A rash of television gardening shows, led by the cheerfully bra-less Charlie Dimmock, is being held up as the driving force behind enthusiastic gardeners plundering the South Coast's pebble beaches.
Where once a finely trimmed lawn was enough to keep up with the Joneses, now only a landscaped water feature seems to fit the bill. The problem is so acute that the Environment Agency warned yesterday that stripping of beaches was undermining flood defences, putting lives at risk.
Thieves are even mounting night-time raids with vans to take away sackloads of pebbles to create fashionable displays and terracing for their garden. The problem is compounded by unscrupulous builders' mer- chants. In some places fragile coastlines are being exposed to the ravages of the sea.
In Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, where a shingle ridge is the main sea defence protecting 600 homes below high-tide level, shingle thefts are now lowering the ridge top, and a security operation is being mounted by the agency to stop it.
"We're not trying to be kill-joys - we've all taken home pebbles from the beach," said the agency's Sussex area manager, Peter Midgley. "But we've had reports of people coming along with trucks, and shovelling shingle up."