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Cockle-pickers are 'raping' Kent beaches


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Teams of illegal cockle-pickers are "raping our beaches."

One estimate is that teams hitting the Isle of Sheppey can earn up to £14,000 a day.

Cocklers seen working at Leysdown. Picture: Nick Lewis
Cocklers seen working at Leysdown. Picture: Nick Lewis

Steve Brooker, 64, who has a caravan at Leysdown said: "I am really concerned. These people are raping our beaches of cockles, small crabs and oysters. It is getting out of hand.

"They are filling up cars with five-gallon buckets. This is going on every day. Everyone knows it is happening but no one is doing anything about it.

"Police told one family to put everything back but the cockle-pickers simply move to another beach.

"I used to take my son cockling when he was young but we only had a bucket and we cleaned them and boiled them when we got home. It wasn't on an industrial scale like this."

Fisherman Nick Lewis, 57, from Eastchurch took photos of cockle-pickers at work at Leysdown earlier today.

Plastic tubs of cockles in the back of a car at Leysdown. Picture: Daniel Ward
Plastic tubs of cockles in the back of a car at Leysdown. Picture: Daniel Ward

He said: "There were 14 of them in four cars. They were families with kids in the back. They were still working when I left at 6.30pm as they were following the tide as it went out.

"They start by the breakwaters when the tide is in. They are doing it all over at Sheerness, Minster, Queenborough and the Kingsferry Bridge.

"It is a total disgrace and all wrong. I doubt if they pay tax or are licensed. When I go sea fishing I pay all my licences and always throw back any bass which is too small.

"These are filling their buckets with all sizes and then selling them to the fish shops."

The price of the Cockney favourites is £13.95 per 1kg.

Half a bucket: how many cockles you can take home per day
Half a bucket: how many cockles you can take home per day

One estimate on social media is that if each bucket holds 10kg and that the cockle-pickers can load 10 buckets into a car, a group with 10 vehicles working an area can make £13,950 a day. Or £97,650 for a seven-day week.

Many photographs of the cocklers have been appearing on social media with some posts saying the cocklers, who appear to be Chinese, should be confronted.

They have also been snapped on the Isle of Grain driving a top-of-the-range 66-reg white Lexus 3.5-litre hybrid. On Sheppey they have been using Range Rovers and Nissans.

Phil Crowder, chairman of the Sheerness Town Team, said: "These people are stripping the Island's coastline of shellfish. There have been many reports on social media but there seems to have been a lack of action by the police or borough council to stop them.

"It would be helpful if locals were made aware of the illegality of it and be given numbers to ring to report it."

Phil Crowder, chairman of the Sheerness Town Team
Phil Crowder, chairman of the Sheerness Town Team

Cllr Cherise Moorcroft promised to raise the matter at the community and environment committee of Sheerness Town Council under any other business today (Thursday). No one from the council was available to comment.

Ian Arnell, Swale council's seafront manager, said: "To report gangs of cockle-pickers to the police online, pictures and registration numbers of cars always come in useful."

Sightings can be reported to police on 101 or to the Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) in Albert Street, Ramsgate on 01843 585310 or emailed to info@kentandessex-ifca.gov.uk.

Some have reported sightings to the Government's Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority on 0800 4320804. It is not believed gangs are involved in this operation although groups of up to 15 have been seen.

Cocklers can collect "a small quantity" a day for their own use.

Cocklers seen working at Leysdown. Picture: Nick Lewis
Cocklers seen working at Leysdown. Picture: Nick Lewis

A spokesman for the IFCA said: "The authority is not opposed to persons without a licence or permit taking a small quantity of cockles for their own consumption.

"Officers have, therefore been instructed to take no action against persons removing less than five litres of whole cockles in the shell per 24-hour period."

However, environmental health departments of borough and district councils can place a Prohibition Order on the collection of shellfish if there are health concerns.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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