The path includes the section from David's Way to St Audrie's Bay. Photo: Sarah Littler/Somerset County Council

The path includes the section from David's Way to St Audrie's Bay. Photo: Sarah Littler/Somerset County Council

The longest new section of the England Coast Path officially opened to the public today.

Natural England’s chairman Andrew Sells marked the opening of 93km (58 miles) of the route in Somerset with a ceremony at Doniford.

The Westminster Government’s official outdoors body said 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.

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.”

The 24km (15-mile) Somerset section of South West Coast Path national trail currently generates about £11.6m a year for the regional economy, equating to £770,000 for every mile.

Natural England said if that level of success were replicated on the section opened today, over time it would mean the path could generate around £44m for local businesses each year.
According to the South West Research Company, in 2014, there were more than 7.5 million day visits to Somerset’s coast, which resulted in spending of more than £260m.

Tourism employs 23,777 people in Somerset, or four per cent of the population. According to Natural England’s research, 10 per cent 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 15m footbridge has been built over The 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 cafe, 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.

Brean Down, on the new section of the England Coast Path. Photo: Ian Clemmett/National Trust

Brean Down, on the new section of the England Coast Path. Photo: Ian Clemmett/National Trust

Somerset Wildlife Trust has also provided seven new interpretation boards along the stretch between Watchet and East Quantoxhead, to reveal more about the wildlife and landscape features that walkers will be able to see.

Natural England said the 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.

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, Liz Truss.

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.”

The route follows a relatively flat section of national trail from Brean Down, along the beaches of Burnham-on-Sea and Berrow, touching on the edge of the Somerset Levels to Bridgwater.

It continues through Steart Marshes, one of the UK’s largest new wetland reserves, on the west side of the River Parrett, then on a gently undulating section from Hinkley Point to Blue Anchor with views of the Quantock Hills and Exmoor, after which the path runs near to the West Somerset Steam Railway before reaching Minehead.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, passed by the last Labour Government, places a duty on the secretary of state and Natural England to secure a long-distance walking trail around the open coast of England, together with public access rights to a wider area of land along the way for people to enjoy.

Previous stretches of coast path have been opened in Norfolk, Dorset, Cumbria and Northumberland. Further stretches will be opened in Kent and East Sussex in May, followed by North Yorkshire in the summer.

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