The much-discussed round-England coastal path, a 4m-wide corridor, is on its way to becoming reality, with the approval by Government of Natural England’s (NE) implementation scheme, which comprises a tortuous 194 pages and numerous complicated obligations designed to satisfy walkers, landowners and businesses. Work will begin first on a stretch of the coast at Weymouth, Dorset, in order to have walking access established in time for the Olympic sailing competition there in 2012.

Next year, work starts in Cumbria, the East Riding, Kent, Norfolk and Somerset-although NE is unable to specify exactly where yet-under the Marine and Coastal Access Act passed last November.

‘The scheme explains the procedures and criteria we will use to align the route and associated “spreading room” (where the path needs to deviate, for instance for erosion, woodland or nesting birds), and the ways in which access will be managed to minimise conflicts with other land uses,’ explains NE chairman Poul Christensen.

Exceptions will be made, such as for parks, gardens, railways, racecourses and schools, but ‘access strips’ may be recommended to cross golf courses, burial grounds, campsites and planted land. The scheme promises exhaustive consultation with land managers and a ‘light touch’ with regard to risk management, ‘assuming that people will avoid dangers that are well known-such as cliff edges-provided they are readily apparent’.

The report says that NE expects signage to be used ‘sparingly’ and for the trail to be ‘pleasant’ and ‘direct’ not following an indented coastline ‘slavishly’-with consideration for the best views, the needs of the disabled, and proximity to picnic spots and bus stops. Efforts will be made to minimise disturbance to cliff-nesting birds, seals, otter holts, caves where bats hibernate and reared game-birds, plus damage to fossil-rich areas and saline lagoons, and trampling of sensitive vegetation or sand dunes.

Buildings and pens for keeping animals will be exempt from the path and NE will consult with landowners about lambing areas and about the temperament of individual bulls, stallions and rams and may realign routes around them.

The path may also be rerouted around land managed specifically for game-shooting, visitor attractions or where annual events that charge entry take place. Pesticides and heather-burning are further hazards to consider, and there are likely to be many injunctions involving dogs, including going through food crops.

The coastal path hasn’t been generally popular with farmers and land-owners-the CLA points out that 84% of the English and Welsh coastline is already accessible through landowner agreement, and that to secure access to another 8% of suitable coastline, which they say will cost £50 million, is a waste of public money.

John Mortimer, South-West director, says: ‘We’ve always maintained that proposals to improve coastal access by means of a complete corridor were unnecessary and unachievable. Access has always been provided around the Weymouth area either by statutory, voluntary or permissive agreements, and it’s been successfully integrated with land management and tourism.’

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