March 2018 - footpath erosion, an ongoing problem

Lead ranger for the Brecon Beacons National Trust carrying tools in preparation for footpath repair work

Maintaining the 70km of footpaths in the central Brecon Beacons is an ongoing task and with visitor numbers more than doubled in the last five years, keeping on top of regular repairs is vital. Lead ranger Rob talks about what his team have been doing to tackle the demands on our mountains...

Lots of snow brings lots of feet

Over the winter my team of upland rangers and volunteers have not been able to see the paths in the central Brecon Beacons let alone carry out essential maintenance and repairs due to snow and frost.  However, the weather has not deterred the walkers which meant our dedicated volunteers have continued to go out and walk the paths in the snow to litter pick.  Now the snow is keeping to the higher ground and slopes and we are moving (hopefully) into a warmer spring, this has allowed our Meet & Greet volunteers to get out and about surveying our 120 archaeological sites.

These archaeological sites vary from remnants of boundary walls and a long house to a Second World War pill box.  Every few years these sites need to be checked for damage, recorded and photographed but the Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM) require more regular checks as these are considered of national importance.

Creating awareness

It is thanks to the recent TV coverage on our footpath maintenance work that our Lengths Persons and Meet & Greet volunteer groups have seen an increase in numbers.  This has allowed us to open up the Meet & Greet hut more often so we can talk to the vast numbers of visitors to the area.  Also with the increase in numbers for our Lengths Persons group the paths can receive more attention.

We are still in need of volunteers to help us combat the erosion and for general maintenance repairs, so if you would like to come and join our teams please get in touch via brecon@nationaltrust.org.uk

We couldn't do it without volunteers

We couldn't carry out the amount of repair work and footpath maintenance needed without the support from volunteer groups.  This year our upland conservation work began with the help of students from Strode College in Street, Somerset and our Thursday club volunteers based on the Skirrid near Abergavenny as they walked the Sugar Loaf carrying out a survey on the number of Red grouse in the area.  Unfortunately we didn't see any but we did find and record the location of plenty of droppings so we know they are around - somewhere.

With the increase in visitors we are finding some areas have become badly eroded with deep rutted scars due to the constant pressure from walkers and the weather.  With the help of Strode College once again we made a start on one such area that comes down from Craig Cwm Sere and joins up with the Cribyn contour path.  This will be an ongoing project using various volunteer groups as it requires a lot of digging and landscaping.

Deep erosion scars in the central Brecon Beacons prior to creating a defined footpath
Deep rutted scars on areas of the central Brecon Beacons, Wales
Deep erosion scars in the central Brecon Beacons prior to creating a defined footpath
Volunteers compacting the ground to create a defined footpath in the central Brecon Beacons
Strode College students walking a newly defined path to compact the ground in the central Brecon Beacons, Wales
Volunteers compacting the ground to create a defined footpath in the central Brecon Beacons

Thinking ahead...

You may have read in previous blogs that we hire a helicopter and pilot every year to airlift scalpings for essential footpath repairs.  The use of a helicopter helps to minimise the impact on the land and further erosion from all-terrain vehicles.  The helicopter for this year's airlift has been booked and 200 tonnes of stone gravel has been ordered.  It will be used for replenishing previous gravel spread on the middle section of the Pont ar Daf path which has worn away over the past six years.  This erosion has exposed the bare subsoil, which is very fragile, and has become very muddy and unstable to walk on.  As Pont ar Daf is the main access point to climb Pen y Fan and a very accessible route, we want to make sure we cater for all levels of walkers.

If you've been inspired by the work of Rob and the uplands team and want to find out more, come back next month for an update and a detailed look into our other areas of conservation.