Walkers in the Lake District urged to stick to paths, reducing damage to landscapes and wildlife, as social distancing increases erosion 

  • Higher visitor numbers and social distancing causing fresh erosion at Lake District hot spots
  • Wet and winter weather likely to make pathway erosion worse
  • Advice is to wear appropriate footwear, stick to the original path and either walk in single file or step off and back on the path in the same place when passing others
  • Fix the Fells needs to raise £500,000 per year to repair erosion

Walkers and countryside lovers are being urged to stick to mountain paths after signs that that the cumulative effects of winter weather, increased visitor numbers and social distancing is starting to cause fresh erosion and widening of footpaths on some of the Lake District’s most popular walking routes.

One of the worst affected fells in the Lake District is the popular Cat Bells, but other well-known walking routes including Scafell Pike, Coniston Old Man and Helvellyn also suffer heavily from path erosion caused by weather and heavy footfall. 

In a year which has seen thousands more people benefit from spending time in nature, the organisations behind Fix the Fells [1] are encouraging a change in behaviour to head off the risk of lasting damage. 

People being respectful towards each other and giving a two-metre wide berth is resulting in walkers stepping off paths and continuing to walk, eroding the grass and earth either side, creating much wider pathways. 

With wetter winter weather softening the ground and making soil erosion more likely, and England’s new tiering system and the upcoming Christmas holiday period likely to attract more people to get out and about in the countryside, Fix the Fells - a partnership programme between the National Trust, the Lake District National Park, Natural England, Lake District Foundation and Friends of the Lake District that have looked after and repaired pathways in the area for over 20 years- are urging people to adapt their walking behaviour to help protect the landscape and wildlife. 

The partnership raises £500,000[2] each year to go towards fixing and maintaining 400 miles of paths across the UNESCO world heritage site[3].  

In 2000, scarring caused by countryside users plagued the landscape, in some instances measured 30 metres wide and four metres deep[4].     

Programme Manager Joanne Backshall warns at the current erosion rate, this could happen again, but some simple steps could go a long way to prevent it. 

She says: “We are absolute advocates of the benefits that spending time in nature can bring, so it’s wonderful to see so many people enjoying the great outdoors this year.  It is also fantastic to have witnessed so many people putting safety first as they step aside to allow a safe, social distance for fellow walkers.  What people might not realise however, is that stepping off, and then continuing to walk off the path, is starting to erode the landscape at a rapid rate. 

“Ensuring everyone’s safety is our top priority and we’re asking everyone to adhere to government guidelines around social distancing. Our top advice for walkers when encountering others is to walk single file. If you need to step aside to let others pass at a safe distance, please stop, wait and then return to the path before continuing your walk.” 

Excessive erosion to popular walking routes doesn’t just leave a visual impact on the landscape it also affects wildlife.  Joanne continued: “Once vegetation is lost through erosion, soil and stone can quickly wash off the hillside. This general loss of habitat and degradation can affect species like the mountain ringlet butterfly which feeds on acid grassland, or ring ouzels. It can also affect other rare mountain plants already at risk and living at the very edge of their range. 

“Degradation also has a harmful impact on the rivers and lakes below. Sediment washed off the hillside can cover the gravel in rivers and lakes used by fish to lay their eggs, reducing their breeding habitat. Sediment will also impact insect numbers, which in turn will attract less birds and affect plant numbers.” 

With every metre of pathway costing £200 to create,

Fix the Fells anticipates that it will need to raise extra money to repair pathways damaged over the past six months alone, as well as fundraising for on-going maintenance and repairs. 

Joanne concluded: “There is a real concern that we won’t be able to keep up with all the repairs needed on these ugly erosion scars. We want to help raise awareness of the issues we are facing and encourage everyone to play their part to help us protect these wonderful landscapes.”

For more information on Fix the Fells and to make a donation, visit www.fixthefells.co.uk

Fix the Fells is a partnership programme between Friends of the Lake District, the National Trust, the Lake District National Park, Natural England and the Lake District Foundation that has looked after and repaired pathways in the area for over 20 years.