This is a GUEST post
For the last four decades I have walked my dogs along the firing ranges between the Grand Redoubt and Fisherman’s beach, or the beach at Dymchurch. When the new sea defences were installed, approximately 18 years ago, the rocks which were put in place made the beach between the Redoubt and the first martello tower past New Beach Caravan park, inaccessible for a large part of the day.
This was not a problem as the Ranges usually finished firing at 16.30 hours most days. Also, they are a quiet and pleasant walk with no road noise. There is plenty of wildlife to see and an abundance of flora and fauna. So a much more pleasant walk. The majority of people where I live walk the ranges foreshore for this reason.
In July 2019, while walking along the beach, I noticed a boat was rushing in and out of the bay where the ranges are and nearly grounding itself on the beach. I though this was a bit thought odd. I found out later it was surveying the depth of the bay.
In September 2019, work huts were put on the slope to the ranges by the Grand Redoubt and a compound was erected round it with Robo Cop in charge shouting “Warning “at you in a Northern accent and taking your photo. I had no idea why this was there.
The workmen then removed the old fence and started putting up a new fence with gate and non-climbing round spikes. When asked workmen informed us, they were starting work on the new sea defences along the stretch of beach from the Redoubt to Hythe. We knew nothing about this occurring, no notification had been given to nearby residents and have not to date, April 1st.
When the workmen informed me that they would be filling the ramp with rocks and would no longer be in use, I wrote the first of many emails to the Environment Agency. (23.7.2020) I received a reply that the Public Liaison Officer of the contractors would be in touch.
In short form, I had asked what provision had been made to allow access and egress to the ranges when the rocks were put in place. Basically NONE.
I continued to ask this question on behalf of myself and other residents, I was sent a leaflet showing what they were going to do and, on this leaflet, it stated that Hythe Town Council had been notified and had “expressed no concern” apparently even though we are the closest to this work we were not notified as we are classed as Dymchurch not Hythe and the Redoubt is approx. 400 yards inside the Hythe border line.
On the 2.9.2020, I emailed Dymchurch Parish Council about this. They were totally unaware of any work being undertaken. They forwarded my email to Hythe Town Council, who never replied until I emailed individual Councillors in March this year. I was basically told, its too late now and a shame, we have lost access to the ranges.
The Liaison officer escalated my complaint to the environment agency on the 14.8.2020 I had numerous emails from them, all from different people and they must have had a template of it as they were virtually the same word for word, but nobody answered the question:
HOW do we access and egress the ranges, especially if the tide comes in and you get stuck the other side of the Redoubt?
Eventually I was told that there is an escape route by the Grand Redoubt Sluice, these steps are underwater for probably 12 hours of the day, so I do not know how one escapes when the route is under water. I addressed this point in all my emails.
On the 21.8.2020, I emailed Damian Collins for the first time, about the works and so had many others, about our concerns, he contacted the Minister of Defence and the Environment Agency who, sent him exactly the same email they had sent me word for word. Still not answering the question how we access and egress the ranges.
On the 5.10.2020 I emailed the Major in charge of the ranges who I must say has been extremely helpful. I asked the question why the gate could not be unlocked when the ranges finished firing as the man puts up and takes down the flag right next to it.
He agreed to a “permissive path” being put in place along the top of the Redoubt when ranges not firing and gate being unlocked. I and many others were incredibly pleased with this.
Now comes the hiccup, the Environmental Agency put up railings round the Redoubt which they have now taken down. The path is now deemed “unsafe”.
I will not bore everyone with the continual emails that have been sent to the Environmental Agency, Damian Collins, and the poor Major about this, suffice to say there have been many.
According to the Environment Agency they had to be removed as per Historic and Natural England instructions. Only told this verbally by the workmen who, had continually told me and others that they were putting in a pathway round the top of the Redoubt for us to access, when I asked this question to the Environmental Agency by email there comment was “as they did not witness this they cannot comment on anything said verbally”, implying therefore that we must all be making it up!!!
I emailed the Chief Executives of Natural England, Historic England, and the Environmental Agency on the 18th March asking the question why they were objecting to a Permissive Path being put in along the top of the Redoubt.
Natural England replied first saying they were unaware of any objections from them. Historic England replied next and also were unaware of any objection as they had not been asked!! In fact they stated they would have no objection to the public being allowed to access the foreshore by the top of the Redoubt and if something was required to make it safer they would work with the MoD to facilitate this. I had, NO answer from the Environmental agency except an automatic response to say they have received my email then after another email I received an email from them on 30th March 2021,, saying they are investigating my concerns. They have been investigating my concerns since 23rd July 2020.
The question I continually ask is how a Government Agency can start work and totally block an access and egress point that the public have a right to between low and high tide under the MoD byelaws with no notification or public consultation.
As their “mission statement” on their web site states:
“We work to create better places for people and wildlife and support sustainable development”
If they think that totally blocking a recreational area that people have used for decades complies to this statement I beg to differ, as do many others.
The works are now officially finished, and a video has been put on You Tube obviously made by the Environment Agency patting their own backs and how wonderful have we been.
I agree with the way they have maintained the diversity of the wildlife and put in place structures to facilitate the wildlife for hopefully prosperity, unfortunately the Residents from the East side of Dymchurch can not get round to see it and if they do, run the risk of getting trapped by the tide and being unable to return without walking the 3 miles to Hythe and 4.5 miles back along the road. (Hythe access has not been blocked with rocks they got shingle)
The video shows the lovely benches that the contractors made out of the old groynes with, a family of four looking out to sea, the same family on the video is then walking along the beach looking at the rock pools put in place on the new groynes, my question is, how did they get from those benches to the foreshore, were they driven to Hythe or across the ranges because they certainly did not get on to the beach from where they were. !!!
As the holiday season will soon be upon us and many visitors will arrive at New Beach to find they can no longer access the Range Foreshore, how long will it be before there is a major incident.
The Environment Agency have put up signs saying that people must be aware of the tides they may get trapped and that, if they do, they will have to walk the 3 kilometres (nearly two miles) to Hythe to get off. Even this is wrong, it should be 3 miles!!
If you walk along the beach you will not see these signs as they are on the sea wall by the Grand Redoubt Sluice. I pointed all this out in one of my many emails.
As it stands at the moment, we have no access or egress to the foreshore, the MoD and Historic England are happy for a permissive path to be put in place, subject to funding, which l feel should be funded by the Environmental Agency as they have had 8 months to rectify this, long before they filled the ramp up with rocks.
I notified the Ramblers Association of the blocked right of way and the Environmental Agency told them that if anybody gets trapped by the tide, they must phone the ranges and somebody will come and escort them off, or, they must call the Coastguard!!
On discussion with search and rescue when l saw them, when retrieving a dinghy that the immigrants had arrived in on the ranges, l was told they would only respond to a “risk of life call” and that people would have to walk to Hythe to get off.
As I titled this, Just to Walk My Dog, all I and many others want to do is walk our dogs, enjoy the recreational area that we have now been denied.
(Worked out that the so-called access steps, tides and firing times of Ranges, we would probably be able to access about once every 2 months)
I feel very strongly that the Environmental Agency should step up, admit they made a mistake, fund a safe path and allow us all to enjoy the rest of our lives, especially after the year we have all just been through.
I and others will not give up on this, – watch this space.
The Shepway Vox Team
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