20 years of Fixing the Fells

A ranger fixing eroded paths on Catbells above Derwent Water in the Lake District

August marks the 20th anniversary of Fix the Fells, the organisation set up to protect the landscape and wildlife in the Lake District mountains. Nearly £10 million has been spent on repairing damage to hundreds of paths and erosion to mountain areas, removing unsightly scars and protecting the Lake District’s much-loved scenery and habitats. However, with higher visitor numbers and extreme weather speeding up erosion, Fix the Fells work is needed more than ever.

Twenty years ago, unsightly scars caused by countryside users and rainfall plagued the Lake District landscape, in some instances creating gullies measuring 30 metres wide and four metres deep.

Recognising that something had to be done, several Lake District organisations got together to seek funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The bid was successful and led to the formation of Fix the Fells in 2001.

Since then, nearly £10 million has been spent on repairing hundreds of paths and erosion scars all across the Lakes to protect the much-loved scenery and precious wildlife.

Erosion at Brown Tongue, Scafell Pike in 1989 and after repair in 2018
Image showing erosion on Brown Tongue, Scafell Pike before and after repair
Erosion at Brown Tongue, Scafell Pike in 1989 and after repair in 2018

Over the last 18 months, as a result of the pandemic and more people holidaying at home and visiting and enjoying the Lake District, erosion levels have increased, with the work done by Fix the Fells needed now more than ever.  

With £500,000 spent in a typical year on repairs, and with every metre of path costing £150 to create, Fix the Fells needs donations to help repair paths damaged in the last 18 months, as well as fundraising for on-going maintenance and repairs. 

Fix the Fells Programme Manager Joanne Backshall says: “It’s hard to imagine how some of the fells would look today if we hadn’t been able to start protecting this very special area of Britain.

“Some of the biggest challenges we’ve tackled over the past 20 years include the popular paths in the Langdale and Wasdale valleys, as well as the many mountains around Coniston, Grasmere and Keswick, which are all showing signs of increased use and resulting wear and tear since the pandemic began.

" Even over the last two decades we’ve started to see the impact of climate change.  Heavy rain can damage the landscape by washing away large quantities of bare soil and stone and depositing it in rivers and lakes below. "
- Joanne Backshall, Fix the Fells Programme Manager

“Combined with the human impact of thousands of feet tackling the hundreds of miles of paths across the Lake District, we need support more than ever to keep on top of the amount of repairs required on the upland paths.”

“Excessive erosion to popular walking routes doesn’t just leave a visual impact on the landscape it also affects wildlife.Once vegetation is lost through erosion, soil and stone can quickly wash off the hillside. This general loss of habitat and degradation can affect rare mountain plants and animals already at risk and living at the very edge of their range.

“Degradation also has a harmful impact on the rivers and lakes below. Sediment washed off the hillside can cover the gravel in rivers and lakes used by fish to lay their eggs, reducing their breeding habitat. Sediment will also impact plants and insect numbers, which in turn will attract less birds.”

Erosion at Coledale Hause, Keswick before repair in 2005
Image showing path erosion at Coledale Hause, Lake District
Erosion at Coledale Hause, Keswick before repair in 2005

Joanne concluded: “We’re so grateful to all the donations we receive each year to help with our work.

“We want to raise awareness of the issues we are facing and encourage everyone to play their part in helping us protect these wonderful landscapes.

“Hopefully more people will now appreciate all the work that goes into maintaining paths across our precious landscape. They can help us look after this special place by sticking to the paths and donating to our essential erosion repair work.”

Fix the Fells is a partnership programme between the National Trust, the Lake District National Park, Natural England, Lake District Foundation and Friends of the Lake District that has looked after and repaired upland paths in the area for 20 years to help protect the landscape and wildlife.