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6 Sep 2023

Field Notes: Summer on the summit

Seasonal Ranger Jenny Eyre shares some of her highs and lows of working on and around Ben Nevis this summer.

Nevis - summit litter clear

There are two areas of our Nevis property that attract a huge number of visitors throughout the summer season. First is the summit of Ben Nevis, the second is the gorge path used as the most popular access route to view the stunning Steall waterfalls (as seen in some of the Harry Potter films).

I have worked very closely with the two Nevis Landscape Partnership (NLP) seasonal rangers throughout this season and had invaluable help from our Nevis Conservation Officer Rob.

Ranger work is incredibly varied. As well as developing new skills and awareness in a variety of practical tasks from path maintenance to wildlife monitoring, my main role has been to increase awareness of responsible outdoor access in Scotland (SOAC: the Scottish Outdoor Access Code) to help visitors minimise their impact on this area.

Nevis - litter picking on summitOn ‘The Ben’, we have completed several summit litter picks. These are a significant undertaking as we must both commute up and carry out all rubbish by foot ourselves. Up until mid-September, we have removed 140.5kg of litter from the summit and upper paths. This has included some help from our incredible volunteers whose time is invaluable throughout the season.

It is sad to see the summit shelter and observatory ruins often left with the glass bottle remnants of people’s summit success celebrations, lunch leftovers and packaging as well as a very significant amount of organic litter such as banana skins, orange peel, egg and nut shells. Even more frustratingly, we have removed gym weight plates, bricks, shoes, clothing and all sorts of other items left at the highest point in the UK.

Nevis - path repairs start

We have got a major pathwork project on the Ben paths this season. In July, I met the pathwork contractors from ACT Heritage when they started their work. The first stage was to deroughen sections (making it easier/more pleasant to walk on so people don’t venture wider causing erosion) and clear the cross drains (so the rain doesn’t wash away the path). Thanks to everyone who has donated to our Ben Nevis Path Repairs Appeal, we are looking forward to see the main works taking shape through the autumn months, with a helicopter scheduled to assist.

Nevis - monitoring peatland

In addition to the visitor hotspots, there is a large area of the estate that hosts a huge variety of habitats. From working with volunteers on the peatland restoration site that was started last year, to setting up a transect to monitor dragonflies after our rare northern emerald dragonfly discovery, our varied monitoring work also helps with herbivore impact assessments as we check heath and seedlings across the property.

Nevis - traffic jam at Steall Gorge

The Steall Gorge marks the point at which road access along Glen Nevis runs out. This road is narrow and not suitable for large vehicles due to small bridges. Late morning and lunchtime are particularly bad, seven days a week, for blockages due to sheer weight of traffic. I have had to marshal traffic several times, simply to be able to access our property myself!

Nevis - rock slide before and after

The path is rocky and travels through a small segment of Scottish rainforest. This takes a lot of regular maintenance to keep clear and minimise the impact of visitors through wider erosion - especially as the path is on the lower slopes of Ben Nevis and sees a lot of water travelling off the mountain.

In the June heatwave, there was a particularly big storm in which lightning struck and shattered a cairn on the summit of The Ben. This also caused a large number of landslides. Not only was the train line blocked for a week and several roads impacted, but the gorge path suffered the impacts of a significant rockslide too. This has taken ongoing work throughout the season to keep clear and the path in good condition.

Nevis - summer visitors

The path through the Gorge leads to the Steall meadows which are very popular for wild campers as well as picnickers enjoying the view across to the Steall Falls. It has been nice to see that wild campers seem to have been following the majority of Leave No Trace principles well and most litter has been typical walker/picnic related items.

With only a few weeks left of our season together, as a John Muir Trust and NLP combined ranger team, we have removed 112 full bin bags from the Lower Glen Nevis and Lower Ben Nevis paths and area as well as 113.1kg from the Trust's Steall Gorge and meadows area of upper Glen Nevis. We have also had the significant issue of clearing toileting waste (i.e. used loo roll/wipes) from 601 incidents. Often clearing the same spots day after day.

It is super satisfying to know we have been able to make such a significant difference to this special wild place over such a busy summer season.

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Our Seasonal Ranger role at Nevis is supported by NatureScot, through the Better Places Green Recovery Fund.

Rocks - David Lintern

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