Holidaymakers flocking to the beach this summer are being urged not to dig holes in the sand – because it poses a safety risk.
Emergency service chiefs say that even shallow pits dug by children can present a hazard and should be filled in immediately after use.
They say craters can cause ‘sand holes’ which could potentially swallow up anyone who accidentally steps into them.
The warning could spell an end to the traditional seaside past time which has entertained children and adults alike for generations.
Coastguards are taking the risk so seriously they recently staged a high-profile training exercise to simulate excavating someone out of hole on a Somerset beach.
Jon Kendray, senior coastal operations office with the Coastguard in Weston-super-Mare, said digging holes can have “very serious consequences”.
“Digging holes in the sand is something which can be seen by many as a relatively harmless exercise,” he said.
“But it can have very serious consequences. We would advise people not to tunnel or dig under the sand and only dig shallow holes.
“Children should be supervised by an adult at all times. Any shallow holes should be filled in afterwards.
“Digging holes into the sand can cause a sand hole collapse where a person can fall in and find themselves trapped.”
Coastguards say that sand holes can collapse when people step into them and the victim can quickly be surrounded by cascading sand, making it impossible to move.
In severe causes the weight of sand can cause a persons’ airway to become restricted, causing a serious risk to life.
This week Weston-super-Mare’s Coastguard team staged a training day with other members of the emergency services to prepare for a sand hole collapse.
Beach rangers, ambulance and fire crews also joined in the drill, in which a buried dummy was freed from the sand.
The exercise was held as a public warning ahead of the summer holiday season.
Mr Kendray added: “The training exercise was held ahead of the start of the summer holidays when there are a lot more people visiting the beach.
“We wanted to make sure our teams were ready to deal with any incident that could occur.
“We are fortunate in Weston to have the beach rangers who can keep an eye out for people digging into the sand and give advice to stop an incident occurring in the first place.”
Although there have been no reports of sand hole collapses in the West Country in recent years, tragedy has struck in the past.
In 2005 Abbie Livingstone-Nurse, three, died after falling into a hole dug under the sand at the high tide mark at Upper Towans Beach, Hayle, Cornwall.
Anyone who spots someone in difficulty on the coast should call 999 and ask for the coastguard.