11th May 2018
Natural England is currently consulting on its proposals for the England Coast Path between Weybourne and Hunstanton. Unfortunately, however, a misleading article in the Sunday Times on the 22nd of April suggested these propose a total ban on access to areas of saltmarsh. This is not the case and has created allot of confusion and concern among local walkers and common rights holders. Natural England would like to correct this misunderstanding and reassure local people that the proposals do not affect any existing access to the marshes for common rights holders or walkers using the marshes through informal agreement with the landowners.
Under the England Coast Path legislation, when a new section of the path is opened, the land between the trail and the sea, with some exceptions such as houses and gardens, becomes “access land” where anyone can enjoy a new right of coastal access on foot. However not all of it is suitable, so these laws also allow Natural England to restrict these new rights in some areas such as those felt to be unsafe for walkers or very sensitive for wildlife.
Before establishing any stretch of the England Coast Path, Natural England consult widely to see if there may be potential for coastal access rights to cause negative effects on the environment, or pose safety issues for walkers, and consider whether actions must be taken to prevent this. On this stretch information was sort from local interest groups, the coast guard and RNLI to establish which areas of salt marsh were being used safely, and which areas could pose issues. In light of this advice statutory restrictions to exclude the new coastal access rights from just two areas of saltmarsh were proposed at Wells and Burnham Overy Staithe. The Times article incorrectly describes this as a ban on all access however this is not the case. These proposals will not prevent common rights holder accessing the marshes or others who walk there through informal agreement with the landowners.
Natural England has also proposed a statutory restriction to exclude the new coastal access rights on areas where they would cause a negative effect on protected sites or species. As above, in making these considerations information was gathered from local stakeholders and interest groups. All bar one of these restrictions formalise existing management measures already in place at the sites, which local people will already be familiar with. There is just one “new” proposal in relation to land near Wells made in the interest of protected species of breeding and over wintering birds. In all instances the proposals focus on the option which is least restrictive on public access, while still meeting Natural England’s environmental objectives.
The Coastal Access Report for this stretch of coast is still at proposal stage and all interested parties can view it and send in their comments up to 16 May 2018. The full report and all the forms and guidance on how to do this are available on the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/england-coast-path-weybourne-to-hunstanton
Sally Fishwick – Natural England
Senior Adviser England Coast Path Delivery
Norfolk and Suffolk Area Team
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