A GROUP of volunteers who help keep the Solent safe have received a prestigious award from the Queen.

The team, part of the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), monitor the Solent from the top of a 100ft tower at the end of Calshot Spit.

The tower's 360-degree viewing platform enables them to keep an eye on the huge number of vessels using one of the UK's busiest waterways.

Now the watch-keepers have received highest award available to voluntary groups.

The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson, made the presentation during a visit to Calshot Activities Centre, which is next door to the tower.

Guests included New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and the chairman of New Forest District Council, Cllr Allan Glass.

Calshot NCI station manager Diana Roblett said: "We are all so proud and excited to have been honoured with the award.

"Ten years ago the idea of opening the old coastguard tower, which had been unused for15 years was proposed. We opened as the latest NCI station in 2010 and since then have been working Her Majesty’s Coastguard in helping to protect users of the Solent and Southampton Water.

"We have almost 100 highly-trained volunteers who give their time freely to help others in need.

"As part of the national Search and Rescue (SAR) organisation we have been involved in over 50 incidents each year."

The figure is expected to grow following the completion of a satellite station which has opened at Lepe Country Park and covers an area of the Solent not visible from the tower.

The previous station manager, Colin Lewis, praised the dedication and professionalism of the volunteers, who provide cover every day except Christmas Day.

Calshot NCI is among 281 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the Queens Award for Voluntary Service this year.

Created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the award aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups striving to benefit their local communities.

Calshot Tower, which is owned by Associated British Ports (ABP), was built in 1973 as part of Southampton port's radar chain.

It served as a coastguard lookout chain until the 1990s. Nine years ago it reopened and became part of the NCI, which has 56 operational stations across the British Isles.

Calshot NCI has 100 volunteers but always needs more.

Anyone wishing to help must be over 18 and capable of climbing the vertical ladders which lead to the top of the tower.