Naturists lose their fight to go naked on the beaches

The right to wander bare in the North Sea chill was hard won. But the climate has changed, reports Jonathan Brown
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It was Winston Churchill who roused the nation's determination when he vowed to fight on the beaches to maintain the basic freedoms of this island race. Now Britain's army of naturists find themselves battling on the sandy and shingled margins to protect a cherished way of life.

They have issued a war cry – claiming they are suffering unlawful and discriminatory treatment – following news that Britain's longest-serving nudist beach in Corton, near Lowestoft, is to be shut because of coastal erosion. Waveney District Council confirmed yesterday that the area would be "de-designated" from November following a consultation.

The announcement that one of the last 10 remaining official naturist beaches is to disappear comes just days after nudists were urged to ignore warnings that they face prosecution should they continue to use a stretch of sand near Bridlington, East Yorkshire ,which has been a popular destination for sun clubs and naked bathers for decades.

Andrew Welch of British Naturism, which has 11,000 members and represents the interests of an estimated 1.5 million practising nudists, believes that what is essentially a healthy and harmless pastime is under attack from a culture which discriminates against them. He insists that anyone wishing to strip off in public is not doing anything wrong according to the law and that heavy-handed authorities are in the vanguard of a general crackdown on the pursuit.

"We don't want to get on our high horse about this but we are a group that is being discriminated against. If we were an ethnic or religious group this sort of thing would never happen," said the 44-year-old marketing consultant, a naturist of 20 years' standing. "A council does not have the legal authority to ban naturists. Our challenge is the culture. The law is on our side," he added.

The naturist colony in Corton was founded in the mid-1970s when the village could boast a long sandy stretch of beach. Since then, the pummelling effects of wind and wave have seen 80 per cent of the beach space given up to the North Sea.

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said the loss meant it was time for the nudists to move on. "The communities of Corton and the visitors to this area have little or no beach to access, without entering the designated naturist area," the spokesman said.

Engineer Malcolm Boura, 55, who opposes the change, believes the council is determined to do away with the beach and that naturists would continue to flout the change in status. "We expect that people will keep using it and that it will continue to be a source of friction and bad feeling for a long time," he said.

The de-designation row mirrors the tussle in Yorkshire where supporters hoped to continue to enjoy the elements amid the splendour of the Lord's own county. For years, up to 50 people have gathered at a time on Fraisthorpe Beach to enjoy the wind on their back and pretty much everywhere else amid the solitude of the sandy stretch in Bridlington Bay. But the East Riding of Yorkshire Council's determination to end the practice has sparked a simmering row and even a lie-down protest by members of the protest group Fraisthorpe United Naturists (FUN).

The beach was designated for naked use in the 1990s but this was overturned apparently after the council received complaints from locals. Since then the place has become a hangout for people having sex. Meetings with police and the council have however failed to dispel the central gripe of the naturists who for much of their recent history have been congregated on designated nudist beaches though they are not legally compelled to do so. This, explained Mr Welch, is because devotees of the al fresco pursuit, are determined their actions are not misconstrued as sexual or aggressive, so they prefer to stick to the designated sites available to them in the UK.

It is a problem not confined to beaches either. In Hertfordshire a naked bathing group faced losing the right to swim at a public pool after a refurbishment and was only reprieved after changes were made to accommodate a muslim ladies' swimming club meant health and safety concerns were satisfied. And it is not just in this country either. In Switzerland, voters in the tiny Alpine canton of Appenzell Inner Rhodes this weekend voted to impose £120 fines on "boots-only" hikers, most of them German, who have begun lapping up the area's splendid scenery.

According to Mr Welch, naturists are like any other group, they like to be together. "We are a bit like motorcyclists, rock climbers or heavy metal fans in that we like to mix with like-minded people. Yes, we are a minority but naturism is not on the fringes of society like it used to be. There is more nudity on TV and people are far more free and easy about themselves. Everyone works so hard, cooped up with air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting that they want to get out there. Being naked is good for you as a human being," he said.