Frequently Asked Questions
The combination of millions of people, weather and gradient means that erosion scars can quickly form on mountain paths. Some of these, if left unchecked, can become as wide as 30 metres and 4 metres deep (as was the case at Coledale near Keswick).
Erosion control has been practised as long as man has travelled over hills and moors, for example, on pack horse routes and mining tracks. As traditional use waned, these skills and maintenance works were lost and paths were left to deteriorate.
It was believed the hills were indestructible but by the 1960’s certain popular paths had quadrupled in width, soil and stone had been washed away and significant damage to habitats and wildlife was ongoing.
Without the work of Fix the Fells, erosion would develop rapidly into the huge scars of the past, resulting in loss of vegetation, soil, stone, habitats, species and landscape beauty, and adversely affecting rivers, lakes and the flood-risk in the valleys below
Repairing erosion damage is an increasing and on-going task as visitor numbers and extreme weather events increase. The Lake District attracts 19 million visitors a year, with 28.53 million visitor days. As an example, just one of the many paths up Scafell Pike is used by over 100,000 people per year. The recently gained World Heritage Site status is likely to further increase visitor pressure.
The work is not about improving paths, accessibility or safety, it is purely about repairing damage in a sustainable way.
If erosion damage on the fell paths is not repaired we would return to the huge scars that blighted the Lake District 30 years ago. The nationally and internationally important habitats and species of the area would be damaged.
We all have a responsibility to protect the fells from erosion and keep the Lake District a special place for future generation. This means protecting the land so that we and others can continue to enjoy it now and in the future.
Our experienced Fix the Fells rangers from the National Trust and National Park undertake path surveys and monitor erosion activity on the paths using an agreed set of criteria. Between them they assess which paths need to be fixed and the order of priority. Our volunteers also help identify eroded paths and we take advice from other experts, such as Natural England.
We understand that there is interest in our work so the Cumbria and Lakes Local Access Forum (CALLAF) is a way in which people can get involved. CALLAF is an independent statutory advisory body which is recognised to represent the broadest range of user interests, including walkers, horse riders, mountain bikers and many others.
Interested people can be elected onto the CALLAF or raise concerns with the CALLAF to discuss. Its main purpose is to advise on improving public access to the countryside in Cumbria (excluding the Yorkshire Dales National Park).
A list of paths requiring repair work is provided to the CALLAF each year and is put on our website. Please remember that views on what should happen on upland paths vary considerably between different users and groups.
The approach now used by Fix the Fells has been developed through consultation over many years with many different user groups and individuals, including walkers, horse-riders, mountain bikers and many others, and has generally wide support.
All path repair work is a compromise because there is no ideal solution for all users, gradients and conditions. We have worked with numerous user groups in the Lakes to achieve the best compromise possible for all users.
- We have evolved our stone pitching design over the years in discussion with various user groups. For example, we have discussed stone pitching on site with mountain bikers and accompanied horses and their owners up stone pitching.
- We’ll always do our best to accommodate all user groups, for example, a by-pass around cross drains in stone pitching wherever possible to allow mountain bikes to get around them.
- We seek to promote tolerance between user groups and working together constructively.
A team of skilled rangers and volunteers repairs and maintains the paths and we also work with High Wray Basecamp volunteers to encourage more people to enjoy the opportunity to fix the fells. Highly skilled local contractors have also repaired some routes.
There are a limited number of techniques available to repair upland erosion damage. We’ll always look for a traditional and sustainable way to repair damage and create resilient surfaces which are better able to withstand the increasing number of visitors and severe weather events.
More than thirty years of experience of repairing erosion damage in the Lake District has proved that the techniques used are the most effective and practical techniques.
Preventing erosion as early as possible helps to prevent larger erosion scars developing. We intervene as little as possible but as much as is necessary and always aim to have the least impact on the natural landscape.
The same rangers and volunteers who identify the paths that need fixing discuss and decide on the most appropriate technique to repair each section. They take into account the history of the path, who uses it and how busy it is, the local geology and a range of other factors. We do as little as possible but as much as necessary to repair the path, to create a resilient surface
Find out more and see photos in our “techniques” section.
Stone is used in the fells because it creates the most hard-wearing surface available.
