Press release

England Coast Path takes step forward as Somerset section opens

Some of Somerset’s most spectacular coastline is open to the public for the first time following the opening of 58 miles of coast path.

The low lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset which is a popular attraction on the coast path
Burnham-on-Sea Low lighthouse © Sarah Littler

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, it was opened by Natural England’s Chairman, Andrew Sells, at a ceremony in Doniford.

Natural England is currently establishing a 2,700 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.

Approval for the new stretch in Somerset was granted by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss.

Commenting on the approval, Rural Affairs Minister Rory Stewart said:

Walkers can now roam the glorious coast all the way from the heights of Brean Down to Exmoor National Park at Minehead, taking in the astonishing beauty of Somerset along the way.

Today’s new path adds to over 100 miles of England Coast Path already officially open, giving people all over the country easy access to our spectacular coastline. By 2020, we’ll have opened up a path around the whole of England’s coast, providing a place to rest, relax and admire the view and a destination for bracing, energetic walks, great for nature and for our health.

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, there were more than 7.5 million day visits to Somerset’s coast in 2014, which resulted in spending of more than £260 million. Tourism employs 23,777 people in Somerset, or 4% of the population. According to Natural England’s research, 10% 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.

In Doniford, as part of the new route, a 15 metre footbridge has been built over the river Swill. For the first time, this provides an easy-access walking route between the two sides of the village, allowing those staying at several nearby caravan sites to walk safely to Doniford Farm shop and café, the nearby halt for the West Somerset Railway, or onwards down the coast. It is also the first time such a major piece of infrastructure has been built for the England Coast Path. A local group of Ramblers celebrated by walking a short section of new path on their way to the event.

Walkers can enjoy several new sections of path between Watchet and East Quantoxhead, which opens up spectacular new views over the Bristol Channel. Somerset Wildlife Trust has also provided 7 new interpretation boards along the stretch, to reveal more about the stunning wildlife and landscape features that walkers will be able to see and enjoy along ‘Somerset’s brilliant coast.’

This new access joins existing coastal footpaths to create a stretch of high-quality, well-signposted coastal National Trail. Natural England consulted 238 landowners, including 183 businesses, and worked closely with Somerset County Council to plan and create the route.

Councillor David Fothergill, Cabinet Member with a responsibility for Highways at Somerset County Council, installed a waymarker on the bridge at the opening ceremony. He said:

We are extremely happy to be launching the new section of Coast Path in Somerset. We know how popular they are with both locals and those new or visiting the region, and hope this new path will prove to be a draw for tourists.

Supporting the Coast Path brings great economic benefits to the County of Somerset and we look forward to further additions being planned for the future which will complete the England Coast Path in Somerset.

Councillor Anthony Trollope-Bellew, Leader of West Somerset Council, said:

I am delighted that this section of path is opening in our district. Walking is one of the top activities that visitors come to enjoy in West Somerset. We have some of the most spectacular coastline in the country, and this new route will allow all to experience the fantastic wildlife, heritage and scenery of the area. Tourism is a vitally important industry locally with as many as a third of the local workforce employed in this sector. The path is another attraction to add to the many we are proud of and it will attract more visitors, providing new opportunities for tourism businesses.

Steve Clothier, partner at Doniford Farm Park said:

Doniford Farm is popular with locals as well as visitors, especially families enjoying a visit to the coast, but most of them arrive here by car. I’m expecting the new path – and especially the new footbridge over the Swill – to bring lots more customers on foot which will be great for us and for all tourist businesses along the Somerset coast.

Nicky Philpott, Director of Advocacy and Engagement at the Ramblers, said:

We’re delighted to see this new stretch of the England Coast Path opened in Somerset. There is huge public love for our coast and we’ve been leading the campaign for many years to open up our coastline for everyone to enjoy. Today brings us one step closer to achieving this longstanding Ramblers’ dream.

Michele Bowe, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Head of Conservation said:

Somerset has stunning wildlife and a rich and varied coastal landscape and we’ve provided some colourful interpretation boards along the coast path which reveal some of the features and species walkers will be able to see. The route will provide an enormous opportunity for all of us to enjoy the outdoors, get reconnected to nature and improve our health and wellbeing.

Background information

According to figures from the South West Coast Path report Unlocking our Coastal Heritage, 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.

Aerial footage of the route is available to view on Natural England’s YouTube channel

Published 15 March 2016