‘A village torn apart’: What now for Anglesey beach row?
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Questions remain over the status of a strip of land which has been at the centre of a months-long public access row on Anglesey.
Ongoing tensions saw boulders placed on the foreshore of Llanddona beach in March, part of an apparent attempt to stop “hordes of campervans” from continuing to park up on the beach.
But with the move also restricting locals from accessing the beach by vehicle – an activity enjoyed by generations of villagers – it sparked much anger within the community.
After a petition was signed by almost 5,000 people calling for the boulders to be taken away, Monday saw the forced removal of the huge rocks by an army of tractors and diggers marshalled by local residents and cheered on by around 60 villagers.
But while this row has been raging on for several months, no satisfactory agreement seems to be in sight.
Up to now, no one has stepped up to take responsibility for the placing of the boulders, but it is widely thought to have been the act of some nearby landowners.
It follows acknowledged frustration due to the beach’s popularity with campers, despite the very steep and extremely narrow road leading down to it.
But another question that remains unanswered is the ownership of the land in question, which increasingly looks like a conundrum for the solicitors despite widespread local belief that the land has been and should continue to be for public use.
According to Anglesey Council, which is adamant that the land is not in its ownership, officers are continuing to liaise with Llanddona Community Council, and will be meeting members again shortly to discuss local concerns and potential solutions.
But one local resident, who did not wish to be identified, said that the act of removing the boulders had left the sandy beach in a “sorry state”, with recent events having caused “bad feeling” locally.
They added that they felt “intimidated” to speak out as a result of recent actions, which was said to have “torn the village apart” despite complaints having been made to the relevant councils for the past seven years.
“It’s not just an issue of numbers of campervans but the litter they leave behind, and the fouling of the dunes with human faeces as the toilets are closed after 5 or 6pm during the summer and closed altogether in the winter,” said the resident.
“With both the county and community councils repeatedly stating they can’t do anything about the vans as they do not own the land, it meant that local residents had no choice but to act on their own to stop their ever increasing numbers.
“These vans can sometimes park for weeks at a time and completely block the access to the beach for pedestrians and the coastguard.”
Claiming that the boulders also protected the area from environmental damage caused by the repeated driving of heavy vehicles along the grass path, with all natural wild flowers “having virtually been destroyed” in the years since the camping has escalated, they added: “Residents who are opposed to the sometimes 30 campervans that park on the beach all weekend have been so intimidated they will not speak out any more.
“This should have been left to the councils, community and county, to sort out.
“Crowds were seen at the beach cheering and clapping at the removal of the stones. How awful is this? A village torn apart and now really hostile to certain individuals.”
The inadequacy of local facilities in handling up to 30 campervans at a time have also been cited, claiming there was previously a sign noting that overnight camping was not permitted.
Speaking last month, local businessman David Percival said there have been several issues with motorhomes parking on the site, wanting to preserve it as an amenity for local people and walkers using the Anglesey Coastal Path but also calling on Anglesey Council to more carefully monitor use of the site.
Mr Percival, who stressed he was not involved and unaware of who placed the boulders, said that over 30 campervans had been known to park on the beach front at any time, fearing any resulting impact on Llanddona Beach’s blue flag status.
“Camp fires and barbecues left scars and litter was left by people who paid nothing at all for using a resource that should be for the benefit of people who live, or are taking paying holidays, in this area,” said Mr Percival.
“There’s a free public car park 100 metres down the road, so I don’t know why people would prefer to park on grass and shingle rather than the paved area, which is free.
“Overnight parking and the accommodation of caravans, campers or caravans, requires planning permission I believe.
“If people wish to camp on this lovely island then there are plenty of caravan parks who will be glad of the business and accommodate them in properly managed and designed facilities with social distancing rules in place.”
But one keen campervanner has launched a staunch defence of motorhomes, stressing that such experiences are not reflective of families such as his own.
Damian Jones, from Telford, has been setting up camp at Llanddona on a regular basis for the past five years.
His belief is that most motorhome owners are given “a bad rap,” and disputed some of the claims being made of litter and mess being left behind.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, “Because of what’s happened with Covid and not enough campsites to accommodate all of these campervans, in some areas councils have been asking farmers for land so they can put infrastructure in place to accommodate them.
“But we feel targeted as it seems the easiest thing in the world to claim that we’re chucking away human waste onto the beach, which seems to be happening across the county to try and tarnish the reputation of the community. It’s always about rubbish and human waste.
“But why would we want to do that to somewhere you enjoy visiting so much?
“In my view, at Llanddona’s beach car park you could easily install a septic waste disposal system for the toilets and a fresh water tap and put in maybe a couple of regularly emptied bins, with a small charge of a couple of pounds levied on the campervans so that it pays for itself.”
Mr Jones, who runs a twice annual International Campervan Show at Stratford-upon-Avon, added: “My family loves Llanddona. When you’re a campervan person, the attraction is the freedom and isolation.
“There’d be no joy parking on the car park looking at the tarmac and the shop. The idea is to have the sea right in front of you and watching the sun go down.
“People who don’t do it don’t seem to get it, but campers are being hammered with a very unfair reputation and some people seem to have it in for us. They simply don’t want us there.
“We’re not dumping our waste on the beach, so for the entire community to be made out to be horrible or inconsiderate people is very unfair.”