The BMC welcomes the recent news that the Welsh Assembly Government will be supporting a new all Wales coastal path.
A complete coastal path around some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the UK would be of great benefit to the rambler and public alike. However, the Countryside Agency in England has recently announced its support for the idea of an open access approach to the coastal zone by describing the coastal areas we can access rather than being limited to footpaths. The difference in approach between England and Wales is certain to add confusion to those accessing the coast. In the BMC’s experience, walkers and climbers desire access to the sea cliff and foreshore.
This can be managed without detriment to landowners’ interests or conservation; an approach that appears to have won favour in England. The ‘rights of way’ approach suggested for Wales cannot deliver a satisfactory set of access rights and is too restrictive to deliver the full ‘coastal experience’. As a key priority for increasing public access, the nature of the coastal experience should be fully acknowledged. The onward journey via a linear route is too limited as an access option as it does not provide for a right of access to the shoreline. A linear route would also be restricted by Rights of Way law, the right to pass and re pass, would take considerable time to put in place, rely on local authorities to be implemented and a patchy network of paths would ensue.
A linear network option will also be difficult to manage with the public naturally wanting to explore further afield and off-route, generating further resentment between the public and landowners. Evidence suggests that the vast majority of the public who visit the coast are in search of this proximal experience. Whilst the BMC welcome the idea of a complete Wales coastal path, further access improvements could be made by ensuring a legal right of access to the foreshore, an area adjacent to the foreshore and a distance back from the cliff face or adjacent land, perhaps through a descriptive approach such as that favoured by the Countryside Agency in England.
As the national representative body for climbers and hill walkers with over 65,000 members, the BMC has lobbied hard for access to the coastal ‘zone’ including the foreshore. Access to the coast is essential for recreational climbing and the coastal crags provide a unique and essential landscape for the development of climbing. The BMC agrees that gaps in the current Rights of Way network do exist, resulting in an ill defined and poorly understood coastal route. A legal right of access (and not by de facto or permissive means) to our entire coastline is a positive move and consideration of the changing and dynamic nature of the coast is essential with flexible provision required, allowing for continued access alongside coastal change. It is hoped that the Welsh Assembly Government will now take this a step further and take note of the English equivalent, acknowledging the public's wish for broader open access to our coastline.
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