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  • Andrew Welch
    Andrew Welch

    Holkham beach - saved for Naturism by BN

    It’s not always easy to persuade people to join an organisation, especially one like ours where you need nothing (literally!) to be able to participate. Aside from the benefits our incredibly cheap annual membership offers and the opportunity to be part of a community – whether meeting other people face to face, or the feeling of not being alone – a crucial part of our work is to challenge threats to our lifestyle – something we do very well, as the following shows…and don’t be one of those who say ‘I never use that beach’; think of how we will act when your favourite place is taken away from you…

    Photo by Andy Crawford. The sign is a long way from where it should be, so that no one notices it!

    It is excellent news that there is once again Naturism at Holkham, one of the largest and most beautiful beaches in the UK. It has taken a lot of work, the intervention of lawyers – and a lot of money.

    The Holkham Estate owns the dunes and the beach above mean high water. Below mean high water the beach belongs to The Crown Estate (therefore national property) and Natural England (the non-departmental public body of the UK government responsible for ensuring that England’s natural environment, is protected and improved) has a lease giving partial control until 2017.

    Since time immemorial, nude sunbathing has been a feature of Holkham beach, but we believe it was in the 1950s that it was formally recognised. From the 1990s to the present, Naturism was not permitted in the

    dunes, but the lack of notices resulted in most users not knowing that. Annually BN met with The Holkham Estate, sometimes even Lord Coke himself, usually at BN beach days. On occasions they mentioned some problems but told us they had resolved them. There was no mention of any problems when we met them again, with the police, in Summer 2012.

    Out of the blue, in March 2013, the Holkham Estate told us that they were considering a ban on Naturism because of indecent activities in the dunes. There followed correspondence, phone calls and meetings, in which we challenged the decision, stating that problems in the dunes should be tackled in the dunes, and not that all Naturists using the beach should be made to suffer. We also queried the validity of a ban. In June 2013, they issued a press release that a ban on Naturism on the whole beach was about to start. We immediately embarked on fact finding and information gathering but by August reasonable persuasion had not worked so we brought in the lawyers.

    We sent a letter, a QC prepared seven page legal master class, to The Crown Estate, as the first step in Judicial Review. We engaged one of the top firms of Human Rights solicitors…and The Crown Estate promptly lifted the ban on their part of the beach. Not long after, we heard from Natural England with an invitation to a meeting and we sat down with them to discuss the location of the nude area at Holkham and how signs would be worded. Result!

    So, Naturists can once again use the beach at Holkham without having to worry, though some aspects of the present situation are less than satisfactory and the future is not certain. We’re also not back to exactly where we were before – an approximately 10 metre strip in front of the dunes still carries the ‘ban’ because it is owned by the Holkham Estate.

    On a recent visit to the beach we opened conversations with beach users with two questions “Any problems?” and “What do you think of what happened last year?” Note that the questions are carefully neutral. The answers were much as expected, and there were many contradictions of what the Holkham Estate has claimed.

    About half immediately said that it was unclear where the preferred area for Naturism is and more importantly where it is banned. Signs are needed on the Holkham Estate land but our requests have been refused.

    A similar number of people blamed the problems on the “perverts in the dunes” and few knew about the other reasons which we have discovered since the announcement of the ban. If the dispute flairs up again we have the option of going public with the real reasons.

    Several of the beach users had some knowledge of Holkham Estate enforcement action in the dunes over several years and their opinion was scathing. There was a lot of anger at the unfairness of the ban last summer and it is going to take time and persuasion to build up good relations between beach users and the Holkham Estate. We did warn the Holkham Estate that that would be the result of their actions but they ignored us.

    But this is real progress and has only come about because of the work of British Naturism and its volunteers.We estimate that we have expended getting on for £10,000 on Holkham over the past 18 months. Fortunately a lot of that was in the form of donated time, and we obtained substantial discounts from the solicitors, but even so there was an appreciable cash outlay. We don’t have the war-chest to be able to fight issues like this very often and is a reason why we are always encouraging people to join us – each individual subscription really matters.

    We hope you can see why.

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