained about the rubbish left by some cocklers
He said: "They're not generally our clientele. We did have a few in last week but had to ask them to leave.

"People feel they take away from the local fishing trade."

Tony Singleton, who lives in the area, says the main problem is the trade is not properly regulated.

"I would say they should close the beds down," he said.

"They (the cockle pickers) just don't give anything back to the community."

The dangers posed by the sea as it laps, seemingly gently, against the coast are not lost on those who live in close proximity.

Jane Law, of Hest Bank, says local fishermen would have been more prepared.

"I just think it was daft to go out at that time, we know not to do that round here.

"I just feel so sorry for them."

'Deadly'

Margaret Owen is an auxiliary coastguard who was involved in the rescue and also collects cockles.

She said 40 cockle pickers arrived early in the morning a week ago and drove to the beach in a van.

Ms Owen told BBC Radio 4: "No one could believe it. They came off and there was a lot of trouble, a huge fight and the police were down.

"We've seen them come and go and everyone has just waited for this disaster.

"The sands are deadly - it's bad enough for people who know what they're doing."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Community workers say something needs to change"



SEE ALSO:
Cockle deaths spark gang fears
06 Feb 04 |  Lancashire
Deadly sands of Morecambe Bay
06 Feb 04 |  Lancashire
Rich pickings for big risks
06 Feb 04 |  England
Permits to regulate cockling
03 Dec 03 |  Lancashire
Cockle bed gold rush
05 Aug 03 |  North East Wales


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