MOTORCYCLISTS and quad bikers using protected sands at South Gare face possible prosecution and confiscation of their machines or fines up to £20,000.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, Cleveland Police and Corus will carry out the joint crackdown.

For the past two years, a similar operation has confronted riders from as far afield as Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland.

Now the problem has repeated itself, with a decrease in the number of motorcycles, but an increase in the number of quad bikes.

The riders' crime is the invasion of a fragile habitat supporting rare flora and bird nesting areas, protected by English Nature as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area and a Ramsar Site, land listed as a Wetland of International Importance.

The SSSI covers the whole of the beach and sand dune areas on both Corus and council land from the Gare to the site of the old Redcar pier at the end of the promenade.

Riders who have been stopped in recent checks and previous years claimed they believed their activity was lawful, but police warn if they do not stay away, prosecutions can be brought under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, with magistrates able to impose a fine of up to £20,000 and their machines confiscated under the new Police Reform Act 2002.

Sgt Joe Jessop of Cleveland Police's Road Policing Unit, said: "I hope the increased police activity in the area will persuade them to respect both public safety and this important site. If not, we will work with the council and Corus with a view to possible prosecutions."

Ged Demoily, the council's community leisure manager, said: "We are committed to ensuring the public are allowed to enjoy all the features of this site in a safe environment and will continue to give the site the protection it needs."