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Stop Building Cairns, Say Snowdonia National Park

© Dan Bailey

​Snowdonia National Park wardens have asked the public to stop building cairns willy nilly all over the hills which, they say, are increasingly a concern. On one stretch of path on Cadair Idris alone they have counted 102 cairns in less than a mile. 

Cairns - Snowdonia is littered with them!
© Dan Bailey

Visitors with a habit of placing stones in piles to mark their passage are impacting the environment through increased erosion, while cairn-scattered mountainsides are an aesthetic not to everyone's taste. But it is a safety issue too, since randomly placed piles of stones can easily mislead lost walkers.

Their take-home message is that historical cairns marking summits are OK, but new cairns elsewhere chucked together by passers-by simply have no place.

On Cadair Idris it has become such a problem that wardens are planning a day of cairn removal and reduction with the help of volunteers.

Cairns on the Ty Nant path, Cadair Idris  © Natural Resources Wales
Cairns on the Ty Nant path, Cadair Idris
© Natural Resources Wales

'As the cairns are built, stone by stone, the footpaths are eroding and the fragile landscape is being damaged' said Simon Roberts, senior warden for South Snowdonia.

'Footpaths widen and the cost of maintaining the footpaths increase[s]. But, even more dangerous, they can mislead walkers, especially in fog. Later this year, we will begin to rationalize the cairns, but in the meantime we are appealing to walkers to stop moving the stones on the mountains.'

Warden Myfyr Tomos added:

'On the Tŷ Nant footpath, within less than a mile between Rhiw Gwredydd and Bwlch y Cyfrwy, there are 102 cairns, and at the base of each cairn a very large hole where stones have been lifted from the path and adjacent land. Some of the stones are huge and the cairns are increasing every week. We need to ensure that future generations can enjoy walking the paths and mountains of Snowdonia and therefore reducing erosion by encouraging people not to move the stones, is a way of contributing to this.'

It's not just on Cadair Idris that DIY cairns are proliferating, said Paul Williams, Manager of the Cadair Idris Nature Reserve on behalf of Natural Resources Wales:

'Building cairns has been of great concern over a number of years the practice, by now, is totally unreasonable, creating scars on some of our most significant landscapes.'

'[It] damages fragile habitats such as the moorland in the uplands and the scree, together with the animals and the plants associated with them' he went on.

'The damage can also cause new footpaths which expands erosion on our mountains. There are plenty of examples of this on the slopes of the Glydeiriau, Cadair Idris and Snowdon. A cairn should only show the summit of a mountain where historical cairns are already there.'

  • NB. Cairns are seen as an issue by upland managers elsewhere in Britain too. There's an opinion piece by Lakeland National Trust rangers on this very subject here

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4 Feb, 2016
And over the years and recently there has been extensive cairn removal on Cairn Gorm (by SMC) and Ben Nevis (more recently, by John Muir Trust), in the interests of mountain safety as well as tidiness - on both those summits, cairns everywhere were exactly as useful as cairns nowhere.
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