Nature at the best of times is unpredictable, but during the winter storms the strength of the waves and winds can be incredibly fierce and highly dangerous, writes Nikki Tait of Appledore RNLI.

Appledore inshore lifeboat support the coastguard rescue helicopter and the cliff rescue team in the recovery of a family cut off by tide at Putsborough beach.  Picture: Wendy NichollsAppledore inshore lifeboat support the coastguard rescue helicopter and the cliff rescue team in the recovery of a family cut off by tide at Putsborough beach. Picture: Wendy Nicholls

In the South West the volunteer RNLI crews are 500 per cent busier over the festive period compared with 40 years ago.

At Appledore these shouts include surfers, wind surfers and kayakers, people being cut off by the tide or falling down cliffs. Irrespective of parties or family dinners, the minute the emergency bleeper goes off; the volunteer crews drop everything and run. Unfortunately at this time of year, what looks to be fun, can so easily end in tragedy.

On Christmas Day last year two people were in trouble when they and their dogs got cut off when walking on the beach off Northam Burrows.

Luckily, by the time the two smaller Appledore lifeboats arrived on scene, the adults were found safety back on the beach, but despite a long hard search with both boats, the dogs were missing.

Appledore RNLI trains every week to enable it to cope with all emergencies. Picture: Simon ElleryAppledore RNLI trains every week to enable it to cope with all emergencies. Picture: Simon Ellery

One was found alive on Braunton Burrows the next day but the other was never seen again.

The RNLI itself is currently facing a 'perfect storm' with more people than ever needing its help and a shortfall in funds, meaning support from the public is even more vital.

Answering the pager at a moment's notice becomes second nature to lifeboat crews and the support team, as exampled by Steve Watts who retired recently from Appledore RNLI after 22 years of selfless volunteering. During his years on both the inshore and all weather lifeboats he was a casualty carer, B and D class inshore lifeboat helm, navigator, mechanic and great friend of the station and crew.

We cannot do what we do without the support of the public. The RNLI is a charity.

Appledore RNLI volunteer crew member Steve Watts retires after 22 years of service. Picture: Appledore RNLIAppledore RNLI volunteer crew member Steve Watts retires after 22 years of service. Picture: Appledore RNLI

It receives no public funding and we are incredibly grateful to all those who fundraise for us, make donations and leave legacies. However the RNLI has experienced a shortfall in funds, and is calling on people to make a donation this New Year to ensure we can continue saving lives at sea.

Appledore lifeboat station is home to two lifeboats - an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat (ILB) and a Tamar class all-weather lifeboat (ALB).

Appledore's tradition with lifeboats began in 1829 before the creation of the RNLI and there were in fact three lifeboat stations around the estuary - at Appledore, Northam and Braunton.

The RNLI took over in 1855 and Appledore became the main station in 1919.

In lieu of a Christmas party the Stage Coach drivers of North Devon opt to make a charitable donation each year, and all the drivers vote for their charity of the year. This last year the RNLI was chosen and a �500 cheque was presented to Appledore RNLI.  Picture: Appledore RNLIIn lieu of a Christmas party the Stage Coach drivers of North Devon opt to make a charitable donation each year, and all the drivers vote for their charity of the year. This last year the RNLI was chosen and a �500 cheque was presented to Appledore RNLI. Picture: Appledore RNLI

If you'd like to donate, visit Appledore Lifeboat Station, go to http://www.appledorelifeboat.org.uk/ or the Appledore Lifeboat Station Facebook page.