BEACHGOERS are dicing with death by picnicking under unstable cliffs.
A West Bay resident said he was ‘shocked and stunned’ when he saw the groups lying under cliffs just yards from a recent rockfall.
Coastal experts say that the cliffs could collapse at any moment and that people are putting their lives at risk.
Earth science manager for Dorset County Council Richard Edmonds said cliff falls can happen with ‘no warning at all’.
He added: “The consequences can be devastating. We all remember what happened to Charlotte Blackman in the summer of 2012.”
Miss Blackman was killed when she was buried underneath a massive rockfall on the beach near Burton Bradstock.
The resident took the photograph on the right to raise awareness of the dangers of getting too close to the cliffs.
He said: “If they had just been walking around you could understand it, but they were sitting there for a long time, enjoying the beach and obviously had no clue how much danger they were in.
“I think they were holidaymakers and there were children there.
“A lot of people do know about the dangers but I wanted to speak out just to make everyone aware.”
He added: “It can be difficult to go up to someone you don’t know and tell them they are in a dangerous situation but because this is such a tourist destination there are a lot of visitors who do not have the local knowledge of how risky it is.”
Mr Edmonds said the beachgoers had taken an ‘unnecessary risk’ by sitting under the cliffs.
He said: “The falls are quite infrequent, but having said that there has been some extreme weather this winter so it is a stupid thing to do.
“What we have learned in the past two years is that they appear to happen with little or no warning at all.
“You also have to remember that it does not have to be a big rockfall. All it takes is a single rock falling from a height and that can do some very serious damage.”
The risk is worst after extreme weather when the sea batters the bottom of the cliffs, Mr Edmonds added, such as the storms earlier this year.
“If you take away the base of the cliff, the overhang is the most dangerous part because there is nothing to support it.
“I think there were six or seven cliff falls between Fresh-water Beach and Burton Bradstock after this winter’s storms.”
Simon Parker, county emergency planning officer for Dorset, urged people to heed warning signs.
He said: “As a public agency we are doing everything we can to ensure people’s safety but beachgoers have to pay attention to the signs and look after themselves.
“If people don’t take responsibility for themselves there’s nothing we can do.”
A plan is in place to ensure all agencies are able to respond immediately in case of a landslip.
Mr Parker added that while the authorities had considered closing the beaches, this would be ‘impossible’ in practice.