ILLEGAL shellfishing gangs have been risking their lives by trespassing on “extremely dangerous” military land where bombs and ordnance have been tested.

The cockle pickers were seen on the Old Ranges Beach area near to Barge Pier, Shoebury, which is a Ministry of Defence restricted area.

Explosives and other dangerous military items can be found on the beach due to the area having been used as a firing range for over a century.

Police and council bosses have now warned against the illegal harvesting and say they will be keeping a close eye on the issue.

Ron Woodley, Independent deputy leader of Southend Council, urged the MOD to step in.

He said: “They should be thrown off the land and this is unthinkable due to the potential that could happen.

“The MOD must be acting and getting rid of these people.

“We can’t have people doing this and these gangs need to be dealt with, we don’t know what’s behind this and whether gang leaders are forcing people do to this.

“If so, we need to crack down on the gang leaders and deal with them.”

Ian Gilbert, Labour leader of the council, said: “It’s clearly a very dangerous activity and I am glad the police have stepped in to stop this from happening.

“I think it’s common sense not to do anything like this and there have been tragedies from illegal shellfishing.

“We don’t want anything like that happening in Southend.

“People should be thinking and be more careful but we also don’t know what’s behind or causing people to do things like this.”

Essex Police also urged anyone with any information to come forward and speak to officers to help deter the cocklepickers.

A spokesman for Southend police said: “We have been informed that groups of cockle pickers have been seen trespassing on the Old Ranges Beach area near to Barge Pier, this is a Ministry of Defence restricted area.

“Not only should be cockle picking without a permit, illegal trespassing on an MOD site is extremely dangerous.

“If this applies to anyone reading this, please know that we are aware of this.

“We will be keeping an eye out for people cockle picking illegally and trespassing on the MOD site.

“If anyone has any further information they wish to provide on this matter, please call 101 or report it online.”