Guernsey has over 42 miles of coastal paths to be enjoyed. The maritime heathland, cliff-top grasslands and west coast dunes and grasslands support a rich array of vegetation, with many species which are rare in the United Kingdom.
South Coast Cliff Paths
- The cliff path network of the south coast of Guernsey meanders from La Valette for 28.5 miles before finishing at Pleinmont. The south coast cliffs are the largest continuous expanse of semi-natural vegetation on the Island, consisting mainly of maritime heathland and cliff-top grassland. These habitats support a rich array of vegetation including shrubs and trees such as blackthorn, elder, gorse and hawthorn; parasitic plants such as honeysuckle; and smaller flowering plants including foxgloves, sea-pinks, sea-campion and rock samphire. Rarer plants that can be found on the cliffs are sand crocus, bladder campion and various orchids. The cliff paths are more sheltered in the south-east and there are woodlands dominated by ash, elm and sycamore. In Spring, the Bluebell Wood is beautifully carpeted with blue nodding flower heads.
- The wide variety of vegetation supports animal species, many of which are rare in the United Kingdom. Bird species found around the cliffs include the cormorant, shag, fulmar, kittiwake, oystercatcher, Dartford warbler, peregrine falcon and long-eared owls which nest in the sheltered valleys.
- The cliffs have been protected from development since 1927, though more recently in 1989, Land Use Consultants identified the whole of the south coast cliff area as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) in their report "A Strategy for the Conservation and Enhancement of Guernsey's Rural Environment". This status is similar to that of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) in the UK context, although at present there is no comparable legal protection afforded to the area. However, the importance of the south coast cliffs is reflected under the Island's current planning policy framework as they are designated under the Rural Area Plan (2005) as both Sites of Nature Conservation Interest and Areas of High Landscape Quality.
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also identified the area as an Important Bird Area in 1992, since it is internationally significant as a Dartford Warbler breeding area.
- The cliffs are also protected by various local bylaws or ordinances, including the Places of Recreation (Amendment) Ordinance, 1996, and the Control of Dogs Ordinance, 1992. Cycling or horse riding on the cliff paths is not permitted at any time under the Places of Recreation Ordinance. Dog owners are reminded that they must always pick up after their pets when on the cliff paths, wrapped dog waste may be disposed of in any of the coastal litter bins.
- Guernsey's cliff paths are cut twice a year between April and October by a team of 4-6 full time labourers. This keeps the paths clear for walkers and stops the natural progression of invasive species such as bracken and coarse grasses.
- In ideal circumstances, the cutting of the cliff paths would be undertaken after all the wild flowers have seeded. However, this would leave such a small window of time in which to carry out the cuts that this would involve a large influx of short contract labour in order to clear the paths to maintain accessibility. This is unfeasible within the current budgetary or staffing provisions and as a consequence the paths would become un-passable.
- Therefore, a cutting regime has been carefully devised in consultation with La Société Guernesiaise, a local conservation body. The 28.5 miles of the cliff path network between La Valette and Fort Pezeries has been divided into three areas. Each area is then further divided into 8 to 10 sections between specific points. The cutting times for each section are rotated annually so that sections that are cut early one year are cut progressively later in subsequent years, returning to an early cut when the cycle is complete.
- This cutting regime ensures that each section benefits from a late cut, and helps to retain the biodiversity of the cliffs. Cutting the same sections early, before the flowers had set seed, would result in an ever decreasing seed bank and eventual loss of many flower species from the cliffs. Even though every effort is made to maintain access, some stretches of path may become overgrown during periods of rapid growth following warm moist conditions.
- During the winter months, the Cliff Path team cut back 'woody' growth and undertake various repairs/maintenance including paths, drainage channels, steps, gates, fencing and benches.
West Coast Paths
- The scenic coastal footpath is nearly 14 miles long, starting at Grandes Rocques on the west coast and running north towards Chouet before it skirts L'Ancresse Common, and ends near the Vale Castle on the east coast. Apart from a few short inclines the path is almost flat throughout and is very popular all year round, offering walkers glorious views over a varied coastline of small harbours, rocky inlets and the wide expanses of sand at Ladies Bay and Pembroke.
- There are numerous car parks and bus stops throughout the coastal path route so it is easily accessible from all parts of the island. The current bus timetables is available from www.buses.gg.
- Cyclists are permitted to use the coastal path but are asked to ride with care and consideration to other users, and at no more than 10 miles per hour. Cyclists should always give way to pedestrians. Please note that cycling is not permitted on any of the cliff paths between La Valette and Pleinmont.
- The coastal dunes and grass lands adjacent to the coastal path are amongst the rarest habitats in Guernsey. Dunes and coastal grass lands support a rich variety of plants and insects and these areas are managed by the Agriculture, Countryside and Land Management Service to promote the best conditions for some of the rare plants that grow there.
- The introduction of the west coast footpaths over ten years ago has helped to greatly improve the biodiversity of these areas by reducing the unintentional trampling of plants and the disturbance of ground nesting birds.