A recent and controversial advertising shoot for 4x4 vehicles has resulted in damage to the grassy slopes of a prominent Snowdonia mountain. It also exposed a weakness in the ability of public bodies to protect National Park landscapes, reckons Dinorwig-based guide Garry Smith. Considering the ongoing problem of illegal off-roading within National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, he suggests that this wasn't the most sensitive of marketing ideas by Land Rover's advertising agency.
he view from Moel Eilio's rounded summit is arguably the best in North Wales (…the secret's out now). Yet strangely the mountain remains beneath the radar of many visitors to Snowdonia. The view is an uninterrupted 360-degree panorama, taking in all the region's main mountain ranges and spanning both the north and west coastlines. 'Eilio' is very much a locals' hill. Its position directly above Llanberis, and its broad grassy ridges, make it easily accessible for all ages, from dog-walkers to fell runners.
It is likely the same qualities that make Moel Eilio attractive to walkers also brought the mountain to the attention of the location scouts working on behalf of Land Rover. On a mid-October morning, under a clear blue sky, a collection of 4x4 vehicles made its way up the mountain's grassy northern spur. As they were spotted from the valley, the local police received complaints and the National Park warden at Pen-y-pass was alerted. The warden immediately made his way to Moel Eilio to investigate but on arrival was informed that as the landowner had given permission for an advertising shoot, nothing could be done to stop the vehicles driving up the mountain.
"On seeing the camera, a crew member intimidated them into deleting the images"
Two local female teachers watched the arrival of the vehicles on the summit and were annoyed enough to take photographs of what was happening. On seeing the camera, a member of the production crew came over and intimidated them into deleting the images. This was despite the teachers protesting that they were in a free Wales and that he had no right to hassle them in this way.
The National Park Authority did know, a few weeks in advance, of Land Rover's intention to film in Snowdonia but were not consulted in detail on any location other than the Miner's Track on Snowdon. Emyr Williams, CEO of the Authority said that 'all possible efforts were made initially to discourage this shoot', later adding 'it is very frustrating for the Authority that we cannot stop this kind of commercial activity'.
A national body which could have possibly prevented the shoot was Natural Resource Wales (NRW), which has the responsibility of protecting Moel Eilio's summit, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). NRW were notified by the location company in advance but were also 'powerless to object to the shoot', as the landowner had given permission. The 'minor planned incursion onto the SSSI' was argued not to be a damage risk. All NRW could do was voice their disapproval, by pointing out they had recently gone to great lengths to send someone to prison for 22 months for 'doing something similar on Snowdon'.
"They have left an undeniable mess, wheel ruts scoured into the wet ground"
Lets get this straight, Land Rover have not done anything illegal. Their representatives obtained the correct permission for their advertising shoot. However, they ignored all respected advice and without any apparent social or environmental responsibility, proceeded to film off-road vehicles on a sensitive Snowdonia mountain. They have left an undeniable mess; 4x4 tracks running up the mountain's grassy slopes and wheel ruts scoured into the wet ground, some to a depth of 30cm. Yes it will heal in time, but we're realistically talking a lot longer than the couple of months that have been suggested.
The location company has admitted that some damage was done but state that measures were taken to "mitigate slippage" during the shoot. They also claim a proportion of the damage may have already been done by fencing contractors (a claim easy to disprove). Land Rover themselves have yet to comment.
The local consensus is that Land Rover's agents have done bad. The choice of Moel Eilio as a venue to promote off-road vehicles appears both arrogant and inconsiderate. An important and iconic British brand like Land Rover should receive better advice from their advertising agency.
It also seems the current system for environmental protection in Wales may be broken. A system which fails to protect the landscape of National Parks is evidently not fit for purpose.
As for the message that will be sent out about Snowdonia when this advertisement is aired? Recreational off-road vehicles will be seen on a grassy peak with the easily recognisable backdrop of Snowdon (Yr Wydffa) and Clogwyn Du'r Arddu. I'm not for one moment suggesting the general public would assume that Snowdonia is open for off-roading... but then again, that's like saying advertising has no effect.