Listen to the people who love the Ochils
I now live a long way away from the Ochil Hills and haven’t had a chance to see the path works that you report to be in progress on Dumyat (Observer, September 8).
However, I have a considerable interest in them, having been the spokesperson on Beauly-Denny for the Friends of the Ochils.
I was heavily involved in drafting their proposals for the so-called mitigation works for the BeaulyDenny power line, including rebuilding the dry stone dykes along the Sheriffmuir road, planting appropriate trees in certain locations and some path work up Dumyat and round the Cocksburn Reservoir.
We saw a clear need for some appropriate and sensitively-designed path work to be done because since the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Act 2003 came into force there had been a substantial and everincreasing presence of mountain bikers on the hill, in addition to the already large number of walkers, and a consequent substantial amount of damage to and widening of the paths.
The path up Dumyat had become heavily braided and in far worse condition than, say, 15 years ago.
FotO were invited to comment on two versions of the plans that were drawn up for the path works by the consultants appointed by the Scottish Government’s steering group.
We made robust and detailed comments on both sets of proposals but many of our comments were not accepted and we were then told we would not be consulted further. However, the advice that we offered was clear, emphatic and repeated on a number of occasions, both verbally and in writing.
Among the main points we made was that the Dumyat area was visited by some 40,000 people annually for outdoors recreation. Many of these people care passionately about the area and would be hugely concerned about any insensitive path works.
We said it would be imperative to consult widely with other community groups and users of the area on the development of the proposals for path work. It is so predictable that a failure to do this has resulted in public outrage.
In our very clear view it was imperative for any path work to be implemented only where essential, particularly over the extensive area that had become excessively boggy, but leaving existing stretches of rocky path, especially where the rock is itself of geological interest. The work would have to be carried out very sensitively. We made clear our opposition to the sort of artificial path work that is often seen in more urban environments and is sometimes used (wrongly) in popular upland areas.
We advised very strongly that in many stretches the proposal that the paths should be 1 or 1.5 metres wide would be wholly inappropriate to the scale of the landscape.
Sadly but not surprisingly, it seems that some aspects of our advice may not have been taken on board. However, it may be that, at least in some parts, the works that have now started will not look as bad once they are finished as they do now.
What is needed now, even at this eleventh hour, is for those responsible for these works to start listening properly to the public who deeply care about the environment of the Ochils and whose enjoyment of the area stands to be compromised if the works are not well designed. They need to be informed and included.
Nicki Baker, by email