England Coast Path
The England Coast Path (ECP) will create new non-historically based Rights of Way which may also join up existing Rights of Way, including the Solent Way. It will also provide spreading room in the form of the coastal margin defined between the route of the path and the water’s edge. This is particularly problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland. The New Forest Association wish to raise concerns about the scheme, many of which will pertain regardless of the published route.
Increased use and disturbance:
New routes will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance. Joining up of existing routes will increase their use and hence their impact. Spreading room applied to existing routes will create new access which will also cause disturbance to areas those routes avoided. With no funding for mitigation and parking infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.
Whilst Natural England’s powers to exclude areas from the coastal margin include habitat considerations under Section 26 of the CROW Act, the protective measures are paltry (minimal signage and barriers) and the Ordnance Survey’s depiction of all potential coastal margin as one colour shading without differentiating or delineating the exclusions will mislead many into protected areas. Worrying precedents have been seen: the published proposed Portsmouth to South Hayling route appears not to have any habitat exclusions under S26, this leads to glaring omissions of vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches (Consultation ending Sept 13th 2017).
There are weak provisos that the OS will claim covers the depiction issue (see figure). These do not even mention exclusions for habitat protection. There is no guarantee that this language will even be included on all relevant OS maps, nor that they will be featured at any remarkable scale for legibility. Excluded areas should be the majority of the margin along our coast, and should either be shown accurately, or not shown as access land at all.
The coastal margin / spreading room model is wholly inappropriate for our coast. Setting exclusions at mean high water mark could allow access into neighbouring excluded area at all times outside of high tide. Intruders can simply walk across from adjacent accessible foreshore. Additionally as the crossing point for rivers are necessarily sufficiently inland, the model becomes unworkable, complicated by different handling of “rivers” and “estuaries” and the length of a piece of string debate as to where one definitively leads to the other.
According to the NE Coastal Team “Discussions regarding the representation of the coastal margin were held with a national stakeholder group, this involved NE, NFU, RSPB, CLA, National Trust and the OS amongst others – this representation is not within our remit.” Despite this, NE still have the obligation to protect the coastal habitats that may be trespassed upon as a consequence of the depiction issue.
Weak Habitat Protection:
There is little or no serious consideration of sea level rise and effects of erosion. Where present, again ignores coastal habitat value and frames issues solely within effects to landowners. Coastal habitats would end up being squeezed between the established path and the advancing sea.
Currently the Natural England Coastal Team have offered Sensitive Features Appraisal which narrowly considers only certain items at risk, as if in isolation. The higher standard provided by Habitats Regulation Assessment is more appropriate for this very protected stretch of the National Park. Unless the proposed Appraisal were to exclude the route / spreading / coastal margin for these areas out of hand, the Habitats Regulation Assessment should be insisted upon. We would expect this to exclude these habitats comprehensively.
While the path is being promoted for useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations, in other regions this may be desirable. Here it is:
- Unnecessary – There is no actual need for the path. The Forest does not want for draws to Tourism.
- Arbitrary – The notion of a “coastal” path is merely a goal for completists, like those who want to walk Hadrian’s Wall, Land’s End to John’O’Groats etc. While a nice paper exercise for box tickers and sponsored walks, other paths / destinations are otherwise available.
- Redundant – The Solent Way (aka Solent Coast Path) already follows much of the Hampshire coast line and passes through the New Forest; it also forms part of the European Coastal Path (E9).
- No Benefit – Any suggestion that the path would draw recreational pressure away from other areas of the Forest is a robbing Peter to pay Paul argument, and perhaps worse as the coastal habitats have been better protected and thus more prone to fresh disturbance than other areas where sadly much damage has already been done.
Consultation on the Highclifffe – Calshot stretch:
Unfortunately the consultation timeframe (eight weeks, likely 27th September to Nov 22nd) unhelpfully falls between both the New Forest Access Forum and New Forest Consultative Panel quarterly meetings and does not take into consideration either of the pertinent National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering and Advisory Groups. I’ve suggested NE move the end date to December 21st at the earliest, two weeks after the Consultative Panel, but I otherwise presume sub-groups would be formed to respond within the currently mooted dates. I respectfully offer any sub-group formed by this Access Forum, at its convenience, a presentation from one of the New Forest Association’s ecologists which would help contextualize the extremely high value of the habitats and species at risk near or on the route. I hope this would convey a more comprehensive picture of what’s at stake, than the information provided by the Natural England team tasked with delivery and promotion of the route has yielded thus far.
Thank you for your time and attention to this important Access issue,
Chair, Habitat And Landscape Committee
New Forest Association / Friends of the New Forest
|Update: We would now withdraw our objections about the Sensitive Features Appraisal, which should overlap sufficiently with a Habitats Regulation Assessment, however, we would still insist that the route and spreading room should comprehensively exclude the important designated habitats.
Although the timeframe of this consultation has slipped repeatedly since originally mooted for February 2017, the March 2018 launch date has fallen just after the 12th March meeting of the New Forest Local Access Forum, would have fallen after the 1st March meeting of the New Forest Consultative Panel. The Panel was postponed by inclement weather to 19th April, giving it less than three weeks to formulate comment on the consultation (and its 72 page overview 81 pages of route detail and 213 page Sensitive Features Report).