News Roundup

Ben Wyvis Path Survey

Last summer, volunteers conducted a survey of walkers using the summit plateau of Ben Wyvis. The plateau is an internationally important habitat and there is a legal requirement to conserve it. The mossy ridge is the largest habitat of its kind in the UK and supports over 170 plant species but is easily damaged by trampling. As a result, wide eroded 'paths' have developed where the moss has died. The survey, organised by MCoS on behalf of SNH, aimed to study walkers' route choices through observation and interviews in order to inform decisions about footpath restoration on the plateau. The survey showed that most walkers interviewed chose their route by following guidebooks, by taking a direct line or by following the most obvious route. Less than three-quarters were aware of the erosion in good visibility and a similar proportion followed the centre of the erosion line. Avoiding further erosion was the most common reason for following the centre of the erosion line and comfort the main reason for taking other lines. A short section of the eroded route has had loose stones pushed to the edges. All those interviewed said they would follow the centre line if the rest of the route was treated that way. The survey results are likely to form the basis of a pilot project.

Peat Bog Restoration Cuts Greenhouse Gases

Peat bogs cover some 2 million hectares of the Scottish landscape and it is becoming increasingly clear that they could play a crucial part in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has calculated that Scottish bogs contain more than three billion tonnes of carbon. Damaged peat bogs will release carbon into the atmosphere as they dry out and are also more likely to release methane, another greenhouse gas, than healthy bogs. Damage most commonly occurs as a result of drainage activities and the consequent drying out of bogs, which makes them more susceptible to further damage and gas release in hot dry spells and in heavy rainfall. So restoration of damaged bogs can make a substantial contribution to the achieving of Scottish and UK carbon reduction targets.

IUCN has calculated that an investment of between £60 and £120 million in peatland restoration over the next six years could yield annual carbon savings of over 2.4 million tonnes. Conversely, carbon savings from windfarm developments can be undermined or negated as their development causes damage to large areas of peatland, according to the RSPB, who are pressing the Scottish government to provide a strong focus for peatland restoration.

Camping Ban on Bonny Banks?

At the beginning of February, the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority launched a twelve-week consultation on its proposal to introduce a byelaw banning camping except on designated camp sites on the east bank of Loch Lomond in an area covering some nine square miles which include such popular sites as Rowardennan, Sallochy Bay, Milarrochy and Balmaha. If the byelaw is introduced, anyone camping outwith the approved sites will be face a fine of up to £500. The Park Authority has taken this step in an attempt to tackle problems of drunkenness, vandalism and criminal damage caused by some of the large numbers of visitors who flock to the area in summer. Fiona Logan, Chief Executive for the National Park, explained the reasoning behind the consultation:

"This is undoubtedly some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland and some of the most well known unfortunately, if you take a closer look on a busy summer weekend, you'll find the remains of tents, burnt down trees, abandoned campfires and countless bags of rubbish Most of the issues we face are related to informal camping and we have to look at taking action before the environment so many people enjoy is destroyed forever."

If the proposal goes ahead, it will be the first time that a provision to use a byelaw under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to ban wild camping will have been implemented. Access groups are generally sympathetic to this particular suggestion but Ramblers Scotland director Dave Morris, while supporting the Park Authority in this instance, has warned against any attempt to introduce more general restrictions on wild camping. The proposed byelaw could be implemented by April 2011.

How Healthy Are Our Munros?

Members of the Munro Society last year completed an assessment of the environmental status of all 283 Munros. The assessment was based on 574 criteria including access to the mountain, flora and fauna, drainage of the mountain, human influence, degree of wildness and mountaineers' responses to their day on the hill. Mountains were divided into four categories, with category one giving most environmental cause for concern. Only Cam Aosda in Glenshee came into this category. However, 13% of hills fell into category two, including Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond. 72% were rated category three while the 12% in the most environmentally healthy category four mostly lay north-west of the Great Glen and included Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr nan Gillean, Ben More Assynt and Braeriach. Issues noted included path erosion and restoration, forestry plantations, over-grazing, hydro-electric schemes, features linked to downhill skiing, windfarms, pylons, land management issues and unsightly bulldozed tracks replacing discrete stalkers' paths. The Society says that the work has already provided a unique and important database of the environmental conditions on the Scottish mountains early in the 21st century. It believes that this will be of great value as increasing pressures are exerted on upland areas, affecting, for instance, wildlife habitats, carbon storage, and the economic value to be derived from tourism. The Society plans to continue the survey over the next 5 years and hopes to greatly expand the database. Further details can be found on the Society's website,

Dogs and Livestock

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has issued a reminder to people walking their dogs within the Park about the importance of keeping the animals on a lead or under close control during the lambing season to avoid sheep or lambs being injured by uncontrolled dogs at this economically vital time for farmers and crofters. Said CNPA Outdoor Access Officer Justin Prigmore "Dog owners should ensure that their dogs avoid chasing sheep, but equally that their actions do not separate lambs from their mothers as this results in the lamb becoming very vulnerable. Our advice is to avoid going into fields with farm animals. If this can't be avoided, ensure that your dog is kept close at heel in areas where there could be young farm animals." Strathspey farmer and CNPA board member Alastair MacLennan added: "Some of the advice in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is aimed at the safety of walkers and their dogs - for example, cattle can be unpredictable around dogs and can react very aggressively. If you find yourself in this situation, you should keep calm, let your dog go if it is on a lead and take the shortest route to safety." Needless to say, this advice applies equally to livestock outside the National Park boundaries.

JMT's Best Friend Gets GPS

The John Muir Trust has fitted collars with global positioning systems on two dogs in a trial project to see whether this can help its rangers to monitor the location and movements of bird. Ally Macaskill, the Trust's wild land ranger for Schiehallion and Glen Nevis, has two German shorthaired pointers, Max and Gus, who sniff out the birds, then stand still - on point - long enough for him to get up to them, aided by the data from the dogs' GPS collars, and investigate what they have spotted. Commented Mr Macaskill : "I've been very impressed with these GPS collars. They indicate whether the dogs are on the move or on point. When they get on point, the collars mean I can get there quickly, with more chance of seeing what the dogs have found."

Will Campbell, 31 March 2010

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