A major landowner has hit out at the ‘new’ Dorset coastal path which was unveiled last week.

James Weld says his family has been looking after the existing path for generations and that the new plan could have a devastating effect on the coastline’s World Heritage status.

He says that Natural England, the new regime overseeing the path, is not equipped to manage the area and flora and fauna will suffer as a result.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon was at Osmington last week to approve the route which will run from Rufus Castle on Portland to Lulworth Cove and aims to improve access to 32 kilometres of the British coastline in time for the Olympic sailing events.

The decision to choose this section of path to highlight the ‘new’ coastal route surprised many as rights of way have existed for years and it forms part of the well-known South West Coastal path.

Mr Weld, of the Lulworth Estate, claims that the estate, which owns and, until now, managed approximately four miles of the ‘new’ route has, for nearly 100 years, provided open areas for recreation and the means for the public to walk this stretch of coastline and the beaches.

Mr Weld said: “This is a backward step in the provision of public access in the Lulworth area.

“It is clear that Natural England do not have the resources to maintain the level of access previously provided and certainly not at the standard to which it has been kept for many years by the estate.”

He claims the estate, which employs a team of rangers to maintain and repair the paths, now finds itself in the position of no longer being able to continue with the careful management on an area designated as a World Heritage Site in 2001.

Natural England has now assumed the responsibility of this management and has declared an annual maintenance budget of £18,292 for the entire 20-mile length of this section.

The Lulworth Estate’s previous annual funding for the four miles between Lulworth Cove and White Nothe has been £35,000.

Mr Weld added that the protection afforded to the very diverse flora and fauna found at Lulworth could not possibly continue under these provisions and the meagre resources available to Natural England.

He said: “It is frustrating that after so many years of sustained and careful management of coastal and beach access by the Lulworth Estate, the control over this management has been taken out of our hands.

“This could cause unprecedented damage.”

A spokesperson for Natural England said: “The programme is in no way stopping the estate from managing access as it has previously done in the interests of those using its tourist and day visitor facilities in the area, including holiday park, car parks, retail outlets at Lulworth Cove.

“We hope it will be possible for the estate to continue to work co-operatively with Dorset County Council over the management of the trail in the future, as it has done in the past.”

The Lulworth Estate has owned and managed the coast between Worbarrow Bay and White Nothe, including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Stairhole since 1641 and has made provision for visitors and walkers since before the First World War.

Over 600,000 people visit Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door each year.

The number of visitors require careful management of the area to minimise the damage which could be caused by erosion, the disturbance to wildlife and for the protection of the World Heritage site.

The Lulworth Rangers also provide a wide range of educational services to schools and other students including guided walks and classroom-based teaching on natural environment, geology and geomorphology and tourism