Fixing the Fells

People walking at Great Langdale, Cumbria

People walking at Great Langdale, Cumbria

Restoring and maintaining footpaths in the Lake District
The Lake District

If you’ve taken a walk in the rugged mountains of the Lake District, have you ever stopped to think about the footpaths under your feet?

Restoring and maintaining the network of footpaths that climb to over 3,000 feet is a tough challenge. It takes the dedication of staff and hundreds of volunteers from the 'Fixing the Fells' footpath teams, often working in extreme weather conditions on the side of a mountain, to give the footpaths some TLC.

Over 160 upland footpaths have been repaired since 2002, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the support of partner organisations and of course the commitment and enthusiasm of the footpath teams.

But the work doesn’t end there. The sheer number of visitors using the footpaths means there is a constant supply of repair work to do and there are a further 60 severely eroded footpaths in need of attention.

The Fix the Fells project aims to tackle these by 2011, allowing visitors to continue to enjoy the natural beauty of the fells for years to come.

Meet the Fixers!

We have four Upland Ranger teams that work across the Lakeland fells - made up of staff and assisted by volunteers and contractors.

So what does it take to repair a badly eroded footpath, high on a windswept mountain, in diverse weather conditions?

There is no denying that the work is tough. But volunteers speak of feeling a real sense of achievement and satisfaction, of giving something back to a landscape they love and respect, and of working alongside like-minded people in a friendly and enjoyable environment.

For nine months of the year from March to November, the teams work full time in the mountains, repairing footpaths by hand. In the winter, the teams move down the valleys and work on fencing, walling, hedge-laying and planting trees.

What are the essential requirements of a fell fixer?

  • Stamina – it’s often a long walk to work from the car park, carrying tools up a hillside
  • Endurance – the fixers often do a week’s work in four days to make up for the time lost when walking to a site
  • Strength – each bag of stones weighs a tonne, and a lot of bags are needed to repair a path
  • A good memory – if you forget your lunch, you can’t nip out to a local shop
  • An artistic eye – landscaping is a crucial part of any successful repair job
  • Communication skills – there may be hundreds of curious walkers passing every day, or you might not see a soul all day and have to entertain your team

You can find out more about what it's like being a Fell Fixer on the Fix the Fells website, by reading their blog or by following them on Twitter (@NTCentralFells).

For our volunteers, fixing the fells is a chance to try something different and rewarding in a spectacular mountainous setting, whilst contributing to the future of the fells for years to come.

If you are interested in volunteering or want to find out more, visit the Fix the Fells website.

The erosion problem
In some areas of the Lake District the footpaths have been eroded so badly that they have become deep, wide trenches, creating scars on the landscape and a challenge for walkers.

The problem has stemmed from the popularity of walking in the Lake District, which has increased over the last 50 years, combined with improvements in all-weather gear, which have made the high fells accessible all year round.

The millions of pounding feet from the 10 million walkers each year have taken their toll on the fragile Lakeland landscape and over time grass has been compacted and worn away.

Rain has washed the eroded soil into the steep mountain streams which carry it into the lakes below, causing the lakes to silt up and aquatic wildlife to be damaged.

One extreme case has been on the popular peak of Skiddaw, where the Jenkins Hill path had been eroded so badly that it was as wide as a motorway carriage and growing at 2 meters a year with thousands of tonnes of soil washed into the River Derwent and Bassenthwaite.

This footpath and many others have now been repaired, thanks to the Fix the Fells project.

Fix the Fells – the solution
In the 1960s, when footpath erosion was first noticed on a large scale, it was thought that nature would heal itself. But as the Lakeland footpaths became deep scars on the landscape, it became apparent that nature could not keep up with the scale of human wear and tear. It is clear that action was and still is needed.

The Fix the Fells project was set up in 2001 with the aim of repairing the most severely eroded upland paths. The project is funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and relies on the dedication and enthusiasm of staff and volunteers to undertake this important and highly skilled area of work.

In the previous decade, the National Trust, The National Park Authority and Natural England formed the Access Management Group (AMG) which undertook a survey of footpaths to highlight the scale of the erosion problem.

The AMG researched the different techniques for repairing mountain footpaths and published a manual: repairing upland path erosion. A set of ground breaking guiding principals was written by the AMG and adopted by government.

The footpath erosion problem in the Lake District was finally on the map and action to start rectifying the problems could begin. The results are the miles of restored footpaths that visitors can enjoy today and for many years to come.

Footpath facts

  • A 'fell' is Old Norse language for 'mountain' and is commonly associated with mountains and hills in the Lake District and the Pennines in the north of England
  • 160 upland footpaths have been repaired by the Fix the Fells project since 2001, with a further 60 in need of restoration by 2011
  • Fix the Fells is a partnership project led by the National Trust, The Lake District National Park and Natural England with support from Friends of the Lake District, The Tourism and Conservation Partnership, the Field Studies Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • The project would not be possible without the dedication and enthusiasm of hundreds of dedicated volunteers who give up their time to help protect the beautiful Lakeland landscape for the future