Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

Illegal cockle-pickers sneak on to MoD firing range to steal shellfish

Shell-fishing gangs have been risking their lives by trespassing on military land where bombs have been tested for years.

The cockle-pickers have been spotted in the Old Ranges Beach area, in Shoeburyness, Essex, which is a Ministry of Defence restricted area.

Explosives and other dangerous military items can be found on the beach due to the area having been used as a firing range for more than a century.

Police and council bosses have now issued a warning against illegal harvesting and say they will be keeping a close eye on the issue.

Ron Woodley, deputy leader of Southend Council, urged the MoD to step in.

"[The cockle-pickers] should be thrown off the land and this is unthinkable due to the potential that could happen," he said.

"The MoD must be acting and getting rid of these people.

"We don't know what's behind this and whether gang leaders are forcing people to do this.

"If so, we need to crack down on the gang leaders and deal with them."

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Leader of the council Ian Gilbert said: "It's clearly a very dangerous activity and I am glad the police have stepped in to stop this from happening.

"I think it's common sense not to do anything like this and there have been tragedies from illegal shell-fishing.

"We don't want anything like that happening in Southend.

"People should be thinking and be more careful but we also don't know what's behind or causing people to do things like this."

Police have urged anyone with any information to come forward and speak to officers to help deter the cockle-pickers.

A spokesman for Southend police said: "We have been informed that groups of cockle-pickers have been seen trespassing on the Old Ranges Beach area near to Barge Pier. This is a Ministry of Defence restricted area.

"Not only should they not be cockle-picking without a permit, but illegal trespassing on an MoD site is also extremely dangerous.

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"If this applies to anyone reading this, please know that we are aware of this.

"We will be keeping an eye out for people cockle-picking illegally and trespassing on the MoD site."

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