River Deben Association meeting in November 2018 – Establishing the England Coast Path
The River Deben Association’s Autumn Meeting was well attended with over 150 members present. Giles Merritt, Lead Advisor for Natural England Coast path development in Norfolk and Suffolk provided a lively presentation about the England Coast Path, with particular emphasis on Suffolk and the River Deben.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 established a duty to create a long-distance walking route around the English coast (the England Coast Path) which should be accessible to the public. Natural England is charged with its delivery and must adhere to the Coastal Access Scheme, which ensures that a balance is struck between the interests of those who own the land and the public in having new access rights over the land. The Act also enables Natural England to respond to coastal changes through proposing ‘roll back’, which will allow the path to be moved back if the coastline changes.
Giles introduced some key terms:
- The Coastal Margin is the land between the path and the sea (or estuary)
- The “spreading room” is the part of the coastal margin that the public has access to by foot for its enjoyment, but which can exclude areas designated as “excepted land”
- “Excepted land” may refer to land containing buildings, gardens, arable land, ports, industrial estates etc
In addition to “excepted land”, Natural England is also likely to place an exclusion on coastal access rights on all saltmarsh and mudflats with importance for wildlife and the environment (although this will not affect historic use such as samphire gathering and wildfowling).
The timetable is ambitious: by 2020 England aims to have completed 65 stretches – that’s 2,700 miles. Extensive consultation with local interest groups, landowners and environmental bodies is required regarding the proposed routes. The plans, maps and routes also have to be approved by the Secretary of State, who must make the final determination in the event of objections.
What does this mean for Suffolk?
85% of the trail in Suffolk will be along existing rights of way, so using 116 miles of footpaths which are currently accessible. Later this year (2019), works will begin to develop new parts of the trail where there are gaps and where improvements to existing pathways are needed. The three main gaps in the Deben estuary route are:
- Waldringfield to Martlesham
- around Sutton Hoo
- Ramsholt to Bawdsey
Publication of proposed routes and completion of works 2019/20
Publication of final routes on Natural England’s website is likely to be Spring / Summer 2019 and hard reference copies will also be lodged in local libraries. Maps of the route will be published in 2020, with the route clearly waymarked as part of the England Coast Path. From then on it is likely that local walking groups will seek to promote the walks as part of their programme.