THE dangers of jumping off Brockenhurst Bridge will be highlighted with new warning signs set to be installed in the wake of a 10-year-old boy taking a leap and suffering serious injuries.
Backroom talks have been held by Forestry England (FE) and Hampshire County Council after the youngster was rushed to hospital having leapt into the shallow Lymington River below.
He required emergency surgery and lost a lot of blood after the incident on 1st September. The youngster, a holidaymaker, is expected to make a full recovery that will take some months.
The incident caused scrutiny of the activity at the river and the bridge and sources have told the A&T more children had been hurt jumping there in 2019. Responsibility for the bridge rests with HCC while FE is responsible for the riverbed.
Because of the growing concerns, FE and HCC are proposing erecting new signage warning against the dangers of jumping from the bridge, and could even close off the public walkway there.
“We intend to install new signage near the bridge in the coming weeks to warn people about the dangers of jumping in,” an FE spokeswoman told the A&T.
Roger Worthington, FE’s head of recreation for the area, added: “FE is concerned to hear that children have been injured by jumping off the bridge near Balmer Lawn, in the New Forest.
“We hope that the children are now recovering and we’re grateful to their parents for helping to raise the profile of the risks of jumping into rivers. We discourage people from swimming in the river at Balmer Lawn and other natural water sources that may have potential dangers.
“We’ve already met with the bridge’s owners, Hampshire Highways, to discuss better ways of keeping people off the edge of their bridge.
“This is a natural water course with fluctuating levels and the bridge was never intended to be jumped from. We have a clear sign notifying the public of the deep holes in the riverbed.”
Mr Worthington continued: “The waterways in the New Forest are a vital resource for the wildlife in this area, and the protected landscape that we manage provides opportunities for responsible recreation, but it’s important that we all respect the Forest while enjoying this special place safely.”
His warnings were echoed by Cllr Rob Humby, Hampshire County Council’s cabinet member for economy, transport and environment. He wished the young man involved a “speedy recovery”.
“We understand that during hot weather, people tend to congregate alongside the river, and we believe they may try to climb onto the bridge from here. We are in discussions with FE on possible further measures to prevent this.
“The bridge parapet at Brockenhurst is not designed for public access, and we have taken measures such as installing anti-climb mesh to discourage access from the footway side.
“We would strongly urge people not to climb onto highway bridges and structures, and not to jump off them. Rivers and ponds or lakes can be extremely dangerous, with hazards such as variable depths, hidden debris or vegetation below the surface, or fast flowing water,” Cllr Humby continued.
He added workers began a project to repaint the underside of the bridge this week as part of HCC’s planned maintenance programme.
The news of the talks between FE and HCC was first revealed by Brockenhurst parish councillors at their latest meeting.
Chairman Cllr Pete Wales said residents approached him with concerns, pointing out two people had died jumping off the bridge in recent years, so he wrote to both HCC and FE in mid-July.
Debating the issue, members were keen to ensure HCC and FE did not pass the buck or delay taking action and vowed to lobby both until something was done. “If it saves one life or one person getting serious injuries, it will be worth it,” Cllr Michael Harris said.