Where have all the footpaths gone?

Over the last few years the high rainfall and snow falling nearer to spring time combined with a couple of poor years in the growing season and an increase in large groups walking the hills, have resulted with the Beacons beginning to erode once more.

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Storey Arms path suffering from rising water

In the past, walkers along with the weather had worn down some of the footpaths and the surrounding areas up to 2.5m deep. Due to a lack of funds, we had not been able to build these back up to the original height resulting in them being a catchment for snow and rain.

 

Walkers compact the deep snow turning it into ice which everybody avoids. This results in people spreading out to look for the shallowest snow to walk on leading to a new section of land being worn away. The increase in walkers causes this erosion to get deeper and wider with some areas having seen a soil loss of up to 10cm in one year. This occurs most winters.

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Pont ar Daf – walkers avoiding the compact snow

Due to the erosion, we have to revegetate the area after every winter if we want to prevent further loss of soil. But I have noticed the damage from this recent winter is worse as more and more large groups climb to the summits and continue to spread out.

 

Throughout the spring the weather

L&M NTV sitting down breaking up the ground to sow the seed.

National Trust volunteers working hard to repair the footpaths

remained cold which delayed our revegetation work by several weeks on all the major access routes, so we did not begin work until the end of May. With the help of a group from Pontypridd and London & Middlesex, these National Trust volunteers provided vital help on the path leading up to Corn Du from Storey Arms by digging ditches, breaking up the compacted ground and starting to spread grass seed and fertilizer to give the land some much needed nutrients.

At the end of June we will be airlifting over 100 tonnes of sandstone scalpings (small stone and dust) on to the Storey Arms to Corn Du path. This is the only stone we are permitted to use and we will be doing this because the scalpings airlifted 11 years ago have now all but eroded away.

Look out for the next blog from the access team where we will update you on the footpath work following the airlift.

Thank you

Rob – Lead Ranger

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Coming and going

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been volunteering full time with the Brecon Beacons & Monmouthshire National Trust for three months now. When I started, fresh from half a year in New Zealand, I had no practical skills except what a few weeks with the National Park and Elan Valley and a few stints in rural Australasia had given me. Within a few weeks I had settled in, already enjoying learning the skills needed in upland conservation as part of the Access & Maintenance team. The tasks I have done have varied between painting the Omega sign at the top of Pen y Fan, to maintaining and clearing culverts.

Beth painting what is possibly the most photographed National Trust sign.

Beth painting what is possibly the most photographed National Trust sign.

Using the local sandstone to try and prevent water eroding the paths is a large part of what we do, whether it’s spreading scalpings on the Pont ar Daf path, or using blocks to construct side ditches and culverts. It’s this part that I really enjoy; the chance to get down in a ditch and create something that not only is useful, but will last one hell of a long time.

However, to do stone pitching, you need stone, and one of the most exciting days (of the year apparently!) was the airlift. Postponed and reorganised, one windy Tuesday morning saw a group of us waiting for a lift in a helicopter up to Bwlch Duwynt. We had bagged twenty-one tonnes of specially selected stone at Cwm Gwdi, and have had eighty more tonnes dropped off near Base.

My job was to let Rob know when the chopper appeared so he could direct them in, while I stopped walkers from getting too close. Not that it was that necessary; people were transfixed and I spent the day being in a million selfies and video clips.

Beware, flying rocks.

Beware, flying rocks.

Unfortunately my time with the Trust is soon coming to an end. I’ve secured a place on a trainee warden scheme with the National Park, but who knows, I might be back!

Beth – Volunteer Ranger

Somewhere up on the hills

Now that the summer season is upon us the access team are in full swing and spend most days up in the central Beacons including the three highest peaks – Corn Du, Cribyn and Pen y Fan. Work includes undertaking the essential maintenance of the drainage ditches and culverts, stone pitching the paths and re-grassing areas to limit erosion on the mountains.

Borrowed the Nature Conservation Rangers to help bag stone.  Not really butterfly survey weather.

Borrowed the Nature Conservation Rangers to help bag stone. Not really butterfly survey weather.

The last few weeks have been spent sourcing red sandstone from a local quarry at Cwm Gwdi that was once used in the 1700’s. This stone is due to be air lifted in the middle of July (weather dependant of course!) to be dropped at selected areas on the Beacons and will then be laid as a path using a pitching technique that pre-dates the Romans. This means it will hopefully last a long time.

