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Orford Ness lighthouse engineers prepare to switch off
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

BBC Inside Out East visits the Orford Ness lighthouse

Engineers say advanced technology will ensure sailors can do without one of Suffolk's lighthouses.

Orford Ness lighthouse, which is unmanned, is due to be completely switched off and closed.

Trinity House, which provides 69 lighthouses in the UK, says navigation can be done using on-board equipment.

"We gather the data from the standard GPS satellite system and rebroadcast it and it's highly accurate," said Paul Dunning, engineer, Trinity House.

Trinity House made an announcement in May 2010 that it would be closing Orford Ness lighthouse, although no date has been set.

Paul Dunning is one of the engineers who make trips to the spit to make sure the lighthouse keeps working until the switch-off.

The lighthouse was built in 1792 and the last live-in lighthouse keeper left in 1959.

Mr Dunning said: "It was necessary to have people on station at all times to wind the clock up, make sure the light was on and do other daily tasks but they're not necessary any more because of modern electronics.

"We've got two circuits to cover everything. In some cases more than two - if the main light fails and the secondary light fails we've got the emergency backup."

Trinity House says it can increase the range of Southwold Lighthouse just up the coast using modern LED lighting.

Shipping uses the differential global positioning system (DGPS) which is a more advanced version of the sat-nav used in road vehicles.

Southwold harbour and lighthouse
The approach to Southwold harbour where the lighthouse is being retained

Shifting sandbanks

Trinity House manages its East Anglian lighthouses (Cromer, Lowestoft, Southwold and Orford Ness), buoys, beacons and DGPS from its station at Harwich.

The East Anglian coast is regarded as particularly hazardous because of its shifting sandbanks.

Shipping channels move around and become more dangerous on harbour approaches.

John Fox is a lifeboat coxswain in Lowestoft.

"If you look on the admiralty chart of the North Sea it's absolutely full of wrecks and you can be some considerable distance offshore and be in very shallow water," he said.

"The channels are buoyed and they're marked. Channels are surveyed so the facility is there to safely navigate the waters.

"It's down to the individual to take the information and act correctly upon that information."

The Orford Ness lighthouse story features on BBC Inside Out - East on Monday, 18 January, 2011.




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