A well-funded, long-sighted strategy to tackle the problems and risks caused by booming numbers of visitors on Snowdon is needed, says the British Mountaineering Council (BMC).
The call comes after the Snowdonia National Park Authority agreed to remove ‘false paths’ from the summit of Snowdon and made comments that were interpreted as warning families with children to stay away from summits.
The BMC believes these approaches are misguided and reflect short-term thinking. With Snowdon seeing 477,000 walkers in 2013, a long-term plan is needed to address the key problems of preventable accidents and environmental damage. Central government funding to the park should also be upped, to reflect Snowdon’s status as Britain’s busiest mountain.
Elfyn Jones, BMC access & conservation officer for Wales, said: “In the last few years there has been a huge increase in the numbers of people on Snowdon – in 2013 there were 477,000 walkers, an increase of 23% on the previous year.
“Many of these visitors are unprepared casual walkers, and there has been a significant increase in the number of avoidable callouts to rescue teams, parking problems, traffic congestion and litter.
“The current practice of managing the paths by reacting to individual problems such as ‘landscaping’ and smoothing out natural obstacles has done nothing to alleviate the issues. If anything it has created a bigger problem as many walkers and visitors are under the impression that Snowdon is a “tourist attraction”, similar to a fully waymarked country park trail. User groups such as the BMC have had little opportunity to input into the strategic management of the mountain.
“The park authority should prioritise education and awareness-raising, putting effort into ensuring the visitor is better prepared, instead of treating Snowdon as if it was an urban environment and attempting to physically engineer it into being ‘safe’. This is simply impossible.”
Mr Jones also responded to stories in the media which have given the impression park personnel have warned families with young children to stay away from mountains summits. In a BBC story, the park’s head of wardens and access Mair Huws was quoted as saying: “It can result in children having very negative attitudes towards walking for the rest of their lives.”
Mr Jones said: “It is disappointing that the park authority is sending out messages that are being interpreted as telling families with young children to stay away from summits.
“If parents have the right knowledge and experience there is no reason why children cