WELL-HEELED mountaineers are being told they should pay up to help fix the major erosion scars caused by their boots battering paths on Scotland’s mountains.

The organisations behind a new campaign to raise cash to get mountain paths fixed insist they want to maintain the long-held principle that access should remain free for all – but say those who can, should “give the hill a few quid”.

And the campaign has won the backing of Scotland’s top mountaineering broadcaster and writer, Cameron McNeish.

Munro baggers, winter climbers, and others are causing serious damage to fragile upland environments. Their walking, often on informal tracks, wears down and breaks through the vegetation in moorland and alpine areas.

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Once that happens, water can get in and erode the thin soils below. In some places, as people try to dodge mudbaths created by earlier boots, paths spread across several metres of hillside, leaving scars visible for miles. Paths can also become deep trenches, in wet weather channelling powerful streams of water to wash away more soil.

Interest has soared in recent decades in climbing or “bagging” all 282 Munros – Scottish mountains over 3000ft (914m). The number who have completed all the Munros has grown ten-fold, to 7000, in the past 30 years, and thousands more are following. Some of the most serious damage is happening on these hills.

Post-Covid, interest in hill-walking has intensified further.

Properly built paths can avoid this kind of damage and allow battered areas to recover, but they cost an average of £90 a metre to create and require ongoing maintenance.

On Thursday, the national representative organisation Mountaineering Scotland (MS) will launch a campaign with path-building charity the Outdoor Access Trust For Scotland (Oats) to raise awareness of the problem, and to persuade outdoor enthusiasts they should help pay to put it right.

The National:

The Oats chief executive, Dougie Baird, said: “Hill-walking is generally a … pursuit of folk who are reasonably moneyed, and [given] what people are prepared to pay for a jacket or a rucksack, I would imagine a keen hill-goer or mountaineer is probably wearing a couple of grand on his back, with a £30 grand car in the car park.

“What we’re really saying to them is there’s no public money, there’s no tax dollar going in to help manage [paths] so it’s really down to us and if we can afford it we should be prepared to give the hill a few quid.”

MS chief executive Stuart Younie (above left, with Baird) said: “I think we need to be careful that we’re not paying for access, that’s very, very important.

“What we’ll be asking for is people to make a contribution to help us restore some of the damage that we’re seeing here, that’s been done because of the cumulative impact of people in the hills – because if we don’t do it, no-one else is going to do it.”

Oats has carried out £5.6m worth of path building and repair across Scotland’s two national parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, in recent years. That was funded almost entirely by grants, including from Government agency and the National Lottery. Charities such as the National Trust for Scotland carry out extensive repair work on their estates.

But perhaps half the country’s busy mountain paths lie on private estates, where there are no partners for the charity to raise cash with, and owners often see no reason to fix access paths.

The organisations say there is no regular flow of money from either the Scottish or UK Governments for mountain paths on private ground, and problem has been worsened by the ending of EU funding for path building. 

Getting path users to help with these paths is now the target for the two organisations’ “It’s Up To Us” campaign.

The National:

It will initially focus on raising £200,000 over the next three years for repair work on paths up the dramatic double-Munro ridge of An Teallach, which towers above Loch Broom in the North-West Highlands (shown above).

The cash will be added to a £100,000 grant from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust for work on the privately owned mountain.

The campaign will push the need for investment in upland path repair, the contribution paths make to health and wellbeing, and the value of walking tourism to the Scottish economy. Walking tourism contributes an estimated £1.6 billion to Scotland’s economy.

It will also lobby Government, other organisations, businesses, and path users to develop a long-term sustainable funding model to boost investment in upland paths, especially those on privately owned land.

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.”