ONE of the North-East's most famous landmarks is threatening to disappear beneath the waves for good.

Emergency measures are now being taken to protect the historic causeway which links Lindisfarne to the mainland.

For the past three years, the stretch of land linking Holy Island - a cradle of civilisation since the 7th Century when it was home to St Cuthbert and the monks who illuminated the Lindisfarne Gospels - with the mainland has retained a shallow covering of water when the tide has gone out.

The problem, thought to have been caused by west winds blowing sand towards the island and making the land uneven, has raised safety fears for the half a million people who use the causeway every year.

While the water is currently only between two and three inches deep at low tide, it is rising all the time.

As a result, Northumberland County Council has gained permission from English Nature, which is responsible for the causeway's conservation, to install temporary drains.

If they are unsuccessful in solving the problem, £1m may have to be spent on more radical measures, such as raising the roadway.

Councillor Dougie Watkin, who represents Holy Island on Northumberland County Council, said he was gravely concerned for future of the causeway, which has been used for more than 1,000 years.

"The situation has been going on for about three years but it has definitely got worse over the past 24 months," he said.

"In the short term, the highways division are putting in a series of drains, which fill in rapidly with the moving sand but don't cost that much.

"If we can manage to keep the water off with them without finding a permanent solution, all well and good. "We hope they will be enough."

Coun Watkin said he was particularly concerned about people using the causeway over the dark winter period, especially those unaware that the water is present.

He said: "There haven't been any accidents so far but it really is a problem.

"You can still get across but you are having to travel through water for a considerable distance."

The council has appointed a firm of consultants to carry out a feasibility study costing between £15,000 and £20,000 to look into long term solutions.

In the meantime, the Berwick Area Committee, which meets tomorrow to discuss the situation, will maintain a watching brief.