London - Beaches on Dorset's famous Jurassic Coast could be shut if tourists do not start to exercise “common sense” and listen to safety warnings when visiting the Unesco World Heritage Site.
“Visitors who sunbathe too close to the cliff edge don't really understand the risk or danger,” according to Sally King, the area's visitor manager.
Around six million people visit the 95-mile stretch of coast each year, to walk along the steep cliffs or search the beaches for fossils. But landslides are common, said Ms King, adding that the cliffs are particularly 'proactive' at the moment.
The Jurassic Coast Trust has urged people to remember the area “looks the way it does because of erosion - meaning it is always on the move.
“Rock falls and landslides can, and do, happen anytime without warning.”
One of the biggest rock falls happened in 2008, when 400 metres of cliff fell and blocked a beach between Lyme Regis and Charmouth.
In 2012, Charlotte Blackman, 22, was killed when rocks fell on top of her on Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock.
The local coastguard has also had to issue warnings in the past, urging the public to heed safety notices when enjoying the beaches.
But many visitors still remain oblivious to the risks and behave in a reckless way, leading to suggestions of introducing wardens or having police patrol the beaches.
Ms King said this wasn't ideal, and hoped increasing awareness would work instead.
“We don't want to police the beach and close it off, we just want people to use their common sense,” she told The Telegraph. “It would be hugely damaging if we have to close anywhere, but we have had to do that before. It is not an easy situation but gradually the message should get through.”
Closing the beaches would be an immense blow to the local economy. The Jurassic Coast is England's only natural World Heritage Site and brings an estimated £111m per year to the Dorset and East Devon economy, helping to support 2 000 jobs, a study found in February.
But when people just want to sunbathe, Ms King suggested they go elsewhere, to different beach or stretches of coast which are not at risk from rock falls.
“There are loads of lovely beaches that aren't dangerous and people can enjoy them with no problem at all,” she said.
“We want people to come here and enjoy it but there are obviously particular hazards, including rapidly eroding cliffs.”