VOLUNTEERS who help maintain the safety of one of the busiest waterways in the UK have been given an award from the Queen.
Calshot Tower watchkeepers, who are part of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), take turns to staff the station every day except Christmas Day.
They ensure the safety both of leisure craft and commercial shipping boats in the area and alert the coastguard in the event of an incident.
From the tower’s 360-degree viewing platform, which is 100ft above ground level can only be accessed by way of vertical ladders, the watchkeepers are able to see what is happening in the Solent and Southampton Water.
They were chosen to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is the highest award available to volunteer groups, for their dedication to the service. It was presented to them on behalf of HRH the Queen by Lord lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson Esq.
Volunteers were joined by local dignitaries at the celebratory event at the tower, including NFDC chairman Cllr Allan Glass, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and Cllr Alexis McEvoy.
Station manager Di Roblett told the A&T: “We were totally, totally amazed. I am thrilled to bits for everyone.
“We are one of three busiest watchtowers in the country, because of the volume of traffic. Our tower excels because of our great watchkeepers. This is a thank you to all of them.”
Di explained that the group has around 100 volunteers, but more are always needed. Those who want to help must be over 18 and there is no upper age limit, with some current volunteers in their late 80s, although they must be able to climb the steps to the tower.
Volunteers are expected to commit to a minimum of three four-hour shifts per month.
Fundraising is also vital for the group, with donations regularly received through Waitrose’s green token scheme, where customers vote for local groups to receive funds.
The tower, which is owned by Associated British Ports and was built in 1973, was part of the port of Southampton’s radar chain and served as a coastguard lookout until the 1990s.
In 2010 it was reopened and became part of the NCI, which has 56 operational stations across the British Isles.
Di added: “As part of the national Search and Rescue organisation we have been involved in more than 50 local incidents each year since our start.
“We have a new satellite station that has just opened at Lepe Country Park, named Stone Point, which covers an area of the Solent not previously viewed by the tower, and we are now looking forward to contributing to even more successful outcomes in the future.”