Mountains are what makes Scotland. We all know this either as keen hill walkers or those of us that prefer our mountain scenes on our postcards or shortbread biscuit tins to send abroad at Christmas. As hill walking has become more popular thanks to the onset on ‘Munro bagging’ and a greater commitment to our own physical and mental wellbeing, Scotland’s mountains and the access footpaths to them, have become an issue of concern in the walking community.
Walking and the tourism industry
According to Scotland Natural Heritage,
“Walking is the most popular outdoor recreation pursuit among people in Scotland: it features as an activity in around 327 million visits to the outdoors each year (83% of all visits). Walking is also popular among tourists: more than 5 million walking trips are taken in Scotland each year.”
Furthermore, all this activity on the hills has become an important part of the national economy. Outdoor visits in Scotland, most of which involve walking or cycling, generate around £2.6bn in expenditure per annum, with an average spend per visit of £9 (including those who spend nothing). Hillwalking and mountain biking both make significant contributions to the Scottish economy with estimated annual expenditure in excess of £65mn for hillwalking and £75.5mn for mountain biking. by domestic tourists (GB residents). The expected spend to benefit ratio for investment in paths is 1:7, i.e. every £1 invested will deliver £7 of economic, health, environmental and social benefits.
VisitScotland estimates that the annual economic impact of walking tourism is £1.6bn.
An investment worth making
So, our mountains and access to them, are an important feature of our landscape both physically and economically. All these visitors pounding or strolling up the mountains have a detrimental effect on the paths. Access has to be maintained and paths need regular repair and updating. However, all this costs money and requires expertise. Erosion from walkers can damage fragile ecosystems in our upland peatlands, so this is also ecologically important as well as urgent work in well visited places.
The question who looks after our paths and who pays for their upkeep?
Well maintained paths channel walkers and bikers, reduce erosion on the hillside and make the hills safer. Good, well maintained and well signed paths give novice walkers the confidence to venture out of the car park and onto the hill side. Not everyone uses a map and compass where they should and given Scottish weather’s changeability, good mountain access makes the mountains safer for all.
A win-win solution
There are excellent examples of cooperative working by experts and volunteers to keep mountain footpaths in a state of good repair. ‘Fix the Fells’ in the Lake District offers an excellent model where a few experts can harness the enthusiasm and developing skills of volunteers to do some excellent repair and development work in the Lake District’s footpath network.
The use of volunteers doesn’t sit well with everyone. There are those who insist that this is real work and it should be done by a paid workforce. Scottish local authorities, who many would expect to undertake this work, have suffered well-reported cutbacks to funding. Mountain footpath maintenance does not feature highly on their ‘to-do’ list.
This ‘expert manager – volunteer worker’ model could work well in many places in Scotland and could potentially transform our mountain path network for the better and at the same time, develop the skills of young people to work in this important sector of Scotland’s economy. It’s not something that appeals to everyone but judging from last week’s turn out on Ben Vrackie and the response of the walkers going up the hill, it is needed and well appreciated by walkers who use our mountains.
The volunteers were or had been teachers, solicitors, mountain guides, oil industry workers. The list goes on. It is a great way of getting to meet people who share common interests whilst giving something back to our community at the same time.
If you are interested in this type of work on Ben Vrackie at Pitlochry then please contact Keith Grant, [email protected], for further details on how to get involved. Please mention Bylines Scotland when you contact Keith.