05/09/2014 13:49 BST | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Great Big Stride Towards a Footpath Around the English Coast

As a nation shaped by the coast and drawn to the sea the news, announced by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, that a coastal footpath around the shores of England will be completed ten years early by 2020 represents one great big stride to opening up access to a remarkable coastline.


Walking along the coast is one of life's pleasures and the compactness of the British Isles mean a rich diversity of coastlines from dramatic coastal cliffs to windswept sand dunes or beaches with big skies.

Many of us spend time daydreaming about being by the coast, millions visit the coast every year and the salty air of the seaside is part of our DNA. Our senses seem to shift into a coastal mode as we take in the sea air and stares into those eternal seascapes.

Sixty per cent of Britons see their visits to the coast, whether for a walk along coastal cliffs or body-boarding with their grandchildren, as essential to their quality of life. And no wonder: the coast has a democratic feel to it where we all come together from different communities and places to experience the simple pleasure of a day at the seaside.


Access has long been at the heart of the National Trust's work - an immense network of footpaths criss-cross its land. Opening up the countryside and green spaces was a vision held dear by the founders of the conservation charity founded back in 1895. They could clearly see the benefits of time spent in green spaces; something which has become common currency today.

The journey has been long to get full access to the English coastline with many passionate people and committed organisations working tirelessly to make it happen; champions of our rights to roam on the coast. And you can trace its roots back to the mass trespass at Kinder Scout (now in the care of the National Trust) in 1932, which began the process of opening up access to the countryside, and the creation of the National Parks in 1949.

We hold in high esteem the opportunity to roam in the countryside. Walking is a pass time enjoyed by generations of people; a chance to connect to the natural world and see the world anew. Many National Trust coastal places have played their part in this story - from the chalky cliffs of the White Cliffs of Dover, to the ever changing coastline of Formby and the estuary rich shoreline of south Cornwall and South Devon. And the Trust cares for one in three miles of the South West Coastal Path, the longest of its kind in the world.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act, passed by Parliament in 2009, set out the framework for the dream of coastal access around England to happen. And now this extra funding and fast-forwarding of the deadline means that the impetus to finish the all-England coastal path can become a reality.

We can see the benefits if we look to Wales. They already have a coastal footpath winding its way around the stunning coastline of Wales taking in such treats as Rhossili on Gower and Barafundle beach in Pembrokeshire. It's something the Welsh nation can be rightly proud of; the first place on earth to have a footpath all the way around its coastline.

There is still much to do to get the route of the path right, to focus on the challenges of a rapidly changing coastline; but this commitment from the Government to make this happen means with have made a big step in the right direction.

It will be up to organisations such as the National Trust, the Ramblers, Natural England, local authorities, and other partner, to create a path that we can be proud of as a nation and something that we want to tell the world about.