The agency carries out the work, under the European Water Framework Directive, to collect samples for monitoring pollution levels in coastal waters.

Scientists take away the samples containing tiny micro-organisms for analysis, which lets them monitor the estuaries and harbours to look for signs of climate change as well as pollution.

The agency has been using the hovercraft along the south-west coast where fast tides and small bays make using any other transport other than travelling on foot close to impossible.

But, the sites Fal and Camel estuaries in Cornwall, Taw and Torridge in North Devon and Poole Harbour in Dorset, can also be dangerous as fast tides can trap people who’ve walked there.

Amy Beard who carried out the work for the Environment Agency, said: “There isn’t a lot of time to collect samples because they have to be taken at low tide, so we have to work quickly before the tide turns.

“This is where the hovercraft scores because it is so much faster and safer and enables us to reach all the sampling points before they are covered by the incoming tide.

“Walking in soft estuary mud is slow and potentially dangerous so it is something we’d sooner avoid.

“We sometimes get strange looks because people don’t expect to see a hovercraft on their local estuary, it’s a bit different to your usual coastal craft.”

The hovercraft can carry up to three people, with their equipment and has a top speed of about 30mph.

Luke Walsh

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