“Stone pitching” is a recognised and established technique for the repair of high usage/multi usage footpaths and bridleways. It involves building stone in to the path surface and is used because it creates a resilient surface for the long term. It is a highly skilled task requiring many years of experience.
It has been successfully deployed at many upland/mountain locations both here in the Lake District and around the wider UK by other organisations.
Stone pitching is expensive, highly skilled and extremely hard physical work, so we only use it when absolutely necessary. The detailed design of each path is unique to the location due to the topography and exact conditions there.
The design of stone pitching has improved with experience over the years and some old-style pitching is not ideal or how we would do it today, but we don’t have sufficient resources to revisit those paths while so many others are eroding rapidly.
All the stone we use is sourced from as near to the path as possible. We use as little stone as possible but as much as is necessary to repair the damage sustainably. Stone is very hard to obtain for reasons including restrictions on Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest and land owner permissions. All stone used comes from Cumbria and usually from the same valley as the path.
It is essential to repair eroding paths in the Lake District to protect the internationally important biodiversity of the area.
- Erosion leads to loss of vegetation, species and habitats on the fells, as well as damage to the biodiversity of the rivers and lakes below.
- Many of the areas we repair are Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest which are suffering damage due to path erosion.
- Natural England, as partners within Fix the Fells, advocate the work we do to protect and enable recovery of these internationally and nationally important habitats and species.
- Repairing eroding paths reduces the amount of sediment which is washed off the fells and into rivers and lakes where it is harmful to biodiversity.
The guiding principles for upland path repair in the UK were formulated in the Lake District. They were adapted from the British Mountaineering Council’s Policy Statement on the repair and maintenance of upland paths 1990. They were accepted and adopted by the House of Commons Environment Select Committee as the best practice guidelines to establish a nationwide approach for the repair and maintenance of upland paths.
The first best practice manual was written in the Lake District and published in 1996. This was then developed and superseded by the Upland Path Advisory Group’s “Upland Pathwork Construction Standards for Scotland”. This is on-line and updated with input from the Lake District. It provides useful guidelines for all on repairing upland paths responsibly. The principles of these guidelines are applied by Fix the Fells in an appropriate way for the landscape, vegetation and visitor pressure within the Lakes.
The Lake District fells differ from Scotland in a number of ways. The fells generally receive far higher usage than most of the Scottish hills. This means that our paths often need to be wider. The grazing pressure on the fells is generally higher, leading to much shorter and less robust vegetation. This means fell users are less likely to keep to the path and this changes the repair techniques that can be used. Generally though, the UPCS are useful guidelines and we adhere to them as far as is practicable.
Some of the routes which are worked on in the Lake District are lowland paths and roads, which the UPCS are not applicable to. There is no one set of guidelines that applies to all types of path work.
20 million people visit the Lake District every year and a significant number of those will access the fells. The sheer number of people is unsustainable on the fragile mountain vegetation and soils. Without managed paths, there would be, as there have been before, massive man made erosion scars ruining the landscape and shedding thousands of tonnes of soil into the watercourses, rivers and lakes. Because of this, the major conservation bodies in the Lake District formed a partnership, nowadays known as Fix the Fells, to manage the paths using only traditional techniques. All staff and volunteers involved are keen fell users trying to do their best to protect the fells from the inadvertent damage.
All funds for this work are raised from fund raising and grants – there is no statutory funding.
Techniques used are current best practice developed and agreed nationally with other hill path managers in the UK. However, we are constantly seeking to improve, so if users have ideas that they think would improve the latest design, using only local, naturally occurring materials, we would be very keen to hear from them.
The law is quite clear: by its very nature, a stone-pitched fell path presents a danger in the form of the risk of tripping or slipping, but that is a risk which those venturing upon the hill must be taken to have accepted.
The Lake District National Park (LDNP) – one of the Fix the Fells partners – has a legal responsibility for maintaining rights of way in the Lake District. It has an agreement with Cumbria County Council (CCC), the Local Highway Authority for Cumbria, to maintain and repair footpaths and bridleways.
As agents of the Highway Authority, the LDNP doesn’t need to apply for planning permission to work on footpaths and bridleways. Fix the Fells is a partnership including LDNP so it doesn’t need to apply for planning permission to carry out its work.
