Easter is always a busy time of year for the National Trust and this was no exception for us with 30,000 visitors through the gates at Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms during the month of April. Sadly the visitors to the central Brecon Beacons did leave evidence of their trip by scattering lots of rubbish including 239 bags of dog poo, 109 empty plastic water bottles as well as an empty bottle of champagne and drinking glasses. Over the Easter break, National Trust staff and volunteers picked up 11 full sacks of rubbish from the slopes alone. We’re also very grateful to those nameless walkers who continue to pick up rubbish when they are out and about.
Visitor numbers to the central Brecon Beacons continue to grow every year and 2016 saw an increase of over 30,000 people through the gate at Pont ar Daf, the most popular access route to Pen y Fan, compared to the previous year. And these busy periods are not just restricted to holidays such as Easter. Each winter, once the snow has fallen, walkers avoid the slippery compacted ice on the footpaths and spread out looking for better grip, thus stripping the once vegetated areas below and creating wide, bare scars. As the snow melts and the rain falls, the soil is then washed away leaving behind ruts which fill with rain water, eventually creating gullies. During the thawing of the paths, loosened soil gets picked up by walkers on their footwear and when combined with rainfall the soil loss on the footpaths can be over 5cm deep in winter. The lost soil takes hundreds of years to be replaced naturally; we cannot replace it as the whole area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, so we can only use what is in keeping with the area, and in this case sandstone.
Every spring and early summer we need to landscape and revegetate the areas surrounding the footpaths to try and prevent further loss of soil, in order to achieve this we rely on the help of volunteers. In March and April we welcomed students from Strode College, Somerset and University of Bath who assisted in opening up some of the cross and side ditches. These ditches were trampled during the winter period and this conservation work will allow the water to run away from the footpaths once again. We have many more volunteer groups booked in for the summer period to help us with vital erosion control work.
The footpaths continue to erode as they are mainly subsoil paths so we need to put a harder wearing surface on top. This summer we are hoping to airlift 200 tonnes of sandstone scalpings onto sections of the Storey Arms and Pont ar Daf footpaths. All this work costs money and at present only money received from National Trust member subscriptions are paying for it. Looking ahead, the income that will be generated from the new proposed car park at Pont ar Daf will assist towards the future financial costs of combating erosion, such an essential part of my role as lead ranger for the central Brecon Beacons.