Mending Paths and Protecting Arctic-Alpine Habitat, Scotland

Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland conserves and protects natural heritage and environment by encouraging, developing and implementing access management projects


Beinn a’Ghlo in the Cairngorms has an arctic-alpine mountain environment with tundra like characteristics and long-lasting snow patches. These characteristics combined with the steep hillsides, friable soil and fragile vegetation cover makes this upland area particularly susceptible to erosion from even a relatively small number of users. Beinn a’Ghlo has been designated as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, recognising the importance of the area for conservation and wildlife.

As well as the species-rich Nardus grasslands, Petrifying Springs, Alpine and Boreal heaths and European dry heaths to be found, it is also home to several species of upland ground nesting birds, five of which are endangered, including the Curlew, whose breeding population in the UK has declined by 62% in recent years. The increase in the popularity of hillwalking has led to informal paths developing, causing the destruction of wildlife habitats, particularly in upland areas. Carn Liath on Beinn a’Ghlo is a priority due to the extent of existing and potential for more, significant damage and requires a major path repair with light-touch techniques in some of the lower sections and a fully built path higher up the hillside, combatting erosion and encouraging re-vegetation.

The Update

Carn Liath upland path on Beinn a’Ghlo was officially re-opened on 27 September 2019. So extensive were the repairs, it took over a year to complete.

The route was split into 10 sections with several of the sections requiring ‘light touch’ techniques. This involved small amounts of work to create natural looking features, allowing for a more natural looking path line to be used with less disturbance to sensitive ground; all of this helps the route blend in better to the natural environment.

Full Hand Build techniques were used on the other sections to reduce and reverse the environmental impact of erosion whilst also improving the aesthetic appeal of the upland landscape. The fully built path now consists of a mixture of aggregate surfaces on lower gradients, and stone pitching on the steeper gradients.

In all, 432 metres of raised path surface has been constructed with 407 metres of side drains and 943 metres of stone pitching, including 40 stone-built waterbars to divert running surface water off the path.

Revegetation and natural landscaping have also been applied which, over time, will enable the ground to look as though it had never been touched.

This important footpath repair enables continued access to this fantastic site for many decades to come, whilst also ensuring the vitally important upland habitat is protected from the severe degradation that can be caused by our footfall.

Image: Carn Liath