Too many people still risk their lives trying to access the island without understanding the tides in Weston Bay. The way across looks benign at low tide but soon catches up with the unwary.
Although it is derelict and falling into the sea Birnbeck Island and its Pier is a fascinating and charming sight. It is connected to the mainland by the Pier but also, at low tide, by a shingle bank, known locally as the Cassie.
The rocky island and its Pier sit in the Bristol Channel which has the second highest range of tide in the world. The height of the water can range up to 15 meters between low and high tide. In order for this huge amount of water to get in, in the six hours between tides, it has to move very, very fast. Faster than a man can run.
The Pier was built in 1864 and the island used to be a sight of major tourist attractions with some rides and experiences which were in the forefront of entertainment. Due to neglect the Pier became more and more dangerous and the public was banned from using it in the 1970s. Only the RNLI, with its quintessential red doored lifeboat station, continued to use the island. However by 2014 the Pier became so dangerous that even the RNLI had to leave the island and set up a temporary station on Knightstone Piazza.
But the Island is still there. Its rotting Victorian buildings, large concrete aprons and long stilled clock tower can be seen from the land but access across the Pier is completely excluded, for safety concerns, by the Birnbeck Restoration Trust.
But the Cassie remains, uncovered at low tide, ready to catch the foolish and unwary.
Since we left the Island we have had many occasions to emergency launch our lifeboats because people have made their way across the shingle bank thinking to explore the damaged island. Sometimes they have managed to get back to safety before the tide completely overwhelms them but on several occasions they have been plucked from the raging waters just in time. This year has already seen four major callouts because of this problem. On one occasion the man was up to his neck in water by the time we found him. The tides rush through under the columns of the old Pier and no one can stand their force. He had minutes to live.
We always advise keeping well away from the island, even if at the time the water seems still and the way seems peaceful.
Richard Spindler, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Weston said;’ This was our old home but we would prefer not to have to go back there as it means someone is in serious trouble. If you see anyone going across to the island please call the coastguard without delay.’
RNLI notes to editors
The enclosed pictures show,
Birnbeck Island at low tide
The same area at high time
The lifeboat rescuing a man with his head nearly under water
Two persons clinging to the Pier legs with on minutes to live.
RNLI media contacts
For further information, please contact Weston-super-Mare RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer Glyn Hayes on 01934 824587 or Chris Lyons Deputy RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer on 07825 347697
Lifeboats in service at Weston-super-Mare
Atlantic 75 class Lifeboat named Coventry and Warwickshire
D-Class Lifeboat named Anna Stock
The station was established in 1882 at the request of the local inhabitants and moved into its current boathouse in 1902. In 2013 we had to leave our lifeboat station on Birnbeck Island as the access pier had become too dangerous. The temporary station at Knightstone is until we can get a new station built.
To find out more information about Weston-super-Mare lifeboat and for recent events, please log onto our website or contact Glyn Hayes on 01934 824587.
For more information on the RNLI please visit www.rnli.org.uk. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI Press Centre www.rnli.org.uk/press
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 230 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 100 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 137,000 lives.
A charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SCO37736). Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland
All the Best
Dr Glyn Hayes
Deputy Launching Authority
Lifeboat Press Officer
Vice Chair Weston RNLI lifeboat Management Group