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Row brewing over plan to open up miles of New Forest coastline to walkers

The beach at Barton, passed by the draft England Coastal Path
The beach at Barton, passed by the draft England Coastal Path

A ROW is brewing between walkers and landowners over proposals to open up to the public miles of New Forest coastline.

The 35-mile stretch between Highcliffe and Calshot is part of the emerging England Coastal Path which is being mapped out to unlock a 2,700-mile right of way around the country’s seashore.

The local section published last week by Natural England has divided opinion, with some reacting by seeking greater restrictions to protect wildlife.

But outdoor enthusiasts are calling for more space to be opened up – and have accused unwelcoming landowners of “hiding” behind habitat concerns to stop public access.

The issue was raised at the latest Verderers’ Court in Lyndhurst where Brian Tarnoff, from conservation group Friends of the New Forest (formerly the New Forest Association), attacked the path as “unwelcome and unsafe” with walkers in some areas likely to scare off birds.

The proposed navigation went through fields used for back-up grazing and the seasonal running of stallions with mares, he warned, and summed it up as “well-meaning but unnecessary”.

He said: “This will bring disturbance to the most remote areas of the national park, will exacerbate the verge parking problem, and potentially threatens to convert over 3,500 acres of protected habitats into coastal access.”

The draft route has been on the drawing board for more than a year as negotiations have gone on between Natural England and landowners.

Although most of the trail will be along existing ways, strips of shoreline and countryside will be opened to the public such as between Lymington and Thorns Beach, woodland east of Beaulieu River, and north from Stansore Point, near Lepe Country Park.

But it has been viewed as a let-down by the 500-strong New Forest branch of walking association, the Ramblers.

Chair Frank Weller told the A&T: “I think our reaction is very disappointed – it’s not really a coastal path.

“The section from Highcliffe to Lymington is fine, although it goes round Hoburne Naish.

But the section from Lymington to Calshot is 50% along roads with no pavement and no views of the coast.”

The environmental warnings had been “overstated”, he argued. “Walkers want to see the wildlife and will not be there to disturb it. Landowners are hiding behind wildlife protection to prevent the public from going on their land.”

The local stretch is expected to cost the taxpayer nearly £270,000 for signage, information boards, and screening, as well as new features, such as gates and steps. Annual maintenance is expected to be nearly £28,000.

It has been submitted for approval to environment secretary Michael Gove. Once he gives the green light, amendments to keep the route viable can still be made, based on local feedback.

The next local section for attention is from Calshot to Gosport which is currently under discussion between Natural England and stakeholders, businesses and landowners.

As reported in the A&T, the link from Mudeford Quay to Hengistbury Head provoked criticism from Christchurch MP Sir Chris Chope who wanted it signposted via the direct ferry crossing rather than along streets and paths round the town’s harbour. It is still being considered by Mr Gove.

The England Coastal Path is set out in law by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and is planned for completion by 2020. It forges new rights of way across private land – although not residential gardens – and will become a prestigious National Trail, similar to the South Downs Way.

Public comments on the Highcliffe to Calshot section should to be sent to Natural England by 9th May.

Call 0300 060 3900, email southcoastalaccess@naturalengland.org.uk or write to Coastal Access Delivery Team – Coast Path Delivery Team (South), Natural England, 2nd Floor Cromwell House, 15 Andover Road, Winchester, Hants, SO23 7BT.

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