Work is due to start this month on the creation of an alternative section of the famous Three Peaks route, Yorkshire's classic 24-mile challenge. This will bypass a badly eroded stretch of path.
Over the years heavy use by legions of walkers has made a mess of a length of footpath running from Pen-y-Ghent over Horton Moor and Black Dubb Moss to Ribblehead via High Birkwith. The vegetation has been damaged and the topsoil has been washed away, say the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), causing significant damage to an internationally-important peat habitat.
The alternative route over Whitber Hill passes over drier ground and uses mainly existing paths; but it needs engineering and, with the landowners' agreement, it will be developed as an alternative route that walkers will be encouraged to use.
Last year, members of the public and readers of Trail and Country Walking were asked to select 10 winners from 66 international nominations to share a pot of cash being offered by the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) – a group of businesses in the European outdoor industry that raises funds to put directly into conservation projects worldwide. The Whitber bid, submitted by local charity the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT), netted itself a €30,000 grant.
National Park Rangers and Dales Volunteers will start work later this month to link up two existing stone tracks that are both part of the Pennine Way National Trail to create the alternative route, which will include three sections of stepped stone flags and a small footbridge across Sell Gill.
The YNDPA's Three Peaks Area Ranger Steve Hastie, who is also the Three Peaks Project Manager, said:
'Diverting walkers away from Black Dubb Moss will give the sensitive peatland habitats and the damaged vegetation time to recover.'
'We're currently finalising the logistics, with 650 tonnes of materials to move around, as well as various interesting items of machinery to dig, grab, lift and move people, earth and stone.'
'There will also be a chance for Friends of the Three Peaks to get involved in some of the lighter landscaping work.'
'Over the winter we will install waymarker posts and produce maps and publicity advocating the use of the new route, which should be ready for use next spring.'
'It will mean that, for the first time, we will have a sustainable circuit for those wishing to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.'
Don Gamble, the YDMT's Projects Development Officer, said:
'When EOCA invited the Trust to submit a proposal, we felt that a project benefitting the Three Peaks would stand a good chance of being successful. We were delighted when we found out we'd won the public vote. This is a great example of organisations working in partnership to help protect and restore this special area and enhance visitors' experience.'
The creation of the alternative route is part of the Three Peaks Project, which was launched by the National Park Authority in 2009.
The Three Peaks challenge is an incredibly popular 24-mile walk over Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, and the project aims to encourage charities, organisations and individuals to help in the maintenance and conservation of the network of paths crossing a fragile area of land that has to cope with 250,000 visitors each year.
In 1986 the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology carried out a study of the condition of the path network in the Three Peaks area and concluded that the region had the sad distinction of possessing the most severely eroded network in the UK.
The following year the first Three Peaks Project was established by the YDNPA with a staff of 13. Its remit included trialling new path-engineering and re-vegetating techniques to provide sustainable routes and to allow damaged surrounding land to recover. The mid-90s and early 2000s saw a number of externally-funded projects completed, each with one or two extra staff appointed.
However since 2004 management and maintenance of the Three Peaks network has reverted back to the YDNPA's Rangers – a team of just two officers covering the whole of the wider Ribblesdale area.
According to the YDNPA the latest project aims to create a sustainable source of both practical and financial support that will help protect and enhance the area and the rights of way network into the future. Since its launch, many of the charities that regularly use the Three Peaks for sponsored events have volunteered to donate money towards the upkeep of the area. As they should.
To help raise funds, the YDNPA has produced merchandise to celebrate walking one, two or all of the peaks and has launched the Friends of the Three Peaks, a group being set up to help support the Authority's work in the area. Anyone can join by making a suggested minimum annual donation of £10. The Authority aims this year to have an events programme members can take part in, with activities like Area Ranger-guided walks and chances to do practical things like path maintenance. Friends will be kept up to date with developments in the project through a newsletter.
Anyone wanting to become a Friend can join online or in person at a National Park Centre.