Helicopters used for conservation mission in the Cairngorms

HELICOPTERS were brought in this week to transport 130 tonnes of locally sourced material to repair iconic upland paths at remote locations on Mayar and Bachnagairn in the Angus Glens. Contractors stood ready to take on the challenge of building paths by hand at high altitude, as part of a conservation mission on a scale never before attempted in the UK.

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(Photo Credit: Paul Diffley)

The work is part of The Mountains & The People project (TMTP) led by the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust (COAT) and brings together Scotland’s two national parks, Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, alongside Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), in a unique conservation partnership.

The materials being flown in this week will allow the project to start work on both Mayar and Bachnagairn, two of over 40 path routes to be improved by the project with more than 125km of paths and associated habitats being restored. In total, almost £300,000 of footpath repairs will be undertaken in the Angus Glens over the next 4 years as part of the Mountains and the People Project.

Karen Mitchell, SNH Tayside & Grampian Operations Officer, explained the importance of this work: “This work will help both hill walkers and the protected species in this area. It’s an exceptional area, internationally important for its alpine habitats. This is recognised by the conservation designations which cover the Mayar summit path: it’s part of the Caenlochan Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The one-kilometre path upgrade on this popular Munro will narrow the path, reducing damage to the eroded heathland and blanket bog habitats and allowing degraded vegetation to recover.”

COAT’s Technical Program Officer for the TMTP project, Gordon Paxton-White, was on hand to ensure the successful completion of the helicopter operations: “This week we have seen the delivery of 160 bags of locally sourced path construction materials plus replacement bridge components for the Roy Tait Memorial Bridge, to two of our high priority sites, where over the coming weeks we will work with contractors to tackle generations of erosion on these popular routes. Work in such remote locations can be challenging and at times dangerous however by working closely with highly skilled specialist mountain path contractors we are able to deliver high quality, durable and sensitive path repairs which aim to encourage walkers to stick to the designated routes and therefore allow the surrounding vegetation and habitats to re-establish following years of erosion.

The use of helicopters is always a last resort as our aim is to take a light touch approach wherever possible; winning materials from close to the paths we are repairing and targeting resources to best effect. In this instance however, there was not enough material available on the mountain to allow us to construct the path to the desired detail and so we needed to employ the services of experienced helicopter operations pilots from SkyHook Helicopters to facilitate the transport. “

This area of path upgrade also falls within the Cairngorms Massif Special Protection Area (SPA) for golden eagles which covers the North East highlands. Following SNH guidance and with the help of the Angus Glens Ranger Service who monitor the nest sites, the helicopter flight path route together with the timing of the flights have been carefully planned to avoid causing a disturbance to golden eagles, and also to nesting peregrines.

Works on this section of the project are due to be completed by the end of August, but more activity is underway throughout both of national parks.  For information on where TMTP will be working over the coming years or to find out how you could get involved, see www.themountainsandthepeople.org.uk or search on social media for mountainspeople.

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