Countryside conservation on a whole new level
It takes some serious kit to look after the uplands of the Central Brecon Beacons. Our rangers and volunteers have been busy with their annual task of air-lifting scalpings to protect footpaths – with a little help from a helicopter and from Trust members and supporters.
National Trust Wales looks after eight-and-a-half thousand acres of land in the Central Beacons, which is hundreds of miles of footpaths for lead ranger Rob Reith and his team of staff and volunteers to maintain, work which is funded by membership and donations.
This summer Rob and his team are resurfacing the main footpath leading up to Corn Du. Last year the area's footpaths were used by an estimated 300,000 visitors. To combat this wear on the path surface, around 160 tonnes of fresh sandstone scalpings are transported by helicopter onto the existing footpath.
Rob says: "The aim is to mitigate erosion on the paths. This happens when you have a huge amount of footfall on them. As the paths get rougher people start to walk on the grass beside the path and then that extends the erosion to a larger area of the mountain.
"The idea of dropping the scalpings is to soften the paths to encourage people to use them so that we can limit the erosion to one area on each section of the mountain. We’d like to get everybody using paths without having to use signs or railings."
Fine art and co-ordination
The helicopter is hired and flown by a professional. Rob and the pilot have been working together for 20 years and have the job down to a fine art, dropping a container of scalpings every three minutes over the course of a few days. The work requires co-ordination on the ground too and this year Rob has been helped by rangers Huw Barell and Kate Jones and volunteer Lewis Robertson, who have the task of hitching and un-hitching the skip-load of scalpings while the helicopter hovers above the ground.
Rob says: “When you hire a helicopter it’s time and money. This job alone has cost the National Trust £18,000. It hasn’t been given any grant money to complete this, it’s paid for by contributions from National Trust members.”
Rob has been a ranger for National Trust Wales since 1986. Footpath maintenance is just one aspect of his job but it is a big one, essential for the uplands environment and visitor enjoyment, and it’s not without challenges. Rob says: “There is a lot more to this job than meets the eye.”
For more about the footpath work by our Brecons team see https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brecon-beacons