Caring for Coniston’s Old Man, UK

Fix the Fells is a many organisation partnership encouraging greater understanding and support for upland access, as well as repairing seriously eroded landscapes in the Lake District National Park. Fix the Fells has delivered over 200 major footpath repair projects over the past fifteen year, at the same time inspiring people to care for and contribute to the natural environment of the Lake District and Cumbria. Following the unprecedented floods of December 2015, there is urgent work now ongoing to assess the extent of the damage and prioritise repair work.

The route from Goat’s Water to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston snakes around this serene lake and under the spectacular, brooding cliffs of Dow Crag. It is one of the most popular routes in the Lake District National Park bringing thousands of walkers every year, many en route to the summit of Coniston Old Man, one of the park’s highest peaks. But the impact of millions of footsteps on the fragile terrain is causing massive erosion,  scarring to the landscape and impacting on vulnerable vegetation. Sediment from erosion is causing problems in water bodies downstream and rare vegetation and rock features are being damaged when walkers stray from the path. The funding will enable repairs to the path using traditional techniques during the summer of 2016 and reseeding and ongoing maintenance work will keep this famous path in good repair for future.  This project will:
– contract 4 path restoration specialists to restore the footpath using local materials and traditional techniques
– train new volunteers in required specialist repair techniques
– reseed area once the work is completed and conduct ongoing maintenance of the repaired path

The Update

Starting in August 2016, a team of four skilled path specialists worked between Goats Hawse and the summit of the Old Man of Coniston, concentrating on stabilising the path by installing drainage to guide water off the path surface.  Local stone was collected on site to install stone pitching and provide a hard surface to walk on, encouraging walkers to stay on the path.  Further eroded sections of the path were narrowed and ‘landscaped’ to mimic the surrounding area or ‘aligned’ to make them more obvious to users.

18 new volunteers have been recruited and have completed their initial training and have all committed to at least 12 days per year of upland path maintenance, joining an established scheme running across the National Park.  Technical training days for volunteers are run on a regular basis to ensure their work is of a consistent high quality.  There has also been one drain clearance run and 2 general maintenance days, giving a total of 37 volunteer days.

Final update November 2017:
Despite adverse weather conditions, which resulted in hard work being washed away on occasions, the team on this project have successfully created a high fell path between Goats Hawse and the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. This has resulted in walkers now being much less inclined to leave the path line and trample the vulnerable, high altitude heathland vegetation.

To ensure the long term success of the project, 27 volunteers have now been selected via three recruitment events. Volunteers were given navigational and first aid training prior to the undertaking of 5 technical training days. These training days ensure volunteer work standards are high and quality of work is maintained. The volunteers are essential to the continuing success of this project and will now regularly monitor and maintain the path to ensure the long term sustainability of the project.

Image: Goats Water. Image credit: Alan Waters