In 2015, the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland were asked by Scotland’s two National Park Authorities to develop a partnership project to protect the mountains in Scotland’s National Parks. This 5-year project entitled The Mountains and The People has a suite of integrated programmes, the largest of which being the Upland Path Repair programme where 125km of the most damaged upland paths have been prioritised and built into the project programme. Carn Liath on Beinn a’Ghlo in the Cairngorms was established as a Priority 1 Path due to the extent of existing damage along the route and the risk to fragile, unique flora and fauna from trampling disturbance.
Beinn a’Ghlo has such a diversity of flora and fauna that it has been designated as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest as well as a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area, 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 – including the rare Yellow Oxytropis – it is also home to several species of upland ground nesting birds, five of which have recently been elevated into the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 category, otherwise known as Red-listed. These include the Dotterel, the Winchat and arguably, the bird of highest conservation concern in the UK, the Curlew. The increase in the popularity of hillwalking has led to informal paths developing, causing the destruction of wildlife habitats, particularly in upland areas.
The walk up Carn Liath on Beinn a’Ghlo begins on boggy heathery ground, but as it starts to climb steeply, it soon becomes an obvious and badly eroded white granite scree scar which can be seen from miles around as it extends up the hill. It is one of the greatest upland path priorities in Scotland due to the extent of existing damage along the route and the risk to fragile, unique flora and fauna from trampling and disturbance. In such a sensitive and protected mountain environment, finding a complementary path repair solution is all the more complex and crucial.
The repair and upgrade on Carn Liath involves light-touch techniques in some of the lower sections and a fully built path higher up the hillside, meaning this SAC is significantly improved by consolidating erosion, encouraging re-vegetation and ensuring that continued access to this outstanding area is not at the expense of the surrounding habitat and its inhabitants.