Time was when the work of the coastguard service depended largely on numerous pairs of eyes scanning the coastline from a number of unlovely but functional look out buildings dotted along our cliffs. Then came technology and government cutbacks. The result so far as Devon and Cornwall were concerned was the centralisation of their work into more state of the art facilities at Falmouth and Brixham and the gradual abandonment of the lookouts. I think I am right in saying that HM Coastguard look after the North Devon coast, and I suppose some of North Cornwall also, from Swansea. Now this change of policy was pretty controversial at the time, there being a feeling that someone on the spot with a good pair of binoculars was still needed.
A sad event in our area back in 1994 led to the reopening of some of the lookouts. Two fishermen drowned close to the recently closed Bass Point station on The Lizard. Locals decided to reopen the lookout and set up a volunteer watch. From these humble beginnings the charity the National Coastwatch Institution was born. I won't describe their full history because it is easier to go to their website here. From that small beginning a number of the old lookout stations have come out of mothballs including I'm glad to say the one on the cliff south of Boscastle. I have a particular affection for that one with its dazzling white walls.
It is interesting to click on 'reports' on the website, so far in 2007 (at the time of writing) the NCI has been involved in 114 major incidents. This excludes many minor events. The report makes fascinating reading regarding the nature of the incidents and the lookout points involved. There is no doubt that this charity is performing a very useful function; it's interesting to note other charities from Cornwall, the country's first air ambulance for instance (no funding from the public purse), and the brilliant Shelterbox scheme.
I've chosen this moment to blog about the NCI because the volunteers at Bass Point have just been congratulated by the Chairman for their dedication and have received certificates in recognition of the time they have spent there.
There are so many people doing voluntary work very often out of the eye of the general public. It is nice to be able to mention some of them occasionally.