Caring for coastal footpaths

Walking on the South West coast path near Pencarrow Head, Cornwall

Looking after coastal paths is an important part of our work to care for the coast, giving people access to amazing sea views, secret beaches and fascinating coastal places. We look after 780 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (almost 10 per cent of the coastline) including hundreds of miles of coastal paths.

Every mile of coastline costs us around £3000 to maintain each year. Over the last 50 years our people-powered Neptune Coastline Campaign has raised over £65 million to help safeguard the nation’s precious coastline, work we couldn’t do without this support.

Coast in focus: South West

Nearly 40 per cent of the coastline we look after is in the South West. We’re guardians for 300 miles of coastline in the region – a third of its coast. This includes 185 miles of the South West Coast Path, England’s longest National Trail, which stretches for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset linking the coastal places we care for together like a golden thread.

It’s a big job for our 91 rangers in the South West and more than a thousand volunteers who support them. Together they carry out practical maintenance tasks along the coast we care for such as resurfacing paths, installing steps and boardwalks and waymarking to ensure people don’t get lost, meaning that we can all enjoy this stunning stretch of coastline.

Improving and adapting coastal paths

Our South West teams are also working to improve the coastal paths, making them more accessible for everyone. This includes replacing stiles with gates so more people can use the paths. It’s a delicate balance between maintaining the natural appearance of the coast and making sure it’s safe and accessible to visitors.

The nation’s coastline is a dynamic landscape so the teams have to be ready to adapt and respond to coastal change caused by storms or erosion. This could involve quickly putting path diversions in place to maintain safe access or replacing washed away steps following severe storms or using materials such as granite to create hard-wearing paths.

Working together to care for the coast

We work with other organisations in the South West such as tourist bodies and the South West Coast Path Association to protect and promote access to the coast. These partnerships are an essential part of our wider commitment to coastal access across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We strongly support the Government’s promise to create an England Coast Path by 2020, meaning people will be able explore the whole coast of England on foot as you already can in the South West. The path would also join up coastal places we look after in England and Wales following the opening of the Wales Coast Path in 2012.

We'll work with the Ramblers, supporting their One Coast For All campaign, to ensure the England Coast Path remains a priority for Government. We'll also work with Natural England to find the best routes – for people and nature – along the coastline we look after.

In Northern Ireland we’ll continue to work closely with our partners to look at opening up the coast, work which has already given access to a scenic stretch of the North Antrim Coast.