Thursday saw the launch of an ambitious new campaign that aims not only to raise money for path repairs on one of Scotland's best-known hills, but to begin a wider conversation around the need for investment to maintain upland trails, and about how this ought to be paid for.
It's Up to Us, a three-year campaign partnership between Mountaineeing Scotland and the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS) has earmarked the Dundonnell path on An Teallach for its first investment. An initial fundraising target of £300,000 will go towards redressing decades of erosion caused by the sheer number of walkers on the hill, and the extremes of highland weather.
We no longer have access to European funding, which provided significant support for path and habitat restoration projects in the past, with nothing from the government to replace it
An Teallach suffers from its own popularity, but while essential trail repairs will be very expensive, there is no source of Government funding available to meet the cost. This makes it a clear example, say the campaign, of the problem of path maintenance on privately owned land outside of Scotland's national parks or NGO estates, for which no central pot of money is provided.
Since Scotland lags far behind its neighbour to the south in the number of areas accorded National Park status, owners of the major part of the country's uplands effectively receive no financial help towards trail upkeep, a major disincentive to invest in the path infrastructure that walkers rely on, but may take for granted.
Mountaineering Scotland CEO, Stuart Younie, explained: "Scotland's informal hill and mountain path network plays a vital role in helping us to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of being active outdoors, which was never more evident than during the pandemic."
After 20 years of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, VisitScotland estimates that the annual economic impact of walking tourism is £1.6 billion, while anecdotally most hill-goers will have noted the increasing popularity of walking.
However all those people have an effect on the ground, and across Scotland the increasing footfall is taking a noticeable toll on hill paths and their surrounding habitats.
"Active tourism [...] makes a significant contribution to the Scottish economy and to local communities across the highlands" said Stuart Younie.
"We need to recognise the cumulative impact of recreational activity and extreme weather due to climate change on our landscape and do something positive to address it so it can continue to be enjoyed by future generations."
Outdoor enthusiasts, active tourism businesses and organisations that care about Scotland's hills are being encouraged to give something back by donating to the It's Up to Us fundraising appeal.
"The fundraising appeal will highlight how hillwalkers, mountaineers and conservationists can come together to solve path erosion problems on mountains on private land throughout Scotland" explained Dougie Baird, CEO of the OATS.
"[W]e no longer have access to European funding, which has provided significant support for path and habitat restoration projects in the past, with no funding from the government to replace it. It is vital to the success of the It's Up to Us campaign that we engage with Governments and all stakeholders to highlight the desperate need for investment in mountain paths, and a long-term sustainable model that gives all landowners access to funding for essential mountain path maintenance is developed."
It's Up to Us, which was launched at an evening reception at The Black Watch Castle and Museum in Perth on Thursday 25th May, will focus on engaging Government, stakeholder agencies and organisations, outdoor businesses, and all path users to ensure that essential funding for hill path repair and habitat restoration is recognised for its social, health and wellbeing, economic and environmental benefits.
Out of this, Mountaineering Scotland and OATS hope to develop a 'sustainable and long-term' funding model for hill path maintenance projects, to improve access to investment for landowners.
It's Up to Us has already been the beneficiary of the £100,000 60th Anniversary Diamond Grant Award from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust, and has gained the support of some well-known outdoor types and social media influencers.
Campaign ambassador Cameron McNeish, said: "It's Up to Us is such an important project for every person who loves walking on Scotland's hills and mountains. The original tracks and trails on our hills were never built to sustain the numbers that use them now, so it's up to all of us to pull together in every way we can and keep them well maintained."
- To find out more see here
- You an follow campaign news using the hashtags: #ItsUptoUs and #SaveMountainPaths