In September 2016, Nurture Lakeland nominated the Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen for a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2017. This award was created by The Queen in 2002 to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, recognising excellence in voluntary activities carried out by groups in the community.
The Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen maintain and repair the iconic yet fragile upland fell paths in the Lake District. This group of 117 active volunteers, operating since 2007, has made a significant contribution to the protection of the Lakeland landscape, reversing an environmental problem and thus directly benefiting local communities and visitors.
The pressures on our upland landscapes, both the number of feet on the fragile paths and extreme weather evets, are increasing. The volunteer lengthsmen are at the front line of the battle to keep the fells open for business.
The nomination was supported by letters of recommendation from Cumbria Tourism and the Field Studies Council, praising the group for maintaining and caring for a precious natural resource upon which our local communities, economy, wildlife and future generations rely.
Eric Robson, chairman of Cumbria Tourism, said “The majority of Cumbria communities rely heavily on income from the visitor economy and without the dedicated efforts of the Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen, upland paths would be in a significantly worse condition. That is turn would undoubtedly have a negative impact on local economies.”
The work of the volunteer lengthsmen is visible to fell walkers and visitors and is frequently praised and commended by those who see it as they pass by or engage in conversation with the volunteers. The physically challenging work is carried out all year round in all weathers to a consistently excellent standard.
The volunteers are enthusiastic ambassadors for the wider Fix the Fells projects, attending many local events, and highlighting the importance of path repair and erosion control whenever they can.
The volunteer lengsthmen play a crucial role in supporting people from all walks of life to get involved with practical conservation. They support visitors to High Wray Basecamp, working with many organisations whose members have little or no experience of the countryside, such as inner city youth charities and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres. For many of these visitors to basecamp the experience can be life changing.
As a result, the group is very well respected in the local and visiting communities. This is demonstrated by the fact that over 45 local businesses have chosen to fundraise for Fix the Fells, and that donations are also frequently received directly from passing walkers.
Tim Foster, head of the Field Studies Council Blencathra, said, “Repairing and maintaining the paths means that the fells remain accessible for recreating, learning and reconnecting with nature.”
The Independent Assessment Committee came to visit the team and as a result, the Lord Lieutenancy was able to submit the nomination with a strong recommendation. The group then had to eagerly await the decision.
On 25th May 2017, despite the high praise from the committee, the group received the news that in the end the Lengthsman were not selected to receive the Award this year. The award is extremely competitive and The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service Team assured us that the nomination represents a tremendous achievement: “Everyone involved, and particularly your volunteers, should feel immensely proud of the recognition that a nomination for this Award represents.”
Lord Lieutenant Claire Hensman also had high praise for the team, and sent a letter of condolence which included the following message of support; “I am writing to thank you and all your volunteers for the wonderful work that you are doing to keep the ‘over-loved’ paths and tracks repaired and maintained for our precious fells. I am sure, however, that the good work will continue and recognition and appreciation of the great contribution of your volunteers will come in many other ways in the future.”