When a path that needs repairing is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the LDNP consult Natural England, who are also one of the Fix the Fells partners.
We also need to obtain the permission of the land owner to repair paths.
The main repair work is done by the Rangers and Volunteers from March to October but maintenance work continues all year. In the winter months the Volunteers continue the path maintenance and the Rangers work on lower level projects.
Paths constantly change and deteriorate and regular maintenance and intervention has been going on for years. Many of the bridleways around the Lake District have been stabilised by machines over the last 25 years.
This technique is called sub-soil or soil inversion. It uses material obtained on site to create the path surface. It replicates the way these routes were originally built.
Sometimes hundreds of metres of these paths have been damaged. Diggers can do the work much more quickly and efficiently than by hand.
The work is not completed when the digger leaves. It takes time for the vegetation to recover and the path to fully bed back in to the landscape. We always aim for a long term solution so it might take a few years for the path edge to fully revegetate.
For these types of paths we often use highly specialised upland path contractors with many years of experience of repairing upland paths in England, Wales and Scotland.
The upland paths in the Lake District are not natural, they are man-made, either constructed in the past, eg pack horse routes or mining tracks, or formed by recreational use following obvious desire lines, eg up or along ridges.
Boredale Hause bridleway and footpath near Patterdale, Ullswater, were damaged by Storm Desmond in December 2015. The storm washed out several tonnes of stone and soil and cross drains, depositing it against the walls below and causing rain water to be directed down the path, leading to on-going erosion.
The only way to drain a path is to create a stable surface and then put in drains. Stone pitching is installed so that cross-drains can be built in areas washed out by rain water. This ensures water is sent across and not down the path, to stabilise it and create a more resilient surface.
When completed there will be about 160 m of stone pitching in total in sections along the bridleway and about 150 m in sections along the footpath. The descent from Boredale Hause to Side Farm is approximately 1 km long. The whole bridleway is over 8 km long from Sandwick to Boredale Head and the footpath is over 5 km long from Side Farm, Patterdale to The Knott.
What you can do to help?
Everyone can help by keeping to the paths wherever possible to avoid causing erosion damage and by raising awareness of why that is important. It is also important to remember that stones belong on paths so whilst it is tempting to add a stone to a cairn, please leave it on the path.
We recruit volunteers when they are needed and this is advertised on the Our Volunteers page of this website. We provide training and in return ask our volunteers to commit to a minimum of 12 days each year. It is hard work, so not for everyone, but great fun!
No, just an interest in the Lakeland fells, helping people enjoy the paths they walk on and lots of enthusiasm. We have a training programme to help you develop necessary skills. Please be aware that some of the work is physically demanding and occasionally involves walking in remote areas of the National Park.
We can provide you with waterproofs, tools and equipment to do the normal lengthsmen tasks. But if you would like to participate in work parties such as drain building or walling for example, you will need to get yourself a pair of steel toe capped boots, which we can help you buy.
We ask for a minimum of 12 days a year if possible. This can be done through drain runs and work parties throughout the year.
If you can’t make a regular commitment to Fix the Fells but would still like to help, then a National Trust upland path working holiday may be for you. Click here to find out more.
The training is comprehensive and includes practical “on the job” training as well as health and safety, navigation skills and a background of the programme. When on the fells, our volunteers are ambassadors for Fix the Fells so it is important you have a good understanding.
You’ll meet like-minded people and explore parts of the National Park you perhaps haven’t visited before. You’ll work with highly skilled National Trust and National Park Rangers and learn lots of new skills.
We need to spend £500,000 a year to maintain the existing network. The individual costs vary from £60,000/year for helicopter lifts to £200 to repair a metre of stone-pitching.
It comes from a range of sources including donations, our partner organisations, grants, visitor giving, local businesses, local communities, sponsorship and individuals. We need your help to reach our target however so please donate if you can. We have donation boxes in various locations around the Lake District and our teams carry them when they are working on the fells so look out for them.
- We currently repair and maintain 335 paths covering 400 miles across the Lake District.
- We have developed a high level of skill and expertise in upland path repair and maintenance.
- We have established a strong and highly popular volunteer scheme.
- We are protecting the upland landscape and the local ecology and archaeology.
- We have rediscovered traditional techniques and have developed new ones.