The Upper Deeside Access Trust

UDAT held its first annual general meeting on 20th May 1999. The formal business of the meeting was over in minutes, with the adoption of the annual report and (shadow) accounts and the re-appointment of the directors (Sir Russell Hillhouse, Peter Ord, Ron MacDonald and Stewart Fulton) and auditors. The fifth director is an elected member of Aberdeenshire Council not appointed at the time of the meeting. Initial funding has come from the partners (Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Grampian Enterprise, Cairngorms Partnership and Balmoral Estate). The Trust has also secured funding from European funds until 2001. Sources of funding beyond that need to be established for planned activities to be carried out.

The wider affiliate membership drawn from local interest groups that include NEMT, MBA and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland had been invited to the meeting. Project officer, Andrew Coleman introduced the work that UDAT has already completed. A low level network of 68km of paths and cycle routes has been waymarked in the Braemar area and described in a guide that is being sold locally through tourist outlets. 1.5km of new path have been built to complete a link to the north of Creag Choinnich. A similar network around Ballater is in development, with repairs on Craigendarroch Hill. The other major project has been the first phase of the Glas Allt path on Lochnagar.

Discussion turned to future work. UDAT identifies four areas of work:

Mountain path repair and maintenance
Phase 2 of the Glas Allt path is now under way and work is being planned on Creag Choinnich, Morrone and the Dubh Loch path. A strategic assessment of the area will be carried out to decide on other areas to target. Areas proposed at the meeting were Mount Keen and the Snecht.
The UDAT area extends from Dinnet and Mount Keen in the east to Braeriach and Cairn Toul in the west and from Glas Maol to Ben Avon. This includes some of the highest ground in Scotland. Footpath techniques for these areas are still evolving but are labour intensive and can be expensive. The Trust is exploring how to get the best value for money and is conscious of the fact that this is not the same thing as the cheapest option.
Low-level path networks
These play a significant part in many people's enjoyment of the area. The completed work has been very well received. Areas to be considered for further development include Muir of Dinnet and Glen Gairn.
Visitor information and education
There was high praise for the Braemar guide. Co-operation with the tourist board was felt to be beneficial, even if availability was not yet optimal. A second guide for the Ballater area is awaited. There was debate on the multitude of interests that could be incorporated into these or additional publications. In particular, the needs of less able individuals should be included. The degree of signing on high level paths was also discussed.
Traffic management
UDAT plans to consult on measures that could be introduced. The areas likely to be tackled first are Glen Muick and the Linn of Dee. There was little enthusiasm for further consultation without evidence of action resulting from the previous exercises.

All in all UDAT appears to be a worthwhile forum for producing appropriate change in upper Deeside. The group appears to have the support of locals in Braemar and Ballater. Within their first year of operation they have been seen to produce changes with waymarking, path construction and a first guide. They seem to be taking a wide view of problems and are involving local and visiting interests.

The upland pathwork industry is relatively young and techniques are still being developed. UDAT is well placed to play a part in their evaluation. However great care is required if particularly sensitive areas, such as high plateaux, are used as a testing ground. Value for money is intimately related to funding in the path industry. Path construction in remote or sensitive areas is likely to be labour intensive and costly. The cheapest job today is not necessarily the best use of funds. Where work is required, the most appropriate job may cause less damage in construction or last for longer but may be more expensive. Techniques should be chosen that are appropriate to the surroundings in terms of the type of path constructed and the methods of construction (hand or mechanical). While most are sensitive to the environment, contractors require to work to earn a living.

It is worth asking how little can be done to the path network. The undeveloped, remoter areas are fundamental to many people's enjoyment of Deeside. While areas of erosion may need attention, engineered paths should not be constructed to the summit of all (?any) hills. Erosion is a natural process and occurs away from path lines under the influence of water, wind, frost and grazing.

At present what public funding is available, is limited to major capital projects. Grants usually come with the requirement that the path provider maintains the path for something like ten years. SNH make it clear that no funding is available (under current rules) for this maintenance. It would be cheaper to fund path maintenance than to wait until re-building is necessary. This position may change. Future sources of funding for footpath maintenance will inevitably include the recreational user. Visitors should be encouraged to put money into the local economy where they derive their recreation. The provision of parking and shelter are obvious routes. It should be possible for visitors to buy food locally rather than be "all sufficient". It is encouraging that local businesses are involved in UDAT. The level of any specific charges (car parking or a bed tax) needs to be in keeping with the service provided and it should be clear that the money is being returned to the area in an appropriate manner.

If we are to continue to enjoy the countryside, we need to be involved in repairing the damage that we play a part in causing (however small).

Comments on past and future work are welcomed by UDAT (1 Bridge Street, Tarland, Aboyne, AB34 4YN). Readers are also invited to debate the issue in Mountain Views..
Donald Thomas, September 1999

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