With record levels of rainfall causing the highest rate of cliff falls ever seen in one year along the South West Coast Path, the public is being urged to come forward and help raise much needed funds through a special event.

Over the 630 miles of South West Coast Path, there are usually two or three cliff falls each year, with a total of 11 falls in the past five years; yet between November 2012 and mid-January 2013, there have been 21.

Four of these 21 falls have quickly been re-opened with relatively minor diversions as a result of work by rangers and wardens and the co-operation of neighbouring landowners.

But 17 longer diversions remain, where negotiations and surveys for re-routing are taking place; agreement will need to be reached with landowners for appropriate new routes, and then work is required to construct the new path. These longer diversions detract from walkers’ enjoyment of the path and poses the question - if walkers have to go a long way inland, is it really a Coast Path?

There is uncertainty over how all of this will be funded, but one organisation is rallying the troops and asking the public to support them with a special birthday present for the path.

Secretary of the South West Coast Path Association, Steve Church, said: “Celebrating our Association’s 40th anniversary this May, plans have been under way for many months to arrange the Great South West Walk, to raise sponsorship for projects along the Coast Path that will improve accessibility, ensuring that it is safe to use all year round.”

"With a target of £250,000 from funding bodies, corporate support and sponsorship from walkers, negotiations are now underway to divert part of this funding to address some cliff fall works, as well as the original objective of improvements to the path.”

The National Trust and the Highway Authorities are also diverting funds to this work, but it may not be enough.

Steve explains: “Funding for the South West Coast Path, as a National Trail, is generally 75 per cent from Natural England (because of its national significance) and 25 per cent Highway Authorities/National Trust. Since 2009-10, funding from Natural England and the Highway Authorities has fallen by 30 per cent. While this fall is in line with NE’s overall budget reduction over this period, it does mean there is minimal leeway to cover the unexpected costs of addressing the falls.

“Walkers using the South West Coast Path spend over £300 million a year with tourism and associated business, and so support thousands of jobs. The path also generates other benefits such as improvements to health, access to some of the country’s finest landscapes and use as a medium for sponsored walks by a range of charities. It also brings kudos nationally, being consistently rated among the world’s greatest walks (most recently by Lonely Planet in 2012),” said Steve.

All of this is in jeopardy if a rapid programme of repairs cannot be undertaken. This situation, however, can be remedied if all partners play their part and the public lend a hand, or a foot….

The South West Coast Path Association’s “Great South West Walk” takes place in April and May with a relay of 56 sponsored walks to cover the whole 630 mile path around Dorset, Devon and Cornwall (as well as the Exmoor coast through Somerset). Each leg will be guided by local experts, rangers and path wardens, who are all assisting the SWCPA with this event, and helping to minimise the effect the diversions have on the event.

The Association is now appealing for the public to step forward and take part by registering before March 4.

Walkers joining the anniversary event will be asked to try to raise sponsorship, with every pound making a difference, so that further funding can be levered from relevant organisations via matched giving – so do join in to celebrate and show your support for this wonderful asset.

More information about each leg of the walk, the dates and registration forms are available at www.GreatSouthWestWalk.co.uk or contact the SWCPA on 01752 896237. You can also follow the event on Twitter @LoveSWCoastPath.