The English coastline offers some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, and the coast has long been a favourite destination for walkers. But current access to the coastline is patchy – something that the England Coast Path is addressing.
The Ramblers have campaigned for better access to the coast for many years and, in 2009, we scored a massive win when the Marine and Coastal Access Act made provision for the construction of a corridor of open access along the entire English coastline. Work started in 2010 and Natural England, who are responsible for its creation, are working to complete it in 2020.
Once finished, the coast path will form a new national trail more than 2,700 miles long – making it one of the longest footpaths in the world. It also provides access to the land between the path and the sea, so that people can explore beaches, cliff-tops and headlands. In some cases there will be ‘spreading room’ on the landward side, from the path to some fixed point like a road or hedge. Another key feature is that the path is able to “roll back” in areas where the coastline erodes, in a way that coastal rights of way can’t.
England already has some of the best paths and trails in the world, and the England Coast Path will be a fantastic addition to our green infrastructure. Good quality, well promoted walking routes are shown to generate significant economic benefits, supporting vital local services and business, including shops, pubs, hotels and B&Bs. According to Natural England, 10,000 people per year have enjoyed access to coastline on one stretch of the coast path in Northumberland which was previously inaccessible. With research showing that people spend more during visits to the coast than when taking countryside or city breaks, this is great news for coastal economies.
Where the path has already been installed, local organisations have been working to create family friendly walks and provide links between the paths and local attractions. For example, Norfolk Trails have created a series of circular walks, leading from the coast path through farmland, grazing marshes and coastal villages and past historic churches and ruined friaries.
Natural England have estimated that the England Coastal Path plans could influence just over a third of the population to visit the coast. Yet despite the demand and the many obvious benefits, the future of the Coast Path has hung in the balance on a number of occasions since the project began. Budget cuts and changes in administration have threatened funding for the path – and with each new threat, the Ramblers have mobilised to make the case for the coast path and save this much anticipated trail.
We are delighted to say we have so far been successful in protecting the path, and construction has continued throughout 2016.
Five new stretches of coast path opened in 2016. These were:
That’s 213 brand new miles of England Coast Path for walkers to enjoy, some of which has opened up coastline with no public access previously!
How the Ramblers are helping
We have worked closely with Natural England throughout the construction of the path, helping ensure that it is as good as it can possibly be.
It might sound like a simple thing, building a path around the coast, but the reality is quite different. Although the Marine and Coastal Access Act gives guidelines for how the path should be implemented, there are many logistical obstacles to be overcome, so that even simply defining the route is a challenge. Coastal erosion, private property, conservation areas and walkers’ safety must all be taken into consideration – and this means that the easiest route might not be the best one.
We believe that the coast path should be a coast path, staying as close as is practical to the shoreline with the sea in sight as much as possible. Ramblers volunteers walk the coast, surveying possible routes and making suggestions to help ensure the coast path really is as good as it can get.
In Dorset, Ramblers volunteer Brian Panton has had a long history with the coast path project. Work started on the first stretch here in 2010, in order to open up the coastline between the Isle of Portland and Lulworth Cove in time for the Olympic sailing events Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour. With the clock ticking, there were negotiations on many issues along this stretch - from eroding cliffs to steep inclines, and from commercial port operations to the concerns of local residents.
Brian and the Dorset coastal volunteers were tireless in their efforts to represent the walker’s perspective in these discussions, which resulted in (amongst other things) a new set of steps being installed near Weymouth, to give a new access to the beach and providing spectacular views over Portland. At General Council 2013, Dorset Area won the President’s Award for Access, Brian specifically for his work on this first stretch of Coastal Access.
Brian, along with Dorset Area Footpath Secretary Jan Wardell and their fellow coastal access volunteers, are now inputting to the Public Inquiry for the coast path between Lyme Regis and the Isle of Portland, whilst also starting off discussions on the final Dorset stretch from Lulworth Cove to Highcliffe.
Without the efforts of our committed volunteers, walkers everywhere would be missing out on what we hope will be the crowning glory of England’s path network. Which is why we think that this year’s 213 new miles of coast path are really the success and credit of volunteers like Brian and Jan.