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Muddy Meets: Andy Stewart, Beach Ranger

Gorgeous sunsets, golden sand and surf for days, Blue Flag beach Polzeath is as family friendly as they come - but that hasn't been every headline this year. Muddy headed over to chat to Beach Ranger, Andy Stewart.

Here at Muddy Cornwall we love to seek out the stories of the people that make Cornwall so special, but that’s not just the creatives, artists and chefs: there’s a whole host of people working behind the scenes too.

Although Polzeath’s more famous part and full time residents include politicians, models, actresses, authors and fashionistas, this beachside village is sought after by holiday making families and locals alike, flocking to the beach, shops, pubs and restaurants to while away their free time, or working hard running them. And holding it all together every summer – Andy Stewart, Beach Ranger.

You’re a bit of a local hero then! (After the recent Times coverage – the print version’s headline was Forget Baywatch, we’re on bin watch). What has the response been?

The national press coverage was great, and surprising well balanced – some of the quotes genuinely passed my lips! The grainy image made it look like my face had been freshly ironed, so good news all round. 

I was never ‘voted in’, so although I don’t represent local people, my role is very community focused. I’d like to think that anyone at the beach, whether local or not, can see the benefit of the work of me and my team. Even if you’re breaking the rules, we usually bear the bad news with a comforting smile.

Should we be calling you The Hoff now?!

I’ve been called worse! I’ll take The Hoff – no ‘Hassel’.

As a teenager, Baywatch was my Saturday night fix – for many reasons.

Maybe this was my destiny…

More seriously, what’s the Beach Ranger role about?

Securing the beach as a recreational resource is crucial in protecting the future of Polzeath.

Simply put, the Beach Ranger’s role is to ensure a trip to the beach is safe and enjoyable for everyone. There are lots of things that must fall in to place for tourism to work well. 

Problem solving is made easier with strong community engagement, and support from local businesses and stakeholders.

It’s so much more than hanging about in shorts and flip-flops. We just make it look easy.

How long have you been doing it?

I started in the role in 2019.

It was a low-key trial to begin with, and then 2020 was difficult and chaotic due to the pandemic.

This year, the role has been more high profile and structured, with the benefits being self-evident. There are also three amazing Seasonal Support Rangers completing the team who make work so much easier.

And why the night patrols?

Unfortunately, for some people, there are blurred lines between having a good time with a few drinks and wrecking the beach and local area spoiling it for everyone else. 

Obviously, it’s nothing new and certainly not exclusive to Polzeath. 

Having spent most of my working life challenging bad behaviour and ‘re-chipping’ people who make bad choices, I was perfectly placed to switch to twilight hours and try to gently encourage more respectful behaviour without stopping people having fun.

What’s the worst thing that you’ve encountered?

I’ve seen some ugly scenes in my time, but no one should ever be expected to pick up an oversized human poo using an average sized dog poo bag.

It’s disgusting what some people consider acceptable in such a beautiful public place when they’re drunk! Thankfully it’s never happened since…

That felt like a lifetime low, and I questioned my decision to not run for Prime Minister a few years ago.

Been a bit busy recently? Is everything as full as the media reports?

Yes, it has been full on.

The beach is busy all times of the day. The carparks are full, shops are queued, and takeaways are running out of food. Like many UK holiday destinations, Polzeath is beyond capacity. Visitors must remember Cornwall isn’t a holiday resort. It’s a place where people live and work. Tourism accounts for so many of the businesses and employment in this region (including mine), and visitors are very welcome to enjoy where we live, but please be patient and kind. Wherever you go, behave as you would expect visitors to your hometown to behave.

What did you do before? What’s all this about SAS training?

It’s so funny – people always ask what I did before when they see me at work. I think it’s the way I stand? I need to learn to relax more!!

I retired in 2018 having served 30 years as a Police Officer.

I would never pitch myself against the SAS, but I was very fortunate to have been involved in high level intervention all over the UK.

Several local people know I spent time carrying a firearm, and I think folklore says I have a stash of weapons ready to use if the Ranger Service comes under fire. I’m not going to confirm or deny this…

Can you tell me more about Polzeath Together?

Polzeath Together is a multi-agency community group created earlier this year to establish an engagement, education, and enforcement ‘Problem Solving’ strategy to reduce the antisocial behaviour affecting the beach and surrounding area in the summer evenings and late night.

It includes the Beach Rangers, Police, Council, Fire & Rescue, landowners, and local volunteers and business owners. The underlying message is to make the beach safe and enjoyable for everyone.

We have seen that beautiful places throughout the UK have attracted an element of abuse and disrespectful behaviour since the pandemic started, and we wanted to minimise this by encouraging the right attitude across all demographics. 

What’s been going on? And what’s next?

The party scene is amazing for the younger age groups. And what better way to spend your evenings than hanging out on the beach with music playing and enjoying a few drinks as the sun sets. 

Unfortunately, there are always a few who take it too far, with huge open fires which keep the sand scolding well into the next day, unbelievable amounts of litter and broken glass, and drunken shenanigans resulting in Rescue Equipment being tampered with.

This isn’t about spoiling their fun – we encourage good times and happy memories! We just need to promote respect.

More of the same next year. A few longer-term strategies to be discussed, and fires outlawed to protect the environment. More happy times ahead – for everyone.

Top tip for visiting beaches? Other than bring your own bin bag!

Wear sunscreen.

And remember, the tiny piece of beach you’re using was used by someone a few hours before. It will be used by someone else a few hours after. It was used before you were born and will be used when you’re gone. It is used by creatures and critters that are all part of the coastal eco-system.

Treat it like a beautiful fragile piece of nature. And treat the people around you with kindness and respect.

Is it too much like work to say Polzeath is your favourite beach? 

Polzeath has been part of my life for many years. It’s my local beach, and I taught kids in Polzeath Surf Lifesaving Club how to be Junior Lifeguards. Some competed all over the world, and many still work locally as lifeguards and surf instructors in the summer, including my wonderful son Fin. (And of course Calum Jarvis, Tokyo 2020 gold medallist).

I adore the local people and seeing visitors creating memories. I never take having Polzeath sand between my toes for granted and my work is also my passion. Of course, it’s my favourite!!

Where do you go for a beer after work? 

Who’s buying?!

I love a beer in one of the bars overlooking the beach, but in peak season they’re pretty full by the time I’m done with work.

One of the upsides of helping to clear up from the night before, is finding unopened cans and bottles of booze. A quick wash, and then chilled in the Beach Rangers fridge. It’s been well stocked all summer and we’ve enjoyed a soiree or three outside the office! (Dream job?)

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