Views of the Harbour Master
2019 marks my 30th anniversary of working for Wells Harbour Commissioners. The time has passed so quickly, with every year seeming shorter than the last. But of course, this is not the case. Maybe it's because I'm getting older or the harbour getting busier that the seasons seem to pass in a flash?
The demands of running a busy port are unrelenting and no two days are the same. I have certainly come to expect the unexpected. Whether that's dealing with the politics of the Port and the plethora of organisations who regularly hold differing opinions on a wide range of subjects, to responding to tidal flow and channel changes which require buoys to be urgently repositioned to ensure safe passage. And, of course, there are our dealings with the public whose actions never fail to surprise me. Through the course of a year we can respond to attempted suicides, bomb threats and people putting themselves in danger; such as the man who got cut-off from the tide (not unusual you might think), only to run off across Bob Hall Sands shouting and swearing when we tried to pick him up. Of course, we could have left him, but on a rising spring tide and with night time approaching this wasn't an option. So, for several hours we played a game of cat & mouse as we tried to find him and bring him safely back.
I'm not sure whether any of the above are in the harbour team's job description, but I am proud of the way we all work together both in our day-to-day work but also in our support for the community. In 2018 alone, the Harbour Commissioners closed the quayside and freely made it available for the Christmas Tide, Lifeboat Service, Newfoundland dogs event, North Norfolk Triathlon, Carnival raft race, Cancer walk for life and the Remembrance Service to mark the end of WW1.
For me, and yes, I know I might be biased, "Wells is the Harbour". It is the reason why so many people visit our town. But perhaps what visitors don't realise is how big the harbour estate is and what a vast area the Commissioners are responsible for. Many Acts over several hundred years and the harbour Revision Order of 1994 clearly state the harbour stretches West to the middle of Holkham Gap, one mile seaward and East as far as Stiffkey pipe line and more importantly all areas within these boundaries that cover on a spring tide. This of course includes the marsh & creeks which have recently caused grave concern for local people and much debate with Natural England over future access to the marshes. As Harbour Master, I have had more e-mails, phone calls and conversations with members of the public on the day Natural England announced their plans to stop access, than on any other announcement in the past thirty years. Following Natural England's announcement, the Commissioners took legal advice (paid by harbour funds) and held or attended numerous meetings to safeguard the rights of all, to have free access and passage to the marsh as they have always done. At the time of writing, the Commissioners have been assured by Natural England that the public rights to access will continue as for previous generations.
The above serves to give you, our 'stakeholders' (a phrase I dislike, I prefer 'users' or 'harbour community'), a small glimpse into our world. But I am aware that I have only scratched the surface into how the Commissioners and staff work tirelessly on your behalf, as caretakers of your beautiful harbour.
Of course, as I say every year in my message, we can't please everybody. There will always be critics. But perhaps this isn't a bad thing. We will always, as Harbour Commissioners and staff make our decisions based on what's best to safeguard the harbour, environment & community. As was recently written in a newly published book about Wells harbour life, we are indeed a "Community-Next-The-Sea".
Robert Smith MBE
A Message from the Chairman
Firstly, I would like to welcome you to Wells Harbour, whether your route is by sea or by road. The harbour has made steady progress over a number of years, offering top facilities to sailors, cruisers and fishing boats.
The fishing fleet are mostly fishing for crab, lobster and whelks, which you can sample in the town's restaurants and cafes, and all along the North Norfolk coast.
The 2018 season was not one of the best for fishing due to the Beast from the East. As most fishermen do, they dust themselves down ready for the next one.
You can always see something going on when the tide is in, with fishing boats unloading their catch, sailing boats and even the harbour vessels.
With Wells being so close to Holkham Hall, and the long sandy beaches and salt marshes, it's a haven for wildlife - seals can be seen down at Wells beach.
The harbour has now got a new boat hoist which can lift up to 35 tonnes, to get yachts and fishing boats out of the water for some TLC, new pontoons to be installed and projects ongoing. My personal opinion is that Wells Harbour punches well above its weight.
Yes an "incomer" I may be, I am not from these parts, having grown up on the western fringes of the Greater London Urban Area, known as Slough, which boasts the largest industrial estate in single private ownership in Europe and the mockumentary sitcom TV programme "The Office", but not much else, a distance of 150 miles from Wells and 50 miles from the sea, it couldn't be more different an environment to this beautiful haven here in Wells. I feel privileged to be here, having spent many a holiday here as a child, I never thought that one day I would actually call it home. It's a very special place.
I am sure that those of you who were born here and have generations of history will have more memories of change than I do but even in the relatively short time of 13 years I have lived here I have seen much change. Back when I moved here it felt a little bit bohemian, quirky and quaint and I say this in the most positive sense. But its beauty brought attention and with so many national newspapers writing about the "hidden gem" of England, more and more visitors arrived each year. Now I am sure that a lot of local businesses relished this change, not so for me. Certainly to see some historic buildings being refurbished was a good thing as money came into the town from outside, but other changes in my opinion not so beneficial, such as over development and tourism beyond the capacity of local infrastructure to cope. The town gets rammed to the rafters in the summer months, and many visitors, not all, but many disregard the natural beauty of this place and have no consideration for the environment or protecting it. We see plastic crabbing items left after use to litter the quay, many items end up in the harbour for us to attempt to retrieve. We see crabbing buckets filled to the rim with our precious "gillys" because people feel like it's a competition without any empathy for the crabs well being. We see litter left on the beach after busy summer days.
Now I have been called a "tree hugger" in meetings, a term which amuses me as I am proud to be one, but I make no excuse for my passion. Protecting the environment, the shoreline and the creatures that call it home, is what takes up all of my spare time. Whether it be organising a local beach clean to pick up plastics and rubbish, diving for ghostnet fishing gear that has been discarded and carries on killing marine life, rescuing injured and sick seals, or providing my time free to raise money for marine conservation groups, that is what is important to me. People should never take for granted the stunning vista we have to look out on every day or the wildlife and marine life that share this special place with us. We should protect it for future generations to enjoy, we are custodians and it is our duty.
From a work perspective, I am personally very excited about a Little Tern artificial nesting project that the Harbour Commissioners have agreed to set up and have ready for Spring, which will utilise one of the old wooden pontoons, no longer in use. A camera will hopefully capture nesting birds and I sincerely hope this will be a success. I encourage each and every one of you to participate in activities to help protect our amazing environment and not take it for granted.
Louise De Lisle