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New rights for people to enjoy 32 kilometres of coastline around Weymouth Bay in Dorset came into force today (29th June) as the first stretch of the new national Coast Path around the entire English coast was opened.
Natural England in partnership with Dorset County Council has moved the existing South West Coast Path from Rufus Castle on Portland to Lulworth Cove closer to the sea in several places.
For the first time there are also access rights over beaches, cliffs and other suitable land beside the route, where walkers can leave the path to rest, picnic or admire the view. And crucially, the path will now be able to 'roll back' as the cliffs erode or slip, solving longstanding difficulties with maintaining a continuous route around the slumping cliffs on this stretch of coast.
The route opens in time for walkers to enjoy stunning cliff top views of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games sailing events.
Following detailed consultations with landowners and the public during 2010-11, approval for the Weymouth Bay stretch of the England Coast Path was given by Caroline Spelman, Defra's Secretary of State, on the 26th January 2012.
Practical improvements, including signage and gates, were put in place where needed ahead of today's commencement of the new access rights.
Jim Smyllie, Natural England's Executive Director said;
"These new public access rights are in place thanks to the close cooperation with, and the fantastic support of, Dorset County Council and the many landowners and local walkers involved. The path will provide permanent, secure and improved rights for walkers to enjoy some of the most dramatic coastline in England. We will start contacting land owners soon about the next stretch from Portland to Lyme Regis."
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said;
"Opening up miles of English Coastline like this will allow thousands of people to better enjoy this spectacular natural environment and help support local economies by encouraging tourism. I want to see more people walking in and accessing our countryside as I know the value such activity has for our health, for our economy and for the spiritual uplift and well-being that comes from being out and about. This will be the first stretch of England's coastline to be improved under the new coastal access provisions and it is now ready in time for the 2012 Games so people will have greater opportunities to enjoy the coastline and see the sailing."
County Council Leader Angus Campbell said;
"Dorset's wonderful coast is one of its greatest assets. Dorset County Council has worked closely with Natural England to secure the extra benefits that the new coastal access rights will bring for residents, visitors and businesses. An improved alignment in places, coupled with the ability to roll back the path in response to erosion, will add to the recreational, economic and health benefits that the South West Coast Path already offers. We are delighted that this stretch has been established as the very first section of the England Coast Path."
To celebrate the opening, Dorset County Council's Countryside Team will be leading walks along two sections of the coast path on Sunday 1st July:
· East to West walk - Start at Osmington Mills, Smugglers Inn car park, meeting 11.15am for 11.30am start - about 2.5-3 miles
· West to East walk - Rufus Castle Church Ope viewpoint, meeting 9am for 9.15am start - about 9-10 miles
Maps showing the route and other information will be on display in the Environment Marquee at the Bayside Festival during the 2012 Games (27th July to 12th August): and will be available on Natural England's website on Friday:
www.naturalengland.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @naturalengland