NCI North Wales started when I retired and moved permanently to my holiday home in Borth Y Gest, where my 'small boating' hobby had first started. Knowing that having retired from a very full and challenging work life, I knew that I needed an equally active and challenging retirement so I contacted the charity 'National Coastwatch Institution' or NCI to offer my services in North Wales. This resulted in Jon Gifford, the then Chairman of NCI asking
me to take over the development of National Coastwatch in Mid and North Wales where they had no stations, and I agreed. With almost 50 stations open in southern England with some 2,000 trained volunteers, North Wales was ready to be developed.
One derelict Coastguard station had already been identified as a potential Coastwatch station and I went over to Porthdinllaen to inspect and assess its potential. This was the start of the expansion of the NCI's chain of Watch stations which had started in Cornwall some 15 years earlier. The Coastguard were then in the process of closing their hundreds of watch stations around the UK coastline and one of these station had been taken over by a group of local volunteers following the drowning of two local young fishermen in sight of the recently closed Coastguard station. At the time of my retirement NCI had two stations on the south coast of Wales and just reached Pembroke, having recently opened Wooltack station.
Porthdinllaen proved to be in an ideal position to be restored and reopened as a modern NCI Coastwatch station. When the Coastguard first opened their chain of stations, their main reason was to look for those breaking the revenue laws by avoiding paying taxes on alcohol and tobacco. In the intervening years sea safety had become the primary purpose of their use, and more recently with the huge increase in the UK's leisure boating, the redundant stations taken over by NCI have to prove that they are needed to provide a watch over a busy stretch of leisure boating shoreline and coastal paths. Porthdinllaen station is on the Nefyn Golf course who were very supportive and happy to have us restore and rent the station from them. The station has proved to be in an ideal position and has become a very worthwhile sea safety asset, with over 30 dedicated volunteers.
NCI has no employees, with all members of the charity being volunteers, even buying their own uniforms and paying their own travel to the Watchstation. This results in the 2,000 plus qualified watchkeepers being committed and dedicated to the work of watching over the well-being of all those using the coastal paths and inshore waters of the UK.
Another limit to the re-opening of the old Coastguard stations is the availability of a local population willing and able to be trained, and also the strategic position of them in often isolated areas of the coastline is unsuitable as these are less populated areas to recruit sufficient volunteers to effectively man the stations. A good example of this is the old watchstation on the end of the Lleyn Peninsular overlooking the dangerous Bardsey Sound. We are currently looking into the possibility of using cameras to cover such areas of risk where we are unable to provide a manned station.
The next station that we opened is at Rhoscolyn on Anglesey, another redundant Coastguard station in an ideal position and this time owned by a private individual who was prepared to rent it to the NCI. As with Porthdinllaen, I organised a public meeting locally to explain what we were planning to do and what we would expect from those who would volunteer to become watchkeepers. 13 people attended and 7 of them were willing to be volunteers and start training, unlike Porthdinllaen where initially only one member of the public had attended the first meeting.
No previous experience or skills are required, but common sense, good eyesight and a willingness to learn is essential. Many of those volunteering are boating enthusiasts and lovers of the sea, but some have no experience of being on the water but soon learn the skills and become valuable members of the team. Each station is very much a 'team' and the camaraderie is infectious. Each station raises its own funds and the funds for the national organisation to continue its expansion and national development.
The third North Wales station to open was at Morfa Bychan on the Golf Course at Black Rock.
In the absence of a permanent building, a transportable mobile unit was used. Unfortunately, though a busy station, the Golf Club were not happy to have us there as they said that it spoilt the view of the “two castles” which they marketed internationally. After being forced to move the mobile unit twice to lower ground with a poorer view, we had to move the station to another North Wales site, this time on north east coast of Anglesey. This new site called Point Lynas is in a very busy area of sea in front of the lighthouse. Again the public meeting to inform the local population was well attended and a number of them volunteered. The two NCI stations on Anglesey now work closely together, as do all the stations in Wales.
We have known that the gap in the NCI chain of stations needed to be covered by having a station in the Aberystwyth area of Cardigan Bay, and a local County Councillor for the area was working with us to help find a suitable site. There was no local Coastguard station available, but we were by then using transportable units designed to provide Watchstations in areas where no fixed stations were available. I discussed potential sites with Ceredigion Council officers who were very helpful and following a meeting with the owners of Constitution Hill Mountain Railway, it was agreed that one of our new transportable stations could be placed on the 300 ft high site giving a wonderful view of Cardigan Bay. This new station was opened in July this year and is now operational every weekend with a small but growing dedicated team of volunteers keeping a safety watch over the Cardigan Bay.
A new NCI station is being planned for Pwllheli which will be built on top of Welsh Water's pumping station on the Spit at the entrance to Pwllheli Harbour. Our thanks to Welsh Water for their kind and helpful agreement to our use of this ideally positioned facility and we hope to open the station in 2017.
The Great Orme has been identified as an area of need for a sea and coastal path safety watch, and we are now looking for a suitable site after Conwy Council refused permission to place a transportable watchstation on the summit car park.
We would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in joining the NCI as watchkeeper on any of our current stations or those we plan to open.
NCI work in partnership with the Coastguard and our stations can be can be contacted on VHF Channel 65 by boat owners for local information or a Radio Check. Walkers on coastal paths are welcome to visit NCI station to see us at work.
To contact me email to; firstname.lastname@example.org
David Littlemore NCI Trustee.