A NEW footpath linking the New Forest coast with Dorset is underway, thanks to protected funding.

Cash for the venture has been safeguarded, with the path set to link the Hampshire coast with the rest of England in a 2,700 mile footpath around the entire country.

Despite 2015 budget cuts of £20billion, DEFRA Minister Rory Stewart confirmed that funding to complete the long-awaited England Coast Path will be protected.

Around 65 per cent of England’s coast is already publicly accessible, but the aim is to make all of England’s coastline accessible by foot by 2020.

Natural England has started work on the first Hampshire stretch between Chewton Bunny at Highcliffe and Calshot Castle.

This section will be 57 miles long.

And with the starting and finishing points now identified, the next task is to contact landowners.

Tom Marshall-Lord, Natural England’s Team Leader for Coastal Access South and South East said: “There are a lot of different challenges and a number of private landowners.

“Our job is to make sure the entire coast is accessible by foot and we’re working on those parts that don’t have access.”

Asked about potential objections to the plans, Mr Marshall-Lord said: “We are just starting off and haven’t spoken to landowners yet. It’s really difficult to know reactions until we actually speak to people. If our proposals are objected to then there are a set of procedures that we will go through, and after that the planning inspectorate steps in.”

Other challenges include coastal erosion, especially at Barton-on-Sea.

Mr Marshall-Lord said: “Our footpath will be along the top of the path and will be a safe distance away,” adding that agreements with landowners will allow for re-routing in case of erosion.

As well as the potential for disappearing pathways, much of Hampshire’s coast is crucial nesting ground for birds migrating south.

John Durnell, head of estates at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “The trust has a very particular point of view. We don’t in principle have an objection but we have some concerns which we’re hoping will be addressed.

“Those areas that are currently inaccessible are most valuable for wildlife for example the Beaulieu, Exbury and Cadland Estates."

The Highcliffe to Calshot route is expected to be ready in 2018.