One-third of coast still off-limits to walkers

Much of England’s coastline remains off-limits to the general public, reveal maps published by the government’s landscape agency.

Findings of a coastal access audit illustrating the “stop-go” nature of access around England’s coast, were unveiled by Natural England today (31 July).

They show that up to 1000 miles of coastline will be opened to the public if the Marine and Coastal Access Bill is passed.

The maps were published as the agency prepares to create a 2500-mile “corridor” of public access around the coastline by linking together rights of way.

Only about 66% of the coast is publicly accessible – much of it fragmented by land with no access.

Even national trails like the South West Coast Path are unable to secure public access to the coastline all year round.

Coastal access will take the form of a strip of land, rather than a linear route, so people can stop for picnics or other leisure activities along the way.

But progress towards implementation is further advanced in some places than others.

The Natural England maps show huge differences between regions in their provision of public access to the coast.

Chief executive Helen Phillips said the lack of access to nearly 1000 miles of coast was a sobering reminder of how much was at stake.

“There are significant challenges ahead, but for millions of people, the Bill presents a unique opportunity to transform their enjoyment of England’s countryside.”

The Country Land and Business Association said today that an audit by Natural England which aims to map a round-England coastal path ignored the need to improve existing access.

But landowners voiced concern about the maps, claiming private property owners and businesses could be adversely affected by the planned coastal route.

Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, CLA president, said: “We have had serious reservations about the proposed path since the idea was first mooted

The Natural England report had ignored the significant amount of access coastal landowners provide on a voluntary basis, said Sir Henry.

“There are often good reasons why public access is not possible, for instance the presence of military bases or ports or overriding nature conservation concerns.”

The government should improve the quality of existing access by providing car parks and toilets, rather than try to secure access to the entire English coastline, he said.