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:
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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