The Ordnance Survey’s Rubberstamping of a Bad Idea
In the early days of the England Coast Path project, the Ordnance Survey were tasked with the depicting the ECP as a new National Trail, and the newly established Coastal Margin, the spreading room designated with the route, as access land. Natural England and the Ordnance Survey met before taking proposals forward, first with the MOD (Defence Estates), then with an invited “National Stakeholder Group” consisting of NFU, RSPB, CLA, National Trust, British Mountaineering Council, BASC, Ramblers, Disabled Ramblers, Stephen Jenkinson (a consultant on managing dogwalker visitors), Hampshire County Council, Open Spaces Society, English Heritage, Environment Agency, and the Rural Payments Agency.
The stakeholder group met once through a “Webinar” on 15th January 2014, with subsequent emails and documents, leading to sign off around March 2014. Only one purely nature conservation based group was represented (RSPB). No representatives from National Parks interests were involved. It is unclear whether any formal discussion was held to adopt the chosen format, or whether it was presented as a fait accompli by the OS and NE to the stakeholders (the documentation available suggests but does not confirm the latter).
The Ordnance Survey’s depiction decided was that the route line would be edged on the seaward side by magenta semi-circles, and all potential coastal margin as a 10% magenta shading, similar to the 10% yellow shading adopted for access land created by the CRoW Act 2000. Areas that are not access land under the scheme, but which fall within the Coastal Margin, from the seaward side of the route to the water, will be shown under the magenta wash as though they were access land. That means that excepted land under Schedule 1 of CRoW Act 2000, and exclusions directed by Natural England under Section 25 Health and Safety or Section 26 Habitat Conservation of CRoW will be shown as access land, although they legally are not.
There were no suggestions that Exclusions have any depiction (short of not applying the Magenta wash). There were no mention of Section 26 habitat exclusions. Based solely on a comment from the National Trust[*], the legend proviso’s language had the phrase “fragile habitats” removed as it might deter people from entering fragile habitats which weren’t off limits. The RSPB representative commented “I see little point in NE applying that procedure [Exclusion Directives under Section 25a], only then to allow OS to map it as access land.” The RSPB also pointed out that there may be future court cases S29 Reckless disturbance, bye-laws etc, where defendants may cite maps as mitigation when these areas have been depicted as access land. These concerns were palpably sidelined, with claims that accurate depiction would be too difficult, or that the cookie cutter approach would be visually confusing.
At the point that this decision was made only 6 stretches of the England Coast Path had been Published and 3 Approved. The first four of these have no Section 25a or Section 26 directions. The then only recently published (Oct 2013), yet to be approved, stretches had total of 4 S25a, and 5 S26 directions proposed. Brean Down to Minehead has 2 of the S25a, but no maps of these exclusions, described solely in text. Folkestone to Ramsgate is the first report to include maps depicting the exclusions and the first to have a separate Conservation Assessment document. As these were only just published concurrent to the meeting with the MOD, it is unlikely that either of these figured in the discussion at all (especially as, despite the latter’s 5 Section 26 directions, Section 26 Habitat Exclusions were not mentioned in the Stakeholder discussions).
In the absence of palpably useful and non-theoretical examples, none of those involved in the group decision had any materially significant basis to make this judgement. The decision was made without regard to National Park Purposes and Sandford. Subsequent stretch reports have required larger areas of exclusion. Subsequent policy, including the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan have promised higher levels of protection for designated and undesignated habitats. This decision must be revisited in the light of these, including representatives of relevant National Parks (Seven Stretches are in or directly adjacent to Six National Parks [†]), and other habitat conservation organizations and land managers (including the Forestry Commission who with National Parks may be nominated as “relevant authorities” for portions of the route).
Without differentiating or delineating the exclusions and excepted land, users will be mislead many into protected areas. 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. These provisos may not be visible at all where OS data is used for mapping apps on smart devices for either the OS’s own apps or third party apps which license the OS data.
Although Natural England will protest that the OS depiction is outside their remit (even as the choices given to the stakeholder group were arguably limited by OS and NE staff). NE still have the obligation to protect the coastal habitats that may be trespassed upon as a consequence of the depiction issue. 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.
[*] FOI requested info on the discussion and subsequent emails revealed that “fragile habitats” had been in an earlier draft of the legend provisos “but _[National Trust Rep]_ made the point in discussion that it was best not said, because many other areas within the margin that would remain subject to rights were nonetheless fragile habitats to some extent too – for example dunes and rough grassland – so the phrase could mislead people.”
[†] National Park included or adjacent stretches of the England Coast Path:
25 September 2015 both Hopton-on-Sea to Sea Palling (adjacent to the Broads) and Whitehaven to Silecroft (Lake District) were Approved, but only the first is fully open, the other pending new river crossings for the Irt and the Esk and approval of nearby sections. Filey Brigg to Newport Bridge (North York Moors) was approved 15th Jan 2016 and is fully open. Minehead to Combe Martin (Exmoor) closed consultation 15th Aug 2017, approval pending. Highcliffe-Calshot (New Forest) will currently have consultation closing 9th May 2018, should requests to extend go unanswered. Silecroft to Silverdale (Lake District) and Shoreham-by-Sea to Eastbourne (South Downs) are still having their proposals developed (currently mooted 2018).]
[‡] A conservative estimate of the current proposal would have 75% of the proposed Coastal Margin fall under no access categories of either CROW Act 2000 Excepted Land or NE designated Exclusions under Sections 25 or 26 of CROW.
The FOI request source for the description of the process may be examined on the Ordnance Survey site:
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