People venturing onto Ben Nevis are being urged to take better care of the countryside or risk loving the favourite beauty spot ‘to death’.
More than 160,000 people a year visit the 4413ft mountain near Fort William each year, with over 1000 people tackling the summit on the busiest days.
Now environmental groups are warning that action must be taken to protect the fragile habitat, with walkers and climbers frequently leaving rubbish on the hill and the sheer volume of people damaging footpaths.
Alison Austin, property manager with the John Muir Trust which owns most of the mountain, says “When I started 11 years ago, 120,000 people a year visited but recently that’s gone up to 160,000 and 300,000 in Glen Nevis each year – that’s a huge number of people in a very small area.
“A big number of people are doing ascents for charity which is great for really important worthwhile causes but there is a lot of folk coming as individuals and collectively the impact on the mountain is huge – five years ago we got money from the Heritage Lottery to spend on hundreds of thousand of pounds of worth of repairs to the paths.
“But unfortunately a lot of people don’t think about what they are doing, they are leaving mementos, leaving rubbish, all the usual litter problems. A combination of footfall and rubbish is creating a huge issue.”
Introducing permits to limit numbers on the Ben has been discussed in mountaineering circles but it is felt by many that the scheme would be unworkable.
Alison Austin says she feels it needs to be looked at at a national level.
“If people go somewhere like a cinema or town they pay for that car park. We don’t want to start charging for access to our wild land, we have amazing access laws that allow us to explore but we need to think about responsible access.
“The Government needs to think strategically about this. If destination marketing organisations are pushing areas like ticking off the best spot, taking your pictures for social media which encourages more people to come, there needs to be a more thoughtful way of promoting our natural heritage, about spending time stopping at one place, spreading out the impact.
“That could have a massive impact.”
The John Muir Trust and Nevis Landscape Partnership have now launched the Nevis Fund – people climbing the Ben can swipe their bankcard at the visitor centre at the bottom to donate £3.
It’s also hoped local businesses which benefit of the influx of tourists to the area because of Ben Nevis will donate to the project.
The funds will be invested in conservation projects to protect Britain’s highest mountain for generations to come.