A tourist was forced to drive hundreds of miles to return pebbles collected from a beach in Cornwall to avoid paying a massive fine.

The bizarre incident emerged after complaints that beach visitors were being ‘aggressively’ threatened with prosecution for taking stones home at Crackington Haven.

Theft had become so common there that several signs were put up to warn people that it is illegal.

The clerk for St Gennys Parish Council warned that visitors could face a fine of up to £1,000 as removal of stones leaves the area exposed to erosion.

But critics claimed the signs were heavy handed and spoiled the beach.

St Gennys parish clerk Barry Jordan said the signs were installed in late July due to many complaints to the council about stones being removed adding that it was illegal under The Coastal Protection Act 1949.

He added: ‘Those who saw the damage of the floods a few years ago know what water can do, take away the pebbles and the haven would be damaged during every storm.

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Local artist Jen Dixon said: ‘It’s a shame that we must have such a problem with stone theft that the beach is now littered with large red and yellow signs threatening prosecution.

‘They are so darn ugly on our beautiful beach. It seems very heavy-handed to have that many signs.’

Local Jackie Carpenter said: ‘They ruin the ‘beautiful place’ view and they also provide a horrible ‘police-state’ sort of environment’.

Lisa Ward, who also lives in the area, added: ‘I have overheard visitors walking onto the beach commenting on how aggressive they look’.

Two of the four warning signs were removed on Tuesday due to a backlash the parish council said.

Cornwall Council which owns 57 of the county’s beaches said it ‘strongly urged visitors not to remove stones or sand’.

A spokesperson said: ‘It may seem harmless but given the many thousands of visitors to Cornwall’s beaches every year every stone removed could have an impact on coastal erosion, natural flood defences and wildlife habitats”.

Several signs have been put up warning people in St Gennys parish council but this hasn’t stopped people either missing or ignoring them.

St Gennys parish clerk Barry Jordan said the signs were installed in late July due to many complaints to the council about stones being removed.

He said: ‘Those who saw the damage of the floods a few years ago know what water can do, take away the pebbles and the haven would be damaged during every storm.’

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The law comes under the 1949 Coastal Protection Act, which states it is illegal to remove stones from the beach as it impacts coastal erosion.

But local people and tourists have branded the signs ‘aggressive’.

Local artist Jen Dixon said: ‘It’s a shame that we must have such a problem with stone theft that the beach is now littered with large red and yellow signs threatening prosecution.’

‘They are so darn ugly on our beautiful beach… It seems very heavy-handed to have that many signs’.

Another local resident Jackie Carpenter added: ‘They ruin the ‘beautiful place’ view and they also provide a horrible ‘police-state’ sort of environment’.

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Lisa Ward, who also lives in the area, added: ‘I have overheard visitors walking onto the beach commenting on how ‘aggressive’ they look”.

Two of the four warning signs were removed on Tuesday due to a backlash, the parish council said.

Cornwall Council strongly urged visitors not to remove stones or sand.

A spokesman said: ‘It may seem harmless, but given the many thousands of visitors to Cornwall’s beaches every year every stone removed could have an impact on coastal erosion, natural flood defences and wildlife habitats.’

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