Hello, my name is Lewis Robertson and I’ve been a Full Time Volunteer Uplands Ranger with the National Trust Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire team for 12 months now and I wanted to share my experiences with you. If you’ve been up Pen y Fan in the last year, you may have seen me working on the footpaths with the uplands team.
I originally come from the North East of Scotland and moved here to work as a volunteer after finishing my degree in Environmental Science as I wanted to gain the experience and skills necessary for a career in conservation.
The majority of my time has been spent working on the footpaths of the central Brecon Beacons helping to control erosion. With hundreds of thousands of people walking the Beacons each year, it is a constant challenge to not only maintain the footpaths but also minimise the erosion to the path edges. I’ve heard it being compared to painting the Forth Rail Bridge by visitors and that sounds about right.
Building drainage features and widening or replacing path sections are very time consuming because almost all the work is done by hand. When stone pitching, each stone has to be carefully dug deep into the ground and set at the correct angle to match the stones around it. It sounds simple in theory but it takes a lot of practice and skill to do it quickly. It’s a very old technique for building a path and predates the Romans but if done well it blends into the landscape and lasts a long time.
Working on the footpaths has given me some fantastic experiences. Most notably assisting with last year’s helicopter airlift where we moved bags of crushed sandstone (scalpings) to damaged areas of the Storey Arms path. Not only did I get to work as part of the team on the ground but I also got to ride in the helicopter, twice! It was an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it.
Maintaining footpaths in the uplands is very hard and physical work. It was a little shock to the system when I first started but I soon got used to it. I enjoy practical work and there’s a real sense of achievement to be gained from constructing stone drainage features and paths. I myself am a keen hill walker and I really enjoy giving something back to the hills by helping to protect them.
Naturally working in the hills means enduring all weather conditions and the Brecon Beacons certainly hasn’t disappointed. There have been times where my coffee has been ripped out of my cup by the wind and then continuously refilled by the rain but you soon forget about that on a nice sunny day.
Working in the Brecon Beacons has been an amazing experience, I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve worked with some wonderful people in an iconic location and I’ll never forget my time here – highly recommended.