Saturday, 12 June 2004

Are Jet Skiers A Menace on the River Lune?

Local bird lovers in Lancaster are up in arms over jet ski use on the River Lune, concerned for the safety of nesting birds. Several people have also complained to Virtual-Lancaster about the noise the jet skis make and raised safety concerns.

Jet skiers now regularly tear up the Lune beyond Skerton Bridge -- despite a voluntary agreement made some years ago not to go further.

Some local bird watchers have called for a ban on the machines, saying that unchecked, the jet ski problem will only get worse. They are especially concerned by jet ski use further down the Lune, on the marsh channels where birds are nesting.

"I've never seen so many nesting birds on the River Lune as I have this year," one Skerton resident told Virtual-Lancaster. "They're an absolute delight and a wonderful sight for both locals and visitors alike. "Sadly, it appears the increasing number of jet skiers on the Lune are determined to rob us of this wonderful natural attraction."

Local councillors are beginning to wake up to the issue, with promises of investigation and possible action. Lancaster councillor Ron Sands, cabinet member responsible for tourism, feels action must be taken, pointing out that new speed restrictions on Lake Windermere, due to come into force next year, will lead to what he calls "a search by the hundreds of displaced skiiers for alternative habitats to destroy."

Up until now however, although there has been some discussion among local organisations with environmental interests -- such as the Morecambe Bay Partnership -- no clear plan to address the problems jets skiers cause has been agreed. Nationally, government has yet to find time to address concerns raised by several local authorities about jet ski use, even though the machines have been in use for over five years in the UK.

Jet skis, which can reach speeds of more than 70mph and can be legally driven by children, remain unregulated.

One problem in addressing the issue, according to local bird watcher Jon Carter, is that there are no local jet ski clubs who could advise users on where to use their machines safely. Those using the Lune at present are all independent jet ski owners who may be ignorant of local concerns and complaints.

Locals point out there is likely to be more jet ski use on the Lune in future and the dangers they pose to personal safety. (Earlier this month, a 32-year-old man was seriously injured in a collision between two jet skis off Ardrossan beach in North Ayrshire. A man was killed on a North Yorkshire lake last year, after a collision between two jet skis).

In the US, where jet ski use is more prevalent, steps have been taken against them on both conservation and noise pollution grounds. Several national parks have banned jet ski use outright, after numerous studies revealed they can cause lasting damage to park resources and wildlife. Hawaii has classified jet skis as "thrillcraft" and banned them from some coastal waters during the whale calving season. In California, the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary severely restricted personal watercraft because of the threat posed to sea otters and other users of the 4,000-square-mile sanctuary.

Campaigners against jet skis living in Cape Cod cited a catalogue of issues with the vehicles, arguing they pollute the air and water, create law enforcement problems, threaten public safety, endanger wildlife, destroy natural quiet and diminish visitor enjoyment.

It is now law to wear helmets and life jackets while riding a jet ski in some states and New York state now requires all skiers, regardless of their age, complete an 8-hour boating safety course before they can use a machine there, or face being fined -- see this report from Capital News.

Locally, Lancaster City Council already has byelaws in place to deal with motorcycle abuse and it is possible they could be applied to jet skiers. As well as Coun Ron Sands acknowledgement of the issue, local councillor Jon Barry told Virtual-Lancaster he was trying to find out if anything could be done about the problems caused on environmental grounds.

It remains to be seen whether any action will - or can be taken, especially given apparent government reticence to tackle the problem despite the dangers and destruction jet skis can pose if used improperly.

Links From Minnesota Public Radio:

• The dangers of unregulated Jet Ski Use to swimmers (Both side of the argument put)

• Environmental impact of Jet Skis

"One of the things I love about living in Marsh is the access to countryside, says local Ian McCulloch. "Five minutes walk down the footpath next to Coronation Field and you're surrounded by fields, another five and you're at Marsh Point. Which is great unless it's a sunny Sunday afternoon, and the river is full of screaming jet-skis from the Golden Ball on the opposite bank. In a spot which is gloriously quiet apart from them it seems a bit much."