Natural England - Mapping the gaps in England’s coastal access

Mapping the gaps in England’s coastal access

31 July 2009

Natural England publishes region by region maps showing that the public do not have full access to over a third of England’s coastline

  • Marine & Coastal Access Bill presents opportunity to secure access to hundreds of miles of coastline

  • Natural England today revealed that almost 1000 miles of England’s coastline is either inaccessible or lacks secure access.

The findings come as the result of an extensive audit – conducted by Natural England, in partnership with 53 local access authorities - into existing access to England’s coast. The results have been published in the form of a series of maps, identifying the huge differences between regions in their provision of public access to the coast.

The audit shows that there is no satisfactory or legally secure access to 34% of the English coast. In the North West, this figure rises to over half the coast (56%). Access is best in the South West where full public access extends to 76% of the coast.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The news that the public lack full access to nearly 1000 miles of coastline is a sobering reminder of how much is at stake in the Marine & Coastal Access Bill. There are significant challenges ahead, but for millions of people, the Bill presents a unique opportunity to transform their enjoyment of England’s countryside”.

With no-one living more than 70 miles from the coast, England’s coastline remains enormously popular as a place to visit and to sample some of Europe’s finest scenery and wildlife. Estimates point to 246 million trips being made to the coast in a single year. In the case of the South West Coast Path, annual tourism-related expenditure is estimated at around £300 million.*

Poul Christensen, Acting Chair of Natural England, said: “With increasing numbers of people taking their breaks in Britain, it is encouraging that there will be more coastal destinations opening up for visitors in the future when the Marine and Coastal Access Bill is passed.

“Our audit looked at the different types of access that exist on the ground and the results show a stop-start effect. On average you cannot walk further than two miles without reaching an area of unsecure access or having to turn back. Plugging some of the gaps and improving access along almost 1000 miles of coastline could add significant value to the way the coast is used”.

Natural England’s audit has also highlighted the importance of the Marine & Coastal Access Bill in enabling footpath networks to adapt to the increasing problem of coastal erosion. Natural England’s audit estimates that 13 per cent of the existing coastal rights of way could be lost to erosion in the next 20 years. Provisions in the forthcoming Bill allow for the new route to be made erosion proof, with the path rolling inland when landslips occur.

Helen Phillips concluded: “Our audit maps are the start of what we expect to be a ten year journey to improve access around England’s coastline. They form the first look at where efforts will need to be focussed in delivering on the provisions of the Marine & Coastal Access Bill. It is clear that with nearly 1000 miles of access gaps there are real opportunities to open up a new future for the ‘forgotten areas’ of England’s coastline.”

Notes to editors:

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Summary of Audit findings

The English coastline is 2748 miles long. A satisfactory legally secure path runs along 66 per cent of its length. Natural England’s audit reveals that there is no satisfactory, legally secure access along 34 per cent, or 934, miles of coast

Natural England’s audit maps show all existing paths that are not legally-secure as a gap. This will include existing permissive paths and those used on a de-facto (‘by tradition’) basis. Neither of these types of use, even if existing, constitute a legal right and could be removed at relatively short notice. They cover a multitude of circumstances, from very informal locally exercised arrangements to funded contractual agreements. Gaps also include sections of coast with no path at all.

Regional breakdowns

RegionTotal length of coastExisting secure access
North West421 miles44%
North East183 miles67%
Yorkshire and Humber174 miles70%
East Midlands98 miles61%
East of England534 miles68%
South East569 miles63%
South West768 miles76%

Natural England’s audit report and maps

*Estimates of trips to the coast and expenditure on South West Coast Path taken from England Leisure Visit Survey 2005

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