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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Views sought on coast path plans
Cornwall coastal path
Walkers have welcomed the proposals
The public is being consulted on plans to open up the whole of the English coastline to walkers.

The government proposal would allow access to about 30% of land currently out of bounds.

Ramblers have welcomed the move but some landowners are concerned they will receive no compensation and have little say in how the path is created.

There is already a right of access to Scotland's coast and the creation of a coastal path in Wales is under way.

Island nation

The government wants to set up a continuous route as close to the coast as possible, giving access to the entire shoreline including headlands, coves and beaches.

Biodiversity minister Barry Gardiner said: "We are an island - being close to the sea, being part of the coast is actually part of who we are."

I think the coast around Britain should be accessible to everyone. It is too precious to be the preserve only of private landowners.
Susan Dinnes, Bristol

He added that being unable to get to nearly one-third of the coastline was "wrong".

Paul Wilkinson, chief executive of the Ramblers' Association, welcomed the proposals and told BBC Radio Five Live that island dwellers had "a special affinity" with the coast.

He said people should be given a "clear legal right of access" along the English coastline but added that sensible restrictions were needed to take account of private ownership and wildlife.

"I think the important thing is that the introduction of a coast corridor will actually help safeguard those wildlife habitats, perhaps more importantly guard against development and protect our beautiful coast," he said.

Landowner concerns

Wildlife charities have said they support the plans in principle but would want to ensure proper protection for habitats.

But the Country Land and Business Association said the proposals did not adequately address compensation for landowners, even where the value of a property or business was affected.

Its national access advisor, Sarah Slade, said 84% of the public already enjoyed access to the 70% of shoreline available and had not identified a problem.

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

"I think really the government is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This is more of an ideological stance rather than addressing a proven need."

Damian Cleghorn of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said the government needed to "think carefully" about the policy, which he said could threaten the environment.

He added that ruling out compensation for landowners was "punitive" because security and safety problems were likely to result in the fall of property values.

Playing and paddling

But Environment Secretary David Miliband said the coast was everyone's " birthright".

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

The Conservatives said they supported the idea but would want a few issues ironed out.

A public consultation will ask for views on the following options:

  • Using existing rights of way legislation to create a footpath all round the coast
  • Extending open access using the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to give access to types of land which are considered coastal
  • Voluntary agreements with landowners using existing mechanisms, such as those for agri-environment schemes
  • New legislation to allow Natural England to designate a coastal corridor providing a continuous route along the coast.
  • Chair of Natural England Sir Martin Doughty said he wanted the government to give the organisation new powers to set aside a suitable strip of access land around the English coast.

    "Natural England would concentrate on sections of coast where access on foot is currently missing, defective or insecure," he said.

    Wild birds

    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said coastal access should be improved and it was happy sensitive wildlife sites will be protected under the plans.

    Sites will be assessed for their wildlife value and people will be diverted away from wild bird breeding areas.

    Gwyn Williams, RSPB head of reserves and protected areas, said: "Our concerns have been taken on board and we are confident coastal access will be increased without harming important sites for wild birds.

    "It is important that people visit and enjoy the coast and part of that is the appreciation of the wildlife that thrives there."

    1. Cromer Replacement footpath needed to Overstrand (pictured above) due to coastal erosion
    2. Sheringham to Cromer Current path is far from sea. Erosion also a problem
    3. Isle of Sheppey No access on a 2.5 mile (4km) stretch
    4. Chichester Harbour No access on a 3 mile (5km) stretch
    5. Seatown South West Coast Path is diverted to narrow road
    6. Strete Gate to Warren Point South West Coast Path is diverted inland for 2.5 miles (4km)
    Source: Ramblers' Association

    Aerial views of Britain's coastline


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