By: Blonde Two

Access rights in the UK are currently a hot (some might say super-heated) topic. With more and more of us enjoying the outdoors (hooray!) it makes sense that we are interested in where and how we’re legally permitted to visit the places we enjoy.

Land access is a complicated issue (as is water access), especially for those trying to balance the needs of landowners, and the imperative to look after protected sites, with the importance of access for all to our green and blue spaces.

One thing that is starting to change the access landscape in England is the (rather exciting) England Coast Path.

Access to England’s Coastal Margin

As part of the work on the England Coast Path, Natural England is designating a coastal margin. This represents the land that sits between the sea and the Coast Path itself, as well as some appropriate inland areas.

Once the Path is established, you’ll have permission to walk all the way around the coast of England (or wheel in suitable areas if you are a wheelchair user). The planned route links with the already existing Wales Coast and Offas Dyke Paths at the Welsh border. It will also eventually connect with the proposed Scottish Coastal Way.

That’s a long-distance walk… and then some! Imagine doing your LEJOG around the coast!

The new coastal margin access doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to march through beachside gardens, stroll across agricultural fields, or bimble over ‘unsuitable’ access land such as mudflats. Neither will you be permitted to ride your bike off designated byways and bridleways.

What do footpaths and bridleways look like on a map?

Indeed the England Coast Path has plenty of restrictions, some of which we are already used to from the CROW Act.

Coastal margin access land on the map

What’s really exciting (for us map geeks) is that we are starting to see new access land areas appearing on our Ordnance Survey maps (the OS Maps app is by far the best way to make sure you have access to the latest maps). These new areas look similar to the inland access land we already enjoy (yellowish or green shading) but are a lovely shade of pink.

Here’s one I visited by train last month.

This Southwest section of the England Coast Path is a handy snippet because it shows yellow-shaded inland access land as well as pink-shaded coastal margin land along the coast and up the estuary. It also shows part of one of the already-open sections of the England Coast Path.

Copyright Ordnance Survey 2022

Wasn’t this coastal margin land already accessible for walkers?

Good question. And when you get into the details, a sometimes controversial one.

My research suggests the answer to this is complicated and ongoing. Where possible it makes sense for the England Coast Path to use existing coastal routes, especially National Trails, one obvious example would be the South West Coast Path.

However, it would appear that where limitations exist (for example access-for-all and dependence on estuary ferries) change isn’t always easy to encourage.

After a quick look, I found one example of a local (Devon) ‘private’ beach where the balance between landowners’ and public rights has been questioned and put to the Secretary of State. Access to this beach is now in the process of being re-established.

Hopefully, there are other such examples around the country.

Who is developing the England Coast Path?

Working closely with local access authorities, Natural England is developing the England Coast Path but local volunteers (especially Ramblers) who know their area well are working hard to survey and map routes, write detailed reports, and work with local authorities.

It’s important to remember whenever we enjoy any of our waymarked trails and National Trails, the significant contribution both volunteers and landowners make to their upkeep.

Which areas of the England Coast Path are already open?

This is the exciting part. 

There are open sections of the England Coast Path all around the country. And new ones are being added as they are developed.

My map snippet above shows part of the connection between Sand Bay in North Somerset and Lulworth Cove in Dorset. You can see where this section currently ends (Oct 2022) in the snippet below.

Copyright Ordnance Survey 2022

One of the things I’m finding most exciting about the England Coast Path is the way it’s highlighting how different our coast is as you move around the country. This area near Great Yarmouth is fascinating because the coastal margin includes the tidal river as well as the land between that and the sea.

What difference will the England Coastal Path make to me?

Well you’ll have to visit the seaside to access it but once the England Coastal Path is set up, you should be able to enjoy walks around our coast that include beaches that were previously private (or claimed as private).

Get ready for a few steep coastal hills if you’re going beach-hunting!

There is certainly a lot of work going on to make sure those annoying diversions away from the coast are limited wherever possible.

Why not get out there and try an open section of the new England Coast Path yourself? It’s certainly an interesting and fun place to be!

Let us know how you get on?

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