/ Mending Mountains or Maximising Membership
I really am beginning to wonder why our mountains need stone slabs and steps, they seem to have survived for a few million years without such widespread intervention.
Im well aware that erosion issues need addressing but in the lakes several natural trails have been rendered looking like they have been botched by alan Titchmarsh and Groundforce. The need for sympathetic drainage works rather than industrial scale earthworks and steps. Ive seen several upland bridleways in the Peak transformed by Derbyshire County Council into kitty litter surfaced abombinations with surfaces ranging from crushed limestone in a gritstone area to road planings.
Maybe its tinfoil hat time but i know there was a huge backlash with the BMCs rebranding debackle that alienated large numbers of hillwalkers and mountaineers and this is a way of winning them back to the fold.
Also I can't seem to find any transparent financial breakdown of the budgets for this campaingn detailing who is getting paid for running it and at what cost, how works are being costed and which user groups are being consulted.
Maybe im being a negative nora , I hope I am and I hope that our upland mountains and fells arent left with paving and steps more apropriate for a B&Q catalogue.
In reality, widespread erosion is not a thing of the last umpty million years, it's of the last 50 or so. Current rates of footpath erosion are unsustainable, and repairs to prevent widespread damage to very delicate systems are urgent. Because of the harsh climatic conditions, uplands are very slow to naturally regenerate. A good example would be the erosion of peat in the Peak District - without intervention, the hills were not showing any sign of self repair and in fact were degrading further.
We could discuss the appropriateness of techniques used, but that is a separate issue from the need to effect some form of repair
I disagree with you in that I think urgent action is needed to stop the unnatural erosion made by people in the last few years. However, I do agree with you that the approach being taken in some areas I visit is not sympathetic to the local geology/surroundings. Some of the works in the peak are in my view unsightly at best, whilst some are actually well done which begs the question why they can't do all of them to a high and sympathetic standard. Perhaps it is due to the specific contractors being used? I can only hope they weather with time to blend in and that was the intention all along.
> Ive seen several upland bridleways in the Peak transformed by Derbyshire County Council into kitty litter surfaced abombinations with surfaces ranging from crushed limestone in a gritstone area to road planings.
Yes, I've seen some that look like this, at first. However, I have to say that the stone used for the path from Roche End up along the ridge now looks pretty good, despite not being local stone and being a bit of an eyesore for a while.
I can imagine the costs of using local gritstone slabs would have been prohibitive and, of course, they would also have been highly conspicuous until they weathered, too.
I'm not the biggest fan of 'man made' paths (let's call them), but I'm quite a fan of the stone slab ones over the moors. Much better than trudging shin deep through black sludge and you can cover some serious mileage on them.
> Maybe im being a negative nora , I hope I am and I hope that our upland mountains and fells arent left with paving and steps more apropriate for a B&Q catalogue.
There’s an old drover’s road that runs for dozens of miles in the Esk Valley. It’s sandstone flags and is I think about 200 years old. You’d barely know it’s there now until you stumble upon it, but I imagine it looked right awful back in the day when it was new.
This sort of casual cynicism really gets to me. In the absence of any evidence that the organisations concerned are acting in a way that is deceptive or dishonest, and given their histories and reputations, why is it necessary to conclude that their motivations are bad?
> I really am beginning to wonder why our mountains need stone slabs and steps, they seem to have survived for a few million years without such widespread intervention.
People have only been walking on mountain paths in large numbers for about the last 100 years. That's a very small fraction of the last few million years, and the evidence of the damage caused is clear and obvious.
There's a modern construction pitched path from Borrowdale to Sty Head near Taylorgill Force. People have decided they don't like making step-ups and started a new path beside it. Very depressing, but it shows the need for very careful thought before committing massive effort and expenditure.
I can't see a reason for the recent installation of wooden steps over some stepped boulders on the path above Bell Hagg. I see thousands using the path over the last 40 years, and never seen a need for wooden steps over rock ones. Can't be erosion!
> In reality, widespread erosion is not a thing of the last umpty million years, it's of the last 50 or so.
James Hutton would probably disagree with you on that.
I get your point but ice sheets were covering large parts of the UK only about 20,000 years ago. There is an issue with erosion of hill paths but lets not kid ourselves about its magnitude relative to other sources of erosion in geological time.
Whereas Ray MacHaffie's route up "the Dreaded Grains Gill" appears to be a resounding success. Perhaps obscure factors play a part in how a path is actually used. I find many of the stoned paths in Langdale really dangerous in the wet. Not including the tourist route up to Stickle Tarn but some of the older ones away from that are dreadful and I run down away from them to avoid an accident.
