UKC

Hill Path Campaign Makes Strides in First Year

© James Roddie

On its first anniversary It's Up to Us, the campaign to fund footpath work in the Scottish hills, is well on the way to meeting its initial £300k target. But this is just the start.

An Teallach, initial focus of the campaign  © James Roddie
An Teallach, initial focus of the campaign
© James Roddie

The campaign, launched late May 2023, aims not only to raise money for path repairs on one of Scotland's best-known hills, but to encourage a wider discussion around the need for investment to maintain upland trails, which contribute an enormous sum to the national economy, and about how this ought to be paid for.

Mountaineering Scotland and the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS), the organisations behind It's Up To Us, announced today that it has so far raised over £218,000 of the £300,000 target.

The initial stage of the campaign is focused on repairing 3.2km of badly eroded path on An Teallach, one of Scotland's greatest mountains, where the well-trodden route from Dundonnell has become a victim of its own popularity. Damage from footfall, exacerbated by rainwater runoff, has carved the ground on much of this route into deep scars and trenches, a problem we witnessed first hand last year when we joined Mountaineering Scotland's CEO Stuart Younie on An Teallach:

Erosion is not just an unsightly mess on scores of hill paths across Scotland, and an inconvenience to walkers, but it affects fragile upland habitats as vegetation is trampled, peat and soil washed out, and trails spread ever-wider.

It's carnage in the upper corrie  © Dan Bailey
It's carnage in the upper corrie
© Dan Bailey

Since Scotland lacks an overall national mechanism for funding trail upkeep, in most of the country that falls outside the two National Parks, estates run by conservation organisations, and occasional benevolent private owners, arrangements for maintaining paths and paying for that work range from ad hoc to non-existent.

The longer term aim of It's Up to Us is to encourage the outdoor community - bikers, climbers and mountaineers as much as walkers - to view hill paths as a shared resource, and to model an informal user-pays system that might eventually be rolled out beyond the initial focus area on An Teallach.

"It is important that this is not seen as a tax on access" Stuart Younie told us last year: "We recognise that during a cost of living crisis the idea of donating to a footpath appeal may be a hard sell. But though it is free to each of us, our access does come at a cost."

On the ground on An Teallach, path contractors from Cairngorm Wilderness Contracts have now completed 340m of path building and maintenance work, having started last autumn. This work has been funded by the campaign, and is supported by a team of path maintenance volunteers.

CEO of the Outdoor Access Trust Scotland, Dougie Baird, said: "It has been an encouraging start to the It's Up To Us fundraising campaign, with a great response from charitable trusts in particular. We are hugely grateful for all our individual public donors and will be encouraging other hill users to follow their fine example in the coming year to help fix the badly eroded path on this iconic mountain."

Julian Digby, Founder of Cairngorm Wilderness Contracts at work on An Teallach  © James Roddie
Julian Digby, Founder of Cairngorm Wilderness Contracts at work on An Teallach
© James Roddie

The three-year campaign, supported by Cotswold Outdoor, has to date received donations from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust, European Outdoor Conservation Association, and other charitable trusts totalling £154,858. A major private donor gave £25,000, while the general public have so far contributed £24,996. Donations from commercial sources (£7,550) and mountaineering and hillwalking clubs (£5,900) make up the remaining total.

As the campaign enters its second year, Mountaineering Scotland and OATS are issuing a further appeal to all hill path users, outdoor and conservation businesses, organisations, and charities who care deeply about the conservation of the hills they use to support the campaign, and help reach the £300,000 required to complete the An Teallach project.

Volunteers on An Teallach  © Brodie Hood
Volunteers on An Teallach
© Brodie Hood

The campaign is also calling on Government to help develop a sustainable funding model for building and maintenance work across Scotland's upland path network to ensure it is kept fit for purpose for future generations. Walking tourism is estimated to be worth around £1.6 billion per year to the Scottish economy. A recent Upland Paths Audit suggested £30m is required for building and restoring over 400km of the path network, and at least £400,000 annually for maintenance.

However there is no government funding for path work on the 83% of trails in Scotland that are on privately owned land outwith the two national parks, and NGO estates. Post-Brexit, EU funding that was previously accessible to private landowners has been lost and not replaced.

Stuart Younie added: "We are very grateful for all the support we have received and are well on our way to reaching our target but there is still a lot more to do to deliver our ambition of establishing a sustainable funding model to support the maintenance and upkeep of our mountain paths. An Teallach is one of many mountains in Scotland that needs our support and it's up to all of us to do something about it."

To find out more visit: www.savemountainpaths.scot and follow the latest campaign news using the hashtags #ItsUptoUs and #SaveMountainPaths


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