Climate change is happening on the SWCP right now – we need your support

A message from our National Trail Officer, Richard Walton:

As winter storms return to our shores, we’re reminded the climate crisis hasn’t gone away, and that access to natural landscapes like those of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) are possibly more at threat than ever before.

Increasingly extreme weather caused by climate change is one of the greatest threats to our National Trail

Tracking coastal erosion along the SWCP

We’ve been tracking “exceptional coastal erosion events” along the National Trail since 2013. For an incident to make it on to our records there needs to have been a direct impact on people’s ability to use the South West Coast Path, and a subsequent need for an intervention to repair, restore or even completely move the route of the Trail. Over the last eight years we have recorded more than 180 exceptional events which have affected the Trail. 19 of these occurred between April 2019 and the end of March 2020 alone. This Autumn, a section of Path has already had to be closed due to a 90-meter-long fault line and subsequent land slip between Eype and West Bay in Dorset. Fortunately, the adjacent landowner (Highlands End Holiday Park) kindly granted permissive access so that people can bypass the hazard and still enjoy the wonderful cliff-top views. Example events on our records include cliff falls, landslips, or collapses of key infrastructure such as stairs or bridges caused by heavy rainfall, flooding and storm surges. We’re already seeing an increase in frequency and severity of these events and climate change research indicates that we should expect this trend to continue over the coming years.

Collapse near West Bay, Dorset, November 2020 by James Loveridge (main photo also by James Loveridge)

Climate change and you

Although we all know we need to do our bit to reduce our footprint on the planet, climate change can often seem too huge an issue to comprehend its effects on an individual level. The South West Coast Path is a good place to begin thinking about the impacts of climate change on our own lives, especially for the millions of us regularly using the Trail to support our physical and mental wellbeing. Simply put, when extreme weather causes a collapse on the Coast Path, we usually need to provide a diversion to keep people safe whilst the problem is resolved. Partnership work is needed with highway authorities and landowners involving time-consuming work to secure a new route for the Trail because the ground over which it previously ran, is now in the sea. Eventually, we could reach a point where there is no space left to shift the route back without significantly compromising the integrity of the Coast Path – and sadly that access to nature, which we often take for granted, may disappear. Added to this, could be the loss of rare, internationally important habitats that are home to some of our most precious wildlife. Unfortunately, these are realistic consequences of climate change if no action is taken to mitigate them – how would they impact you personally?

Coast Path walkers enjoying the rock pools near Fowey, Cornwall by Vickie Moss Photography

Being part of the solution

Through our Every Mile Matters campaign we are aiming to raise £100,000 to help protect the South West Coast Path and ensure it is there for future generations to enjoy. So far, we’ve raised over £70,000 thanks to the generosity of our supporters. With your help to reach our target, we can increase the Path’s resilience against the onslaught of extreme weather; conserve the rich biodiversity and distinct cultural heritage of the Trail; and continue to champion the real, positive impact it has on people’s health and wellbeing – not to mention local livelihoods. Ultimately, we want to make sure the South West Coast Path not only survives as a continuous, 630-mile National Trail, but also thrives, benefitting us all. Click here read some of recent environmental projects.

If you too believe that Every Mile Matters you can support our work to mitigate climate change impacts on the SWCP by:

  1. Donating to the campaign here.
  2. Registering your next walk or run as a fundraiser on the Trail, for the Trail here.
  3. Exploring with a light footprint by taking home rubbish and dog waste, using public transport where possible and abiding by Trail signage (e.g. avoiding cycling on footpaths). you can check the countryside code here.
  4. Sharing your love for the SWCP on social media using #EveryMileMatters.

Thank you.

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