Interview with Park Protector Awards 2022 winners Fix the Fells

After a brilliant Park Protector Awards ceremony in Parliament this week, we caught up with the winners Fix The Fells to find out more about their work. Programme Manager Joanne Backshall explains...

Tell us about your work with National Parks - what do you do, why is it needed etc. 

Fix the Fells mission is to protect the spectacular fells in the Lake District National Park from erosion by repairing and maintaining the upland paths.  A combination of millions of pairs of walking boots, heavy rainfall and gradient means that erosion is a constant problem. Our work aims to reduce erosion scars and help protect the landscape, ecology and archaeological heritage of this internationally-renowned area.

The work is needed because the Lake District is under more pressure than ever before from the growing number of visitors and more extreme weather. Over 20 million people a year visit the National Park, experiencing the physical and mental health and well-being benefits of such beautiful surroundings. But this creates challenges for the mountain environment, with boots, bikes and heavy rain creating unsightly erosion scars and damaging the fragile biodiversity.

For over 20 years Fix the Fells has been repairing mountain paths, reversing the trend of erosion damage and restoring habitats. Our dedicated and skilled team of rangers and volunteers from the National Trust and Lake District National Park Authority have been caring for the landscape and nature, creating sustainable routes for the future. They carry out work on many of the much-loved routes across the UNESCO World Heritage Site, including Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and the Coast-to-Coast path.

We have repaired more than 200 paths over the past 20 years, and there are now over 730 paths identified for repair work, maintenance or monitoring. The number and priorities change over time as some paths erode more quickly and new ones are identified.

What impact has your work had in your National Park in 2021?

It’s wonderful that so many people are enjoying the Lake District fells each year and over the last couple of years we’ve seen more and more people reap the benefits that spending time in nature can bring. However with more people comes more erosion on the landscape. While the mountains will be here forever, they need on-going care to minimise scarring and protect environmentally sensitive habitats.

By repairing and creating more resilient paths better capable of managing increasing visitor numbers and severe weather events, we can reduce the soil, gravel and stone washing off the fells, as well as peat degradation, and help ensure rare upland habitats and species can recover and are not lost.

In 2021 we addressed gullying and degradation caused by heavy use and rainfall, creating more sustainable paths and maintaining the upland path network.  Hard wearing path surfaces were created using naturally occurring materials, drainage was installed to shed water from paths and paths were defined to limit their spread and the resulting damage to thin, upland soils. We use local stone which is bagged up by hand and then moved to remote areas for repairs to ensure that the work we do is aesthetically sensitive to the landscape. This is ongoing work and will continue this year and beyond.

Last year our team of 23 rangers worked tirelessly repairing paths from April to October and our 110 volunteers contributed over 2,200 days to fixing the fells.

My favourite piece of work completed last year was on the much-loved Loughrigg Fell above Grasmere. Already you can see the difference it has made to the surrounding landscape and habitats.

How does it feel to be recognised and rewarded by the Park Protector Awards 2022?

Fix the Fells has just celebrated its 20th year anniversary and I couldn’t think of a better way of recognising our work than with the Park Protector Award. I’m so proud of the work we do together to protect Britain’s best-loved landscape and ensure that people are able to explore and enjoy this beautiful landscape for years to come.

The Fix the Fells partnership, which includes the National Trust and the Lake District National Park Authority, has been repairing paths in the Lake District for over 20 years, and needs over £500,000 each year to fix and maintain over 400 miles of paths across the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project is part-funded until June 2023 by the European Regional Development Fund so this comes at a really good time for us as we look at how we’re going to fund our work going past this point.

Why do you think National Parks are important?

It’s a privilege to be able to work day in, day out caring for a National Park – especially one as beautiful as the Lake District. The National Parks are home to some of the best natural beauty and cultural heritage in the UK and are for the benefit of the people and wildlife.

To be able to carry out conservation work for the long-term benefit of an area is such an honour, and National Park designations allow us the freedom to do this.

Find out more about Fix the Fells here.