Walkers welcome open coast path plan

Out-of-bounds areas of the Norfolk coast could soon be on the map for ramblers under plans to open up the entire coastline of England to all. Environment secretary David Miliband called access to the coast our “birthright” and announced a consultation to create a continuous route around headlands, coves and beaches to “enrich people's enjoyment of the seaside”.

Out-of-bounds areas of the Norfolk coast could soon be on the map for ramblers under plans to open up the entire coastline of England to all.

Environment secretary David Miliband called access to the coast our “birthright” and announced a consultation to create a continuous route around headlands, coves and beaches to “enrich people's enjoyment of the seaside”.

At present, parts of the English coast are out of bounds and ramblers find their routes blocked, forcing them to make long detours inland, although it is not known how many miles of coast could be freed up in Norfolk.

Mr Miliband said: “We are an island nation. The coast is our birthright and everyone should be able to enjoy it.

“I want families to have safe and secure access to walk, climb, rock scramble, paddle and play all along our coastline.”

A consultation on the shake-up will ask for views on four options:

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To use existing rights of way legislation to create a footpath all round the coast.

Extend open access to types of land which are considered coastal such as beaches, dunes and cliffs.

Creating voluntary agreements with landowners using existing mechanisms, such as those for agri-environment schemes.

Use new legislation to allow Natural England to designate a coastal corridor providing a continuous route along which people can enjoy access to the coast.

Shaun Thomas, regional director for Natural England, which manages sections of the coastline, such as the Holkham Estate, said the consultation was as much about improving present access to the coast as extending it.

He said that Norfolk, unlike other parts of the country, did not have particularly large swathes of coastland that were out of bounds to walkers.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has two coastal reserves at Holme Dunes and Cley Marshes and welcomes the announcement, albeit with concerns that coastal paths are properly managed.

Director Brendan Joyce said both reserves already offer coastal access and he hoped the “open to all” message would not encourage people to wander anywhere they pleased.

“There are conservation sites around the country where there could be issues, and we would be concerned that people would wander in to habitats of land-nesting birds in the breeding season,” he said.

“There are habitats like saline lagoons at Cley where people were recently spotted kicking footballs, and people let their dogs off leads to run all over the dunes at Holme, where there are natterjack toads breeding. Access should be managed and be along specific routes, not running all over the place.”

The RSPB, which has a reserve at Titchwell, near Hunstanton, said it wanted coastal access improved while safeguarding sensitive wildlife sites.

Meanwhile, Norfolk landowners fear the proposals would take their rights without compensation, with the Country Land and Business Association describing it as a “dangerous precedent” that shifts the balance from the protection of the individual to the power of the state.

Damian Cleghorn, public policy officer at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said: “The government needs to think carefully before moving forward with this policy. A corridor of public access could have a damaging impact on sensitive environmental areas, creating 'tourist hotspots', which threaten the biodiversity of the coastline.”

The NFU said farmers and landowners are committed to providing better public access, where necessary, but it must result from voluntary local agreements and farming and country pursuits must be accommodated.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is September 11.