UDAT – metamorphosing into COAT

All of us have become familiar with UDAT, the Upper Deeside Access Trust. Over the years, it has attracted some criticism, but for most of us, by and large, it has done a very good job. By the time that you read this, it will have become the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust, basically expanding its remit to cover the whole park. The new trust was officially launched on the 25th April at the Loch Kinord Hotel in Dinnet, where the speakers included Anne Begg (MP), Edward Humphrey (landowner), Peter Ord (COAT Director) and Dougie Baird (COAT Manager).

In principle, current staff is being retained and the know-how and working methods of the old UDAT transferred to the new COAT.

It is an auspicious time for a change. Recently, the final audit on the £2.4 million Eastern Cairngorms Access Project was successfully completed. This project successfully leveraged local money to attract SNH and European money and carried out a huge amount of repair work. It is, undoubtedly, a project to be proud of and one to be built on.

As highlighted in the last newsletter, one legacy of all this repair work is the need to maintain the newly reconstructed paths. This work is rather less glamorous and correspondingly difficult to get funding for. However, it is essential if the newly repaired paths are to last and needs to be addressed.

One tradition from UDAT, which is being carried on to the new COAT, is the use of consultative workshops to prioritise which paths should be worked on. The last such workshop was on the 15th March at the Boat of Garten Community Hall. NEMT was well represented by Kenny Freeman, Kenny Ferguson, Ken Thomson and Donald Thomas.

The workshop (CUPPA: Cairngorms Upland Path Priorities Assessment) formed part of the process of assembling the needs for upland path repair work to be undertaken across the park. The starting point was a list of about 200 paths compiled from the SMC Munro and Corbett guidebooks along with a response to feedback on paths from various landowners and stakeholders within the park. Out of this initial list, 33 paths (see NEMT Web Journal for full list) had been selected for the workshop. After explaining repair and drainage techniques, including the colour of aggregate used on the paths, participants were divided into representative groups. Each group was given a number of paths to work with and asked to prioritise the amount and type of remedial work required.

Paths were graded into 5 categories; 1 being extreme damage, 2 severe damage, 3 moderate damage, 4 minor damage and 5 negligible damage.

NEMT very much supports the process in general. But, in this case, more information would have made the task more useful, particularly as some groups had more local knowledge than others. For example, it was not clear how the original list had been prioritised down to 33 paths. 2 – 3 photographs are really not enough to characterise a whole path. Many paths have varying requirements along their length and repair strategies need to be adjusted to the particular conditions of specific sections. Ideally, sufficient information needs to be provided to enable paths to be considered in sections.

A feeling that a number of delegates came away with was that there was a general presumption of repair being necessary. NEMT is of the opinion that we need to be careful not to over-repair paths. The Cairngorm National Park contains priceless wild land, which will be spoilt by over-engineered paths. In the words of one of the NEMT delegates, we need to avoid “creeping municipalisation” of this precious wild land. As a start, we need to seriously question any proposed repair of path categories 3 – 5.

There will always be discussion on particular sections of path, largely about the merits of repair versus the merits of leaving things as they are. Work on the Ladder at Lochnagar attracted a lot of criticism. However, one has only to think of the section below, down to the Landrover track to be acutely aware of how quickly, how bad untreated, over-used paths can become. Newly repaired paths can glaringly stand out, but, given time, will blend in.

Much of the discussion is subjective. At the end of the day, those with strong opinions should make sure that they attend the workshops such as the one on 15th March. Ideally, for future workshops, COAT will provide more detailed information and split paths into sections. We all know of paths urgently needing repair. Let’s make sure that the money is spent in the right places.

Ken Thomson has written to COAT on behalf of NEMT outlining our above points and this letter can be seen on NEMT’s Web Journal.

Dave Windle

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