Hi everyone I’m Huw, an uplands ranger in the central Brecon Beacons working in the beautiful surroundings of southern Britain’s highest mountains, Pen y Fan (886m) and Corn Du (873m). A huge part of my job is erosion control, so I thought I would update you on what we have been up to.
Erosion is the greatest threat to the enjoyment of our mountains. Upland areas are a fragile environment owing to the harsh climatic conditions. The vegetative covering takes many years to establish but is easily eroded. Our main consideration is to prevent further erosion and restore damaged areas in order that the mountains may continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.
Due to the increase of walkers on one of our busiest paths, the Pont ar Daf (with an average annual footfall of over 360,000) sections of the path need widening. This work has recently been carried out with the assistance of a working holiday group. It has been achieved using a number of methods including stone pitching, an ancient technique pre dating the Romans, and involves burying large boulders upright in the ground with each layer of stone overlapping the last, much like cobbling on a larger scale. This is a very time consuming feat, each one metre square section of stone pitching can cost up to £150 and take one day to construct. We then resurface the path with soil or scalpings (Old Red Sandstone which has been crushed into gravel) then landscape the surrounding areas.
We have erected a number of fences/hurdles leading from Corn Du towards the saddle between the two peaks. In order to prevent further erosion we have attempted to re-vegetate this area numerous times, but to no avail. Due to the location, elements and footfall defeating us, it has stayed bare. These hurdles should protect the area, while the seed and fertilizer put down with assistance from our working holiday group takes hold. This process is likely to take a couple of years so these hurdles will stay in situ until then.
Recently the two Bronze Age burial cairns located on the summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du have become severely eroded and were beginning to become undermined due to ever changing weather conditions and the feet of thousands of visitors. These cairns were excavated in the early 1990’s by a team of archaeologists with the support of the National Trust, where Bronze Age artefacts were uncovered including a bronze spear head. With the help of our two upland full time volunteers, Hazel and Nathan, who
work closely with us carrying out various conservation tasks in and around the Brecon Beacons, we have repaired the cairn on Corn Du using stone pitching to reinforce and stabilize the structure. Once, the summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du were heavily vegetated and there are accounts of times gone by where people could shelter from the ever changing weather conditions behind two metre high peat hags. Now there is very little vegetation remaining and the summits are predominantly bare, having eroded down to the Old Red Sandstone bedrock. Even the fascinating ‘ripple’ marks, the remnants of the seabed that take us back millions of years when the summits of the Beacons were beneath the sea and thousands of miles away from their current location, have begun to erode away.
These upland mountain paths are not purely intended to assist the walker with a solid foothold and clear line to follow, but are actually designed to protect the mountain from your feet. These hard-wearing, constructed paths take thousands of people to the summits of our highest peaks every year, while preventing further erosion.
If you happen to be out and about walking the Beacons and come across us, please do stop and say hello!
Huw – Uplands Ranger