02 Jun Major conservation project celebrated in Scotland’s National Parks
Chef Executives from across Scotland’s Rural Affairs, Environment and Forestry departments came together today to celebrate the achievements of The Mountains and the People, a five-year £6.5M conservation project taking place across both the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and Cairngorm National Parks.
The project has two overarching aims. The first is to restore and upgrade 125km of existing upland paths across Scotland’s two national parks through a series of path restoration projects. The second is an on-going community engagement programme designed to encourage the public to help manage and maintain paths in the future.
The five-year scheme will seek to reduce the impact of human activity on the mountains whilst encouraging the public to have a pro-active, engaged relationship in mountain maintenance, and to be hands-on in enhancing and protecting the wild and special qualities of the areas.
Repairing the mountains
Areas that have been affected by path ‘braiding’ – the broadening of paths up and down mountains, are typical of routes that are easily accessible. In popular areas within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, such as those taking walkers up Ben Ann and Ben Lomond, paths have become as wide as 40 meters as a result of large numbers of walkers each year using just a little bit more of the path each trip.
The negative impact of path braiding on the park ecology and mountain drainage systems can be substantial. Both National Parks are home to stunning wildlife, flora and fauna, much of which is protected, that are vulnerable to damage as a result of human activity.
The Mountains and the People ‘Upland Path Programme’ hopes that by re-laying paths, replanting turf, and diverting mountain users away from man-made ‘short-cuts’, natural habitats and highland vegetation will be restored. In its first year, three paths will be restored in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and a further five in the Cairngorm National Park.
The Mountains and the People project also aims to encourage enthusiasts to become directly involved in the long-term conversation of the Park’s mountain paths. Through various educational, training, and awareness initiatives, the project aims to activate the sense of community and personal responsibility in those who use the mountains have and direct it into positive action, which will help protect vulnerable Park areas in the future.
There are a number of planned initiatives which the project will run throughout the year, including: vocational training courses for young people in accredited path building; a conversation volunteer programme which will recruit and train people from urban areas who will undertake weekend support work; the Adopt a Path Programme which will see volunteers monitor path conditions to avoid problems going undetected; an educational programme for schools and colleges led by Park Rangers; and a Visitor Information Programme which will raise awareness of key conservation issues amongst members of the public visiting the Park.
Tom Wallace, activity programme manager for The Mountain and the People said: “It’s natural for mountain users to seek out the easiest way between two points, we’re all guilty of it. Unfortunately, it means paths widen over time and the surrounding areas can become damaged. By restoring the paths, encouraging public involvement and raising awareness of the issues, we’re very optimistic this project will be successful.
“We’ve trialled similar, albeit smaller scale restoration projects on various paths across Scotland in the past. A lot of walkers and mountain bikers have commented on the big difference the upgrades have made, and I’m confident that The Mountains and the People project will achieve the same sort of sentiment.”
Gordon Watson, CEO of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park said: “We are hopeful that the Mountains and the People will result in more people visiting Scotland’s national parks and enjoying the spectacular mountains and scenery. The improved level of access that the upgraded paths will offer the public will make for easier and safer walking. We’re within an hour’s drive of 50% of Scotland’s population and have a central role to play in helping people to stay active and enjoy the many benefits that life in the outdoors offers.
“Like a number of the other projects we’re involved with, education plays a central role. The more that we can do to help the public learn about the Park, conversation work, and the importance of taking responsibility for your surroundings, the better.”
The project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Park Authorities, the Forestry Commission, and Scottish Natural Heritage.