|Offa's Dyke National Trail|
The idea is a simple one. To train up a network of volunteers who will give as much time as they can (a minimum of 10 days a year) to help maintain the network of recreational paths across the Black Mountains in the east of the National Park; taking part in larger scale upgrade and repair projects, working alongside National Park staff and contractors, but also operating in pairs or alone to carry out on-going smaller scale maintenance. The intention is that volunteers will take responsibility for their own 'patch', as well as working co-operatively with the others in the group, report on work done via an on-line system and generally become self-sufficient. Stores of tools will be kept at a number of locations on local farms around the area. Thus the National Park Authority can focus its limited resources on larger scale strategic projects (with helicopters used to transport in large quantities of stone costing £900 per hour to hire), whilst the wider pathway infrastructure is kept ticking over and in good repair with limited need for full-time staff to be diverted from other tasks.
|Listen and learn|
|Biodegradable dam to aid heather regeneration|
|Mad dogs and volunteers out in the midday sun|
Willing volunteers we may be and itching to get started. But understandably, and wisely, we will have several supervised training days over the next couple of months before we are let loose on our own. This will be important, not least because the whole upland massif above the 600 feet contour is scheduled as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and, as such, has significant restrictions and requirements for permission for any work carried out. Additionally, most of the moorland is subject to common grazing rights for local farmers; there are also, therefore, the sometimes vociferous views of the Black Mountains Grazier's Association to take into account. The tensions between recreation, conservation and economic needs are often to the fore in highly valued landscapes; and are here played out in microcosm even in the seemingly straight-forward process of ensuring well-kept paths.
|Path from Llanthony Priory up to Haterrall Hill, Black Mountains|
"The path, winding like silver, trickles on..." (The Path, Edward Thomas).