The England Coast Path between Tilbury and Wallasea Island. Image: Natural England

The England Coast Path between Tilbury and Wallasea Island. Image: Natural England

The establishment of the England Coast Path is continuing, with a further 85 miles opened around the Thames Estuary in Essex.

The stretch from Tilbury to Wallasea Island includes saltmarshes, grasslands and seaside towns, including Southend-on-Sea.

The Westminster government pledged to complete the route around the complete coast of England which when established will, at 2,700 miles, be the longest continuous coastal walking path in the world. Work on the project, originally planned for completion in 2020, was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest section’s opening means half of Essex’s coast, 150 miles in all, is now accessible to walkers.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the new stretch of coastal path is expected to provide an economic boost to the area. It estimates that £350m is spent during trips to coastal paths supporting local people and businesses. The department said it hopes the path will encourage a surge in visitor numbers which will benefit coastal communities along the route.

Highlights of the stretch include:

  • Varied views from the towering ships at Tilbury to industrial landscapes, quiet marshes and glimpses of the Hoo Peninsula in Kent
  • Canvey Island, where nature has reclaimed industry as you walk past an oil terminal where construction was abandoned in the 1970s oil crisis. The 7-sq-mile island includes diverse grassland habitats and is home to weevils, a ground beetle and a moth, which were previously recorded as extinct in Britain
  • Nature lovers can enjoy the RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island, constructed using materials from the Crossrail project. Deliberate holes have been placed in the seawalls to let in the tides with dense flocks of birds providing an autumn and spring spectacle for visitors
  • Two Tree Island nature reserve adjacent to the historic ruins of Hadleigh Castle which is renowned for its flocks of small waders and larger brent geese
  • Southend-on-Sea which is home to the longest seaside pier in England, amusements and blue flag beaches
  • The former artillery forts at Tilbury are now connected by the England Coast Path, allowing visitors to traverse between each historic site.
The area is rich in history. Image: Natural England

The area is rich in history. Image: Natural England

The area is also rich in history. Queen Elizabeth I gave a rousing speech to troops during the approach of the Spanish Armada in the Tilbury area. It’s also home to the remains of HMS Beagle, which carried naturalist Charles Darwin around the world, and Coalhouse Fort, used by Henry VIII to defend the Thames and London.

Marian Spain, chief executive of the government’s advisory body on the outdoors Natural England, said: “The England Coast Path will be the longest coastal walking route in the world once complete, accessible to all via public transport and walkable in all weathers and by people of all abilities.

“I’m thrilled that Natural England is opening this latest section, which takes us another step closer to being able to walk all the way around England.
“This stretch passes through areas rich in seaside heritage: industrial heartlands, coastal communities and nature reserves where precious wildlife, from flocks of wild geese to rare insects, thrive.

“Running from Tilbury to Wallasea Island via Southend-on-Sea it will directly connect half a million people to the coast allowing many more people to experience the benefits of connecting with nature.”

Lord Benyon, minister for rural affairs, said: “We want to connect more people with nature – as outlined in the government’s 25-year environment plan – so I’m delighted to see this significant stretch of England’s Coastal Path open today.

“Essex has a dynamic and historic landscape and this path will support sustainable tourism, giving an economic boost to many coastal businesses. I hope visitors will enjoy the rich contrasts of this stretch of path, from saltmarshes and mudflats to thriving seaside towns.”

Natural England said it has worked closely with Essex County Council, Southend-on-Sea City Council and Thurrock Borough Council to create a route which is accessible for all.

The area has a mix of industrial and rural landscapes. Image: Natural England

The area has a mix of industrial and rural landscapes. Image: Natural England

The opening of this section follows the opening of the Grain to Woolwich stretch in January 2022.

Councillor Lee Scott, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for highways, maintenance and sustainable transport said: “This is fantastic news for Essex, and we are thrilled to see the launch of the two adjoining stretches of the England Coastal Path.

“The new paths will offer an array of opportunities and benefits for the county. People will be able to enjoy walks along the stunning seaside and beaches in Essex which also have a vital role in helping to support the health and wellbeing of residents.

“The new stretches of coast will also help to boost local tourism and connect people and communities with the natural environment and wildlife across the county. This is an exciting milestone for Essex, and we would encourage people to visit the new stretches of coastal path and discover the local environment.”

The England Coast Path will have national trail status.

There will be new public rights of access, secured in law, to areas of coastal land such as beaches, cliffs and foreshore – in many places for the first time.

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.

Natural England said a clear and continuous waymarked walking route along the coast is being identified, bringing some sections of the existing coastal footpath closer to the sea and linking some places together for the first time.

The ECP will also allow the route to ‘roll back’ if the coastline erodes, shifts or slips, solving long-standing difficulties of maintaining a continuous route along the coast.

The newly opened stretches are easily accessed via public transport. There is also the option of using the Tilbury ferry from areas south of the river Thames to connect with London and Kent.

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