RECENT dry weather conditions could have been a contributing factor in the rock fall which killed a nine-year-old girl in Staithes.

Villagers living close to the beach have said the cliffs there are notoriously unstable.

The youngster suffered head injuries during the incident in Seaton Garth, North Yorkshire, and died at the scene on Wednesday.

According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), the steep cliffs in the area are of Jurassic age.

Dr Helen Reeves, science director for engineering geology at the BGS, said: "Recent weeks have seen an increased number of cliff falls reported around our coastline in the UK.

"Landslides, including rock falls, are commonly triggered in the UK by rainfall. In this instance, the recent unprecedented warm, dry weather is likely to be a contributing factor.

"Current research has linked rock falls to temperature fluctuations, but the research to fully understand this process is still ongoing."

Dr Reeves also reiterated warnings from the RNLI and local councils about staying away from potentially dangerous areas.

"Take notice of warning signs. Do not go directly under or on top of cliffs as our coast is a dynamic environment that is changing all the time," she said.

A woman who lives in the nearby village, and wished not to be named, said locals knew not to go too close to the cliffs as minor collapses were common.

She added: "How do you tell everyone who comes? It's just not possible."

She said locals believe the recent weather has made the cliffs more unstable, especially with a long dry spell followed by heavy rain.

Steven Grayston from North Wales, who is staying at Fylingthorpe, near Whitby, had no idea of the tragedy which unfolded when he walked across Staithes beach with his three children on Thursday. He said: "We didn’t know anything about it, we just came here and walked across the beach and down the harbour just now. We weren’t too close to the cliffs but I’m not sure if we would have walked there if we had known."

Leanne Rana, of Leicester, who is staying in Whitby, said she would have expected more signs to be up after yesterday’s incident.

She said: "There is a sign on the cliff saying danger which is an old sign but you wouldn’t necessarily think to stop your kids playing on the beach there. My son is 14 so he’s a bit older but he might have gone along on his own on to the beach while we sat in a cafe and I wouldn’t have thought anything about it."

Staithes Coastguard Rescue Team posted on Facebook: "Sometimes finding the right words is hard. We have families, loved ones who mean the world to us too.

"When we’re called out we will always strive to search, rescue and to save. Sometimes despite all our efforts, not everyone can be saved.

"Our thoughts are with all those who are grieving and whose lives have been devastated."

Scarborough Borough Council leader, Cllr Derek Bastiman, said: “Our thoughts are with the family of the nine-year-old girl who has lost her life in such tragic circumstances. Many of us are parents ourselves and it’s deeply upsetting.

“I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of the council to the emergency services for their response in what must have been a deeply harrowing situation.”