Signing Away the Hills

The signs on Bennachie, along with what some people consider to be over-engineered paths, are obviously here to stay. However, as reported in the last Mountain Wews, the Forestry Commission, one of the partners responsible for the work, is considering relocating the sign which sits right on the summit ridge of the Oxen Craig. This can be seen from the Mither Tap. NEMT has approached the Commission to add its support to any moves to place it in a less visually intrusive spot and is awaiting a response.

The Commission does not have an overall policy about signage, other than use of well known green signs at main access points and car parks. Use of signs is left to more local decision makers. NEMT has suggested to the Commission nationally that, whilst signs at path junctions in wooded areas are usually not intrusive and can be very helpful, signs should not be erected in open land, particularly in wilder areas where they lead to the urbanisation of the landscape. A reply is awaited. It is hoped that the Commission may adopted a policy to that effect.

Debates about the use of signs are likely to continue. Readers of Mountain Wews will be well aware that there is a lobby in Scotland for the introduction of signs in the hills, particularly in more popular areas. This lobby has the support of some tourist agencies and outdoor commercial interests. Supporters point to the marking of paths in Europe and elsewhere. NEMT's position is that the introduction of signs and other waymarks would erode the "feel of remoteness" in our hills and would be inappropriate in Scotland. Putting aside the unprovable arguments as to whether an increased use of signs would enhance or reduce safety, we have a long tradition of assuming that the hills can be a risky environment. For this reason, people who want to venture into them should first learn the skills needed to reduce those risks rather than pursuing a policy of trying to make the hills themselves safer. In addition, the chances of getting lost have reduced in recent years with the introduction of very good guidebooks, GPSs and the upkeep of the more popular paths.

George Allan, NEMT Council

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