Some of Somerset’s most spectacular coastline is open to the public for the first time today following the official unveiling of 58 miles of new and improved coast path.
The new stretch, following two thirds of the county’s coast from Brean Down to Minehead, represents a significant step towards the creation of an England Coast Path. The longest section to be added to the national route so far was opened by Natural England’s Chairman, Andrew Sells, at a ceremony in Doniford.
Somerset Wildlife Trust has produced interpretation boards for key locations along the route. Each will give background information on each area, including the habitats and species present, plus interesting historical information. The signs will be at Brean Down, Berrow Dunes, Burnham-on-Sea, Wall Common, Stolford, Lilstock and Blue Anchor, before the path joins the existing South West Coast Path at Minehead, ready for the 630-mile hike to Poole Harbour in Dorset.
Natural England is currently establishing a 2700-mile continuous path around the entire English coastline by 2020. Work is already under way on more than half the path, described by Andrew Sells as “The most significant rights of way project for a generation”.
Speaking in Doniford today, Andrew Sells said, “The England Coast Path is a fabulous legacy for our great island nation and I’m delighted to open this new stretch in Somerset. For the first time, people will be able to walk the length of Somerset’s coast along a high-quality footpath and enjoy some stunning new views and coastal wildlife. Visits to the coast remain one of our most popular activities and are worth millions of pounds to our regional economies.”
Michele Bowe, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Head of Conservation explains, “Somerset’s coast is a place of contrasts. Many people are aware of the much loved and long established traditional seaside resorts like Minehead, Brean and Burnham, where fish and chips, fun parks and buckets and spades are still the order of the day. But beyond the bright, touristy, fun-filled book-ends of the coast lies a wealth of natural beauty and wonder. Looking West from the spectacular limestone outcrop of Brean Down you can see 50 miles of Somerset’s coast. From the long beaches of Brean and Berrow, past the mudflats and saltmarsh of the Parrett estuary to the wooded uplands of the Quantocks, 42 of these 50 miles are designated for their environmental importance. Habitats include sand dunes, rocky shores, cliffs, salt marsh, tidal estuaries mud flats and the longest continual stretch of coastal deciduous woodland in England from Gore Point west to the Devon border.
“Having this stunning wildlife rich and varied coastal landscape more accessible for people to visit and enjoy, and some colourful interpretation boards for walkers to see will really raise the profile of Somerset’s coast and awareness of its importance. It will provide an enormous opportunity for all of us to enjoy the outdoors, get reconnected to nature and improve our health and wellbeing.”
Today’s ceremony means that Somerset’s entire coastline, encompassing glorious beaches, wonderful wildlife and dramatic views, will be open to everyone for the first time. Not only will it allow local people to enjoy the amazing landscape and seascape on their doorstep, it will draw visitors from far and wide, bringing people closer to nature and providing a boost for local businesses.
The 15-mile Somerset section of South West Coast Path currently generates around £11.6 million* a year for the regional economy, equating to £770,000 for every mile. If that level of success were replicated on the section opened today, over time it would mean the path could generate around £44 million for local businesses each year.
According to the South West Research Company, in 2014, there were more than 7.5 million day visits to Somerset’s coast, which resulted in spending of more than £260 million. Tourism employs 23,777 people in Somerset, or four per cent of the population. According to Natural England’s research, 10 per cent of all visits to the natural environment are to the coast and most of these visits involve a walk or visit to a beach. Tourist services, local businesses and public organisations celebrated alongside walkers at the opening event at Doniford Farm.
* Figures are taken from the South West Coast Path report entitled Unlocking our Coastal Heritage.