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Page last updated at 16:48 GMT, Friday, 6 August 2010 17:48 UK
Signage at beach at Corton near Lowestoft criticised
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Corton beach, Suffolk
British Naturism's orange gazebo at Corton during Beach Day 2009

Naturists are claiming signage at a former designated nudist beach in Suffolk is misleading.

Waveney District Council de-designated Corton beach as naturist-only in 2009, although nude sunbathing isn't illegal.

"The sign gives the impression that you can no longer use the beach as a naturist," said Allan Kidney, British Naturism.

"We took the view that it does not need a sign to explicitly say that," said Phil Harris, Waveney District Council.

The row's blown up ahead of a British Naturism Beach Day which takes place on the site just north of Lowestoft on Sunday, 8 August, 2010.

The signs at Corton now say: "The beach is no longer designated as a naturist beach or a clothes optional area. All visitors are kindly asked to respect this decision and show consideration to other beach users''.

Naturists say this doesn't make it clear that you can still take your clothes off, although you may find yourself sunbathing next to 'textiles' - as naturists describe people who wear bathing costumes.

"We have asked Waveney District Council if they could replace the sign with more appropriate wording," said Allan.

"The query is that the sign at the bottom of Tramp's Alley gives the impression that you cannot be undressed in that area."

Allan Kidney, British Naturism
Allan Kidney is a British Naturism spokesman for East Anglia

Designation and de-designation

The beach was originally designated for naturism by Waveney in the 1970s - one of the first in the UK.

After a consultation, a decision to de-designate was made on the grounds that because so much beach had been lost to erosion north of Corton, naturists couldn't have an exclusive area to themselves any more.

"The intention of the sign was to make it clear that while there are beaches around the country specifically for naturists, it is no longer the case that [Corton] is a naturist beach," said Phil Harris.

"That does not mean that naturism is forbidden. If you had a sign explaining everything that you can do on a beach, it would be enormous.

"As a local authority, we're taking the view that naturists are welcome to go wherever they feel they want to go."

Legal position

Suffolk police have issued guidance to their officers following the de-designation.

"You can go on any beach and naturism is not illegal," said Inspector Sarsfield Donohue at Lowestoft.

"However, any behaviour which is deemed to be exhibitionist or offensive would be dealt with.

"Any form of overt sexual behaviour is the easiest way of explaining it.

"A naturist walking down a beach to go for a swim is not in itself exhibitionism.

"On a vast, empty stretch of beach, if a naturist chooses to sit down in very close proximity to a non-naturist, that could be seen as exhibitionism.

"It's a common sense approach.

"Some people may find naturism difficult to deal with, but we're asking all sides to respect each other."

For example, while under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it's a crime to expose the genitals with the intention to cause alarm or distress, any abusive or threatening behaviour directed towards naturists would fall under the Public Order Act 1986.

Brighton naturist beach
Braving the sea in April at Brighton's naturist beach

'Fringe element'

Corton beach is at the bottom of cliffs below a holiday park while the village's houses are a bit further north.

"Many local people feel unable to use the beach, not only because of naturist use, but a certain degree of undesirable behaviour caused by exhibitionists," said David Butcher, chairman of Corton Parish Council.

"It's not the genuine naturists, it's the 'fringe element' that seem to go with them.

"If an area could be found for naturist use that was accessible and didn't upset too many of the local residents, that would be acceptable from Corton's angle."

Meanwhile, no decision has been made by Waveney on whether to change the beach sign.

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02 Aug 10 |  Nature & Outdoors
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24 May 05 |  England


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