Bit pedanty, but point taken. Anthropogenic erosion?
Nobody seems to complain about the limestone (? certainly not gritstone) flags across the bog at the bottom of Stanage.
1. Just being pendantic, some of those schemes are hills. It's called Mend our Mountains. I've not actually got an issue with this.
2. I presume they've got plenty more schemes in the pipeline for the other £874,000.
Personally i don't like these paths as they're not so comfortable to walk (or even worse run) on. But i appreciate that they're a necessary evil.
Having travelled round the UK filming the campaign films for the new Mend our Mountains campaign I've had a pretty good first hand view at all the sites in question. Although I agree there isn't the need to sanitise every mountain with stone slabs and steps the areas that are being covered by this campaign are clearly in dire need of the work. They represent some of the most popular walking routes in the UK and see a huge amount of traffic and have the erosion to show it.
It isn't a case of adding a load of steps and easy to use paths to make things more comfortable for walkers, it's about improving them in order to protect the surrounding environments (and in many cases to reduce the visual impact significantly). Take the Cairngorm site for example, the footpath up Beinn A' Ghlo is visible all the way from the A9, the new work to the path is reducing the width considerably and by using natural weathered stone from the area is helping it to blend in unlike the eroded subsoil currently there (the solid path is also helping to keep people off the scree and helping to protect the rare lichens and plant life found in the upper parts of the hill). The same applies for the paths up Scafell, Bruntscar, Ben Vane etc
> , and given their histories and reputations, why is it necessary to conclude that their motivations are bad?
I suspect the recent history and reputation of the BMC is part of the problem! But, it is clearly needed and I think the cynicism is misplaced here. Some clearer breakdown of costs and spending would be interesting. Is it available anywhere?
> I suspect the recent history and reputation of the BMC is part of the problem!
Do you mean when the executive proposed a re-branding but changed their minds when it became clear that it was unpopular? Or when the executive proposed to change the constitution and 92% of votes were in favour? Or something else?
The erosion in such places at the Three Peaks (either Yorkshire, being quite peaty and fragile or National) or the motorway routes in the lake District needs provision.
On the other hand, some of the new/machined paths (e.g. up Skiddaw) are an eye-sore, but/however, also some of the stone slabs/flagged paths (e.g. on Pen-y-ghent) have made a big difference to the wide scar of erosion and have already grassed in nicely.
I am told that the new path off Whernside (Ribblesdale) down to Chapel le Dale is a great improvement on the old path.
There's also the accessibility agenda coming more into play these days...
I climbed on Ben Nevis a couple of weeks ago for the first time in 15 or 16 years. I was a moderately regular visitor in the 90s when I lived in Glasgow. The 'new' path from the 'new' north face carpark is just superb compared to the boot sucking monstrosity from the golf club that I remember from my youth. Because it's there and good people use it. There is not nearly the amount of erosion I remember above the top car park and up to the CIC because people use the path that is, not make their own. In the evening we came down from Carn Mor Dearg having descended from the Ben along the CMD arete. It's not bad coming back down that hillside towards the dam but even after this amazing summer it was still soggy and there wasn't one particular path more many smaller eroded ones with the obligatory ever widening loops around particularly wet patches as people take to the heather to try and stay out of the mud.
Having lived abroad from 2000 to 2014, its one of the things I've really noticed since moving back to the UK - how generally sympathetic and well made paths in the upland areas have limited and reversed erosion. I thought that less and less people (particularly winter climbers) wearing gaiters was just a fashion thing, but I'm starting to see that actually you need gaiters much less now compared to the late 80s and 90s when I was first regularly hill walking and then climbing - and I think to a great extent that's to do with path improvement. I've ridden Cut Gate a number of times now, so know the bog of doom where Mend Our Mountains wants to improve the trail - and I completely support it. All moor around Cut Gate is access land, so as long as you are on foot not on bike you have the right to go walking anywhere you fancy - that's brilliant. But as lots of people will follow the trail, including on bikes (its a bridleway so cyclists have always had the right to use it and it is one of England's greatest 'natural' trails for mountain bikers), isn't it far better to have a sympathetic but hard wearing path there that will stop the ever widening of the path as people try to avoid the bog?
Hi there - I'm the Campaign Coordinator for Mend Our Mountains.