Working holiday group having to put up with our fine Welsh weather as they help with our path maintenance and construction

Working holiday group having to put up with our fine Welsh weather as they help with our path maintenance and construction

The Trust is responsible for maintaining a large area of the Beacons and groups of volunteers that have come from all over the UK have done a great job at helping to carry out this work over the last few months.

Jess – Seasonal Access Ranger

Introducing…..the access team

Slightly earlier than you may have expected, we have a new update for you.  Rob, our man on the hill is now contributing to the blog about all the things that his access team are up to.

Meet and greet - PaD

Meet and greet volunteers at Pont-ar-Daf

It has been a busy summer carrying many guided walks from the height of the Beacons to the lowlands of Clytha, some in conjunction with the National park, some with walking festivals such as Monmouthshire, Hay, and we have done some with the Cambrian Mountains Society up on Abergwesyn, so if any of you have attended those walks many thanks for coming, there are still more this year, so please check our website or Walking Festival pages.

At the Pont ar daf the meet and Greet Wardens have been busy at the weekends and now weekdays advising walkers on best routes and what is on and about, so if you are around let them know, it is good to have some feedback.

Wish this rain would stop we might enjoy working out doors for a change, so instead of being covered in mud we can get a tan and be covered in that same colour, only it will not wash off that same day.

Working holiday 2012

The sun always shines for our working holidays?

Having said that, cannot believe it, last year you could count on your one hand the number of dry days we had working on the Beacons with Volunteers, this year we have had three weeks of working holidays and only three days of rain. It’s a pity the numbers in the groups have been down this year and we have been lacking in leaders to help run the camps “Any offers for next year”.
So far we have been able to stone pitch 100 square metres of path line this year and with 1 group remaining  and weather permitting we should pass 120 square metres.
I think I might have just put an X on the weather for this group, well at least 4 of them are returnees from last year and the year before and the year before, so they are used to rain, of course they will have me to blame.

Bagging stone

Access team bagging stone, making ready to fly.

We will be having an airlift the week of the 17th of September (weather permitting) up on the Central Brecon Beacons, the quarries on Cefn cwm Llwch to be precise.
The only problem is we have to locate, sort, gather, and shape 80 tons of stone.
65 tons will be for pitching the path up to Pen y Fan from Cefn cwm Llwch and 15 tons will be for building side ditches on the Pont ar daf this winter.
Once the stone has been sorted we will then place them in 1 ton dumpy bags and await the airlift.
All of this will take up to 1 month

See you on the hill,
Rob and the access team.

Anything and everything

We’ve had a very variable time in weather and work schedule. We’ve been cutting trees down and sticking them back up again, seen many more loads of logs taken away from site, found time to deliver a special load of logs and even been above the tree line in a helicopter. Next month isn’t looking any quieter either.

First off though, we’ve had a little maintenance work to carry out in our yard, John from Usk Valley Training joined us for a day to help tame an oak tree in the middle of our car park. A little attention from time to time will allow us to keep this tree for a long time without it causing issues.

A small trim back to stop it out growing its boots.

I would also like to say a big thank-you to 5th Penllergaer Scouts. They joined us on a lovely day to help with the ongoing care of one of our new woodland plantings. They helped us remove over 2000 tree guards that saplings have now grown out of. The saplings are now 5 years old and no longer need the guards protection, in some cases, the guards were even restricting the trees growth. With the guards collected in, we’ll be able to re-use them again too.

It was all hands to the hill on the 11th May as the access team had their annual air-lift to get all their materials up the hill for this years planned footpath repairs.

Just the last few bags waiting to make their way to Pen-y-Fan.

In Pont-ar-Daf, with all the phytopthora control work out the way, we have started to fell a line to make way for a new access track around the woods. All the wood we fell here is cut to length for specific buyers who have been in collecting loads through the month. Timber from site is making its way to becoming gates and powering the power station at Port Talbot for you cup of tea.

Looking back at where we have come from.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Hay-on-Wye this month too. Firstly helping provide the raw materials – some big logs, for a log circle in the school grounds. This means that the infants will now be able to enjoy forest schools too.
The culmination of prepping over the last few months came together as we built the National Trust stand at Hay Festival. The main feature of the stand is a leafless tree. Throughout the festival we have been asking for peoples most memorable outdoor experiences on luggage tags and hanging them on the tree, bringing it back into leaf with colour. As well as providing a selection of logs for seating, we have also built a camp fire on the stand for people to share stories around. Thanks to our volunteers Richard and Philppa there are also some very rustic memory sticks.

That just about sums up May, June holds more rain, some outdoors inspiration, something special on the Gower and hopefully, a holiday.

The woodland team.