East Anglia’s search and rescue teams head to Thetford to boost skills

Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue volunteers take part in a training weekend in Thetford Forest . Ph

Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue volunteers take part in a training weekend in Thetford Forest . Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Dozens of men and women who give up their free time to help trawl East Anglia for missing people gathered in Thetford Forest at the weekend to bolster their skills.

The weekend saw more than 30 members of the Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex Lowland Search and Rescue teams and the National Search and Rescue Dog Association (Anglia) gather at Bidwell Guide and Scout Centre, off Mundford Road, for two days of search and rescue theory and practical exercises.

As a group, the teams were taught about new technology in search and rescue, how to work with search dogs, tracking techniques, wilderness first aid and rope work.

They also took part in a bike training and a six-hour night search and rescue practical exercise.

All members of the search and rescue teams are volunteers and they give up their time at relatively short notice to assist the police in searching for missing and vulnerable people.

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Pam Bickley, 61, from Chevington, near Bury St Edmunds, who has been a member of the Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (Sulsar) team for 10 years, said: 'We rely on donations and sponsorship and are always keen to attract more sponsorship.

'We have members who are right across the board in terms of age, gender, background – everyone brings something to the team.

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'By learning about tracking and bike training, it all adds to the tools in our toolbox which we can deploy when we are needed.'

During the weekend, Perry McGee, founder of the National Tracking School, worked with the teams to teach tracking skills.

As part of their training, the members explored the woodland and were told about key features they needed to consider when they were searching for a missing person, such as asking detailed questions about the person's clothing, mental state, telephone number and friendship groups.

They were also given tips to think about when they were searching for someone, such as what can be seen during daylight and night-time and indicative features on the route they may have taken.

Liz Harlaar, 52, who lives near Stowmarket and has been a member of Sulsar for three years, got into volunteering for the search and rescue team after leaving the forces.

She said: 'It's good to see the great outdoors and it's about giving something back and doing something positive with the skills you've got.

'This weekend has been useful. All knowledge is always useful and even if you have done something before, it's never wrong to go back and do something again.'

The search and rescue teams train regularly on a Sunday and once a month on a Friday. Members can also undertake a number of courses.

When the teams are called upon, they receive a text message which notifies of them of where they need to go, why their services are needed and where to meet.

The messages are sent out about an hour before the meeting time and the members can text back to say they can or cannot attend.

For the lowland search and rescue teams, they often have to search for missing people who have got dementia and people who are threatening to take their own lives.

The number of times they are called out can vary from three times in a week or once in three months.

They go out in all weathers and all types of conditions. Members, who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, said it was often dark and wet when they are called out.

Once they get called out, their searches are co-odinated by a team manager and various members have different roles to play within the team.

Ms Harlaar said: 'With the mountain search and rescue teams, they are often looking for people who are healthy but have got injured or lost while out walking or climbing.

'For us, a lot of the time we are looking for people who may not be in a healthy mental state.'

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