THE owners of Watermouth Cove Holiday Park near Ilfracombe have said they will fight a decision by Devon County Council to create public footpaths across their land.

THE owners of Watermouth Cove Holiday Park near Ilfracombe have said they will fight a decision by Devon County Council to create public footpaths across their land.

At a public rights of way committee meeting councillors voted unanimously against the recommendation of their officers and decided to approve an application to allow access to the picturesque headland, cliff side walks and fishing spots.

The bid was submitted by Berrynarbor Parish Council and supported by 39 evidence forms, mostly from walkers or fishermen who said they had been using the site on various routes for years.

Dave and Vivienne Fry bought the park in the spring of 2006, certain no right of way existed, although they have since reached an accommodation with some local sea fishing clubs and allowed access for a daily fee.

They renewed aging and damaged signs which warned the park was private property and recruited a security service for the summer season.

After the decision, Mrs Fry said: "We are very disappointed, but we have got to protect the people on our site and their children.

"We would have no have idea who is walking around our site and we have a duty of care to the people staying here.

"We will appeal and won't let this happen without a fight.

"We have a working relationship with the fishermen, but as far as we are concerned things will stay the same."

Under statute law a public right of way can be granted if it can be proved there has been use of the access for 20 years or more.

At the meeting a report by Edward Chorlton, the council's director of environment, economy and culture, concluded there was insufficient basis to make an order changing the status of the routes to public footpaths.

But Councillor Andrea Davis said the issue was an important one to the residents of Combe Martin, Berrynarbor and the surrounding areas:

"The locals actually thought it was a public footpath and there was no evidence to suggest it was not, everybody had been using it," she said, recalling she had too, as a child in 1975 and many times since.

"Feelings are running high about this, the locals feel they have been denied something generations have enjoyed."

Cllr Rodney Cann supported the claims, saying he had also visited the area regularly, admittedly not in the past 15 years, but many times with his children.

"As far as I could see we had an open access to this area and I was never a member of a fishing club but I certainly went fishing there.

"I am convinced and the people of that area are convinced this had open access, so I am going to recommend we make an order contrary to the recommendations."

For the moment, however, it seems access will continue to be restricted to those who have permission - A Devon County spokesman said once the landowner made an objection to the Order, it would lead to a public inquiry carried out by an independent inspector and until that was decided the paths would not be formally recorded as public rights of way.

Mrs Fry said if people had been walking their dogs or using the site for a long time, she could understand if they had reason to be annoyed, but said:

"People who are on site without permission will be challenged and asked to leave," she said.

"We have to protect our customers, and their children, on the park."

The land once belonged to the company which owned nearby Watermouth Harbour, as part of a trust, but was later sold and a campsite created there in the 1960s.