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What is 'Fix the Fells'

Fix the Fells Logo'Fix the Fells' was set up in 2002 as part of the Upland Path Landscape Restoration Project.  Initially 180 paths were identified in need of repair as a result of a survey of the whole Lake District National Park.  In 1999 it was estimated that it would cost about £5 million to repair the paths first identified.  As a result of these investigations the 'Fix the Fells' project was instigated to raise the public profile and concerns about footpath erosion and to raise much needed funds from fellwalkers and other organisations.  The end of this article includes a case study and simple ways in which all of us can help reduce erosion when out on the fells.

Personal reflections

Fr Jordan Pearson finds it hard going in 1987As a child walking in Lakeland in the 1980s, I remember some of the large erosion scars on fells such as Skiddaw and Dollywagon Pike to mention two.  The one on Skiddaw I remember, could be seen from every other Lakeland fell I ascended which had a view of the southern flank of the mountain. The photo here shows Jordan Pearson, the brother of the RC Bishop of Cumbria at the time, descending Dollywagon in 1987 and shows the wide erosion scar so difficult for him to descend.  With the resurgence in interest with fellwalking, particularly after the formation of the Wainwright Society in 2002 and the popular Wainwright Walks series on BBC with Julia Bradbury, there is an ever increasing need for these upland environments to be cared for as the popularity of The Lake District continues to grow.

Path erosion in the Lake District

Such erosion can be defined as a loss of vegetation and soil structure due to the concentrated pressure of people.  Certainly it's not a new thing and even in 1819 there were documented cases of people complaining about Lakeland routes.

Today it is estimated that 12 million people a year visit the Lake District and of those, 10 million take to the paths of the National Park.  With so many feet, once narrow and grassy paths have become wide scars visible from miles away as already mentioned in the case of Skiddaw.  Of course, erosion scars are not only visually displeasing, but close at hand they are difficult and unpleasant to walk on (as Fr. Pearson shows above) and can lead to habitat loss and in some instances the loss of heritage, archaeological and natural history qualities of the area.

Tecniques and Aims of Footpath Repair
There are two forms of footpath repair used in the Lakes, which is not the statutory duty of the Highway Authority to complete, as long as they are still 'open and fit for use'.

Fixed Path on Pike o'Blisco
  • Stone Pitching - This technique involves digging stone into the ground to form good solid footfalls.  This ancient technique is used extensively in the central fells using stone which is naturally occurring.
  • Sub-soiling or Soil Inversion - A digger is used to construct a turfed ditch.  The sub-soil material removed from the drain is placed alongside the drain to produce a solid, hard wearing walking surface.  A specialised grass seed mix is then sown to encourage a rapid re-generation of the vegetation to bind all the works together.  Within a couple of growing seasons, the repaired route can look as though there has never been any damage.

Fix the Fells Video 'Fix the Fells 2011' - Click the logo set to see an audio visual presentations about Fix the Fells produced by David Browne. This excellent short film includes what causes the erosion, what Fix the Fells do and ways you can help to reduce footpath erosion whilst out on the fells.

Case study – Whiteless Pike, Buttermere

Images at the same location on Whiteless Pike, ButtermereThese two photos are taken at the same location on Whiteless Pike near Buttermere on Wainwright's North-Western fells.  The first photograph shows the location in April 2003 and the second in September 2004 after Fix the Fells had completed their work. The original path had become so deep and loose that a second path had developed alongside. Soil was being lost into nearby watercourses. The section of path requiring management was just 20m long, but with quite a steep gradient. The best solution was to pitch a path. It is far better to catch a developing problem rather than leave it. If left, the material loss is far bigger, and repairs may not be as successful.

I know some people don't like to see human intervention in the fells, but it's better to conserve the landscape with the results seen in these pictures.  If you want convincing even more then take a look at the photo at the bottom of this page as well as the following short film:

Fix the Fells Video 'The Fells are Fixed!' - Click the logo to see an audio visual presentation showing the amazing work done by the path fixing teams on the upland paths.  Many of us may forget the appalling conditions some fellsides were in but these eight examples show the sections of path before and after the hard work of the teams- amazing!

How to reduce erosion when out on the fells:

    Remember to keep to the path!
    • Place your feet thoughtfully; every single footstep causes wear and tear on the environment.
    • Keep to the path surface; do not walk along vegetation at the edge of the path (see photo from Wansfell Pike).
    • Remember that the slow-growing plants that can survive on mountains are particularly vulnerable to trampling.
    • Do not take shortcuts - other walkers and water will soon follow your tracks and an erosion scar will develop.
    • Do not build or add to cairns - removing stones from paths can make problems worse.
    • Remember, there may be only one of you, but 10 million pairs of feet tread the Lake District paths each year!
    • Mountain bikers need to be even more sensitive to the fragile evironment in which they cycle and should never cycle on routes not intended for their use.

Gully erosion on Coledale Hause - the extreme!