To quickly address your two main points:
1) Work quality. The path repair projects we are supporting are exclusively carried out by highly experienced, professional access and conservation staff, mainly working directly for NPAs or for partnerships orgs like Fix the Fells or Moors for the Future - these guys are the absolute experts on this stuff, and we trust them to make the best calls on materials etc... Even so, we have a clause built into the grant offer they receive from us that states that if we are not happy with the standard of work, we will not continue to support them and may ask for our money to be returned. That's about as safe as we can be that the work will be carried out to the best possible standard.
2) Money. All the money for the campaign moves through the BMC's charitable arm, the Access & Conservation Trust. We're bound by the Charity Commission and various other sets of rules, and are fully audited every year. This page gives an approximate breakdown of where the money will go, including how much (5-7%) of the overall total goes towards covering the charity's costs: https://mendmountains.thebmc.co.uk/at-a-glance/ . The BMC as a whole loses money by running the project, and so far the net number of new members as a result is in single figures...
Hope that helps. Very happy to discuss your concerns (or anyone elses) in more depth if you feel this is unhelpful - drop me an email to email@example.com
I think you might need to revise your view on how many new members are due at least partly to the Mend our Mountains campaigns. I've met or heard of quite a few people who cited it as one of their main rreasons for joining and, extrapolating, there must be at least 3 figures. Thanks for explictly including the finance links, although I must say they were hardly hidden away.
Some critics are unfairly linking Mend our Mountains to other unconnected work (the vast majority of path upgrades are nothing to do with the charity). Not only are some projects in the hills (ie not mountains), one I think is a bridge (with a nod and wink to Ray Wood). I think that some upland path repair projects have been dreadfully botched but your stated requirements of the MoM work should prevent such mistakes in its work. It's worth noting that the only path in the Peak completed with MoM money, so far, was the Ringing Roger path. One piece of constructive criticism (if you excuse the pun) is that some path building (esp in Scotland) seems to have had much better lifespans than others and so we probably need more best practice applied, even in the well managed sympathetic projects.
As for MG's implied mass cynicism of the BMC: 92% voted to support the new Articles of Association, on a record turnout (with 3 times the number of the previous record). Social media can severely distort perceptions on key member issues: even I as a massive public fan of the BMC became influenced by the unrepresentative negativity around the BMC Articles vote on UKC and was slightly concerned about the vote making the required 75%. This is in the context that I knew that people against things are way more motivated to moan in public (esp here as it is so convenient) and vote, than those supporting the BMC position and voting for it. Still, most BMC members I know simply don't care about Articles, being what Andy Say describes as "National Trust members"... they like to support the good work the BMC does and appreciate the benefits of membership but usually don't vote in the AGM. Even a big majority of climbers who are not members (ie most climbers) that I know recognise the good work the BMC does and some even acknowledge it's vital, esp on access (some of these climbers are 'boracic init' but obviously many struggle with parsimony).
In the membership survey that informed ORG, the most common activity undertaken by BMC members was hill and mountain walking. A big project like this is a good thing for the membership.
I'm not sure of the particular examples of footpath work you dislike, and it is probably a different situation in Scotland where I do most of my walking, but in general I share your concerns - though I disagree with your conclusion.
Localised anthropogenic erosion is accelerating as more people take to the hills, and as the 'best' routes into and up them become increasing well-defined. Once the rate of damage exceeds the capacity of the vegetation to buffer it, erosion begins and continues to get worse until something else changes, or until a new equilibrium (which might be a 10 m wide erosion scar, where a 1 m wide path would do is reached. In some situations a little drainage work may solve the problem, in others a path constructed from rock steps may be required. A bit of understanding of the processes involved is probably important in making the right choices of remedial work.
I am instinctively against manufactured paths in the mountains: part of the reason I go there is to escape the system of rules and controls that invade the rest of my waking life. But that is not the only reason: there is also a desire for wildness (a feeling) and a hunger for beauty (a photograph). Leaving a path to erode badly satisfies the first part of my desires, but damages the second two. Fixing a path damages the first part of my desire, leaves the second approximately unchanged, and generally improves things for the third.
We all must make a balance in our minds in some way. I suspect that my view, that we need more path remedial work rather than less, reflects the current consensus, but it's good to have the discussion. Also we need to remind the path-builders that the quality of their work, and in particular their ability to match the work to the practicalities and aesthetics of the environment, is absolutely crucial. It is certainly possible that they do more harm than good with path-building efforts in some situations. To do the job well costs money, and I suppose the user should expect to pay. A thread like this perhaps helps indicates how much we are willing to pay, so thanks for raising the topic.