Mountaineering Ireland extends thanks to Minister Malcolm Noonan TD who recently joined representatives from the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), Wicklow Uplands Council and Mountaineering Ireland at the Wicklow Gap to discuss the challenges of managing increased footfall on the Wicklow Mountains.
Later the Minister launched the Wicklow Mountains Path Condition survey, a detailed report of the level of erosion and possible repair solutions for 167km of popular hillwalking lines in the Wicklow Mountains.
In his presentation of the survey findings, Chris York, Walking the Talk, who led the survey, explained that the erosion on many of these routes is particularly challenging to deal with, due to a combination of steep slopes and deep peat (50cm or more).
Despite the challenges of deep peat on steep slopes, Chris’s report shows there is much that could be done to make the growing usage of hillwalking routes in the Wicklow Mountains more sustainable. The initial repair works recommended in the Wicklow Mountains Path Condition Survey would keep a team of four full-time path workers busy for about five years. This would reduce the spread of trampling on protected habitats, and the visual impact of wide erosion scars. It would also enhance the quality of people’s recreation experiences in the Wicklow Mountains.
In addition to showing the need for a structured programme of path works, ideally led by the NPWS, Chris York's presentation of the survey findings also highlighted the ways in which the users of routes across the Wicklow Mountains, especially clubs, can help:
- Be aware of the weather before your outing, and, when the ground conditions are wet, choose a route that avoids crossing fragile, boggy terrain (particularly vulnerable sections will be identified);
- Prevent path widening by keeping within path lines, even where this means walking in single file or getting your boots dirty;
- Be flexible about scheduled hikes – have a more robust back-up option in case ground conditions are poor;
- Peat is a precious resource – prevent disturbance to the peat by climbing peat haggs carefully, and avoid walking on bare peat, by taking a less direct line or a different line;
- Choose robust routes for large groups and organised events – a large group all walking together exerts greater pressure than smaller groups on separate days.
In response to Chris’s presentation, Mountaineering Ireland’s Access & Conservation Officer, Helen Lawless, said “There are important messages from this survey for the walking community. As people who enjoy the mountains, we should be conscious of the impact of our footfall. The main thing is to be aware that more damage occurs when the ground is wet. By being flexible about our route choice, especially for group hikes, we can choose more robust routes to avoid boggy sections when the hills are wet. In both wet and dry conditions, keeping within existing path lines will prevent the widening of damaged areas. It's about putting the mountains first, and it will help ensure that we continue to enjoy positive experiences on the hills.”
The final report of the Wicklow Path Condition survey, including the reports for each section surveyed are available HERE