Case Studies - Carnewas, Cornwall

Carnewas is a heavily visited National Trust (NT) property on the north Cornish coast. There are spectacular views of the cliffs, beaches and offshore sea stacks, known as Bedruthan Steps. There are extensive cliff walks, and a steep staircase provides access to the beach. Nevertheless, it is a hazardous natural environment – much of the cliff edge is unfenced, with steep drops and some undercutting. Swimming from the beach is dangerous due to unpredictable currents, and there are risks of rock falls and being cut off by the incoming tide.

In the late 1990’s, the NT completed a major engineering project to restore the staircase giving access to the beach. The staircase is heavily used by visitors arriving from both an NT and an adjacent private car park. The extent of use and the concentration of visitors at the head of the staircase justified extensive physical safety precautions – these include barriers at the platform at the top of the staircase, and rock safety netting to prevent rock falls. The steep staircase has handrails from top to bottom.

After this, the NT came under pressure from the local authority to provide additional sections of cliff edge fencing elsewhere on the site, and to provide staff to supervise the beach (even though this is not owned by the NT). The NT argued that these measures involved excessive intervention in the natural landscape, and were inconsistent with precautions adopted by neighbouring landowners.

Fencing in this situation was likely to have encouraged people to approach too close to the cliff edge, the installation of fencing would have involved significant risks to staff or contractors; there would be an ongoing maintenance obligation; and since it was impracticable to fence the whole stretch of coastline, there would always be unfenced sections where risk remained.

The Trust’s position was not based on resistance to any intervention in the natural landscape, since extensive measures had been put in place at the staircase to ensure safe access to the beach – including rock bolting, rock safety netting and handrails. The risks and alternative precautions were identified and recorded in the risk assessment process. Greater emphasis was placed on managing access and developing emergency procedures, and by informing visitors of the hazards on site through safety information, interpretation, and verbal information from staff.

See also the South Stacks Cliffs, Ynys Mon case study and the good practice guideline on managing risk from drops

This case study was written by and was published in 2004, revised November 2005

This website entry was last updated on 5 November, 2015

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