Rural peace is disturbed by car controversy: Locals are worried by plans to curb traffic at beauty spots. Nicholas Schoon reports

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DEEP IN the Cornish countryside, the National Trust is forced to deal with traffic congestion problems usually found in town centres.

The single track road that winds down to Britain's southernmost point had become a battleground between pedestrians strolling down to the clifftop and motorists determined to park right on top of it.

The drivers had the upper hand; old people and families with young children had to squeeze up against the high banks to let cars pass.

The trust, which has owned Lizard Point for two years, is putting the finishing touches to a new footpath to separate walkers from drivers. Now it has to decide whether to ban cars from the tiny clifftop car park.

There are similar problems at beauty spots all over Britain. A report from the Countryside Commission last year warned that rural traffic could treble by 2025, growing faster than in the cities.

Conservation groups are floating the idea of car restraint or bans in the most popular areas, where traffic disturbs the rural peace. They have suggested park-and-walk or park- and-catch-a-rural bus schemes.

But people who live and work in these remote places are hostile. Bus services are sparse and many depend on private transport for essential journeys.

When an article in the National Trust's magazine earlier this year suggested it was time to start thinking in these terms for the Lizard peninsula (a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covering about 40 square miles) the local newspaper, The Packet, ran an article. Locals were unamused.

The traffic problems at Britain's southern tip begin at the Lizard village, half a mile inland. In summer, 4,000 visitors a day - most arriving by car - face a choice of parking on the village green and walking to the promontory or driving on down a narrow road.

Three-quarters of the way down the track, drivers can enter a large National Trust car park where they must pay. Those determined not to walk at all can carry on to the small triangle of surfaced road on the clifftop, where parking is free.

Nigel Davies, the trust's head warden on the Lizard peninsula, envisages this grassed over, with everyone having to walk the final 200 yards from the larger car park.

Walking from there, the sweep of cliffs and sea would open more dramatically before visitors and there would be no cluster of cars to damage the view. The ugly power lines are already being removed.

But the few shops and cafes on the clifftop would remain. 'They're very British and whimsical,' he said. 'This isn't just another stretch of coastline, it's the southernmost point and they're part of it.'

It may be some time before his vision is realised. Some of the traders feel their businesses might be jeopardised if motorists could not drive to the southernmost point.

The trust needs to be diplomatic. Its members may be conservation- minded but they tend to be prosperous car owners used to driving to beautiful places.

The trust has become a major car park operator on the Lizard peninsula and elsewhere in Cornwall, where it owns approaching half of the coastline. It does not want the job but has had to take it to protect some of Britain's most ravishing coastal scenery.

At Kynance Cove, a mile away, summer hordes walking down to the little beach from the privately owned clifftop car park had caused massive erosion, destroying swathes of the habitat where rare plants grow. The trust bought it recently in order to build proper paths, repair the damage and demolish a house.

Mr Davies said traffic-free zones and park-and-ride schemes on the peninsula are for the indefinite future. But Cornwall County Council, the trust and the local bus company have joined in printing and publicising timetables and routes showing tourists how they can catch a bus, take a scenic walk for a few miles, then catch another back to their starting point.

(Photograph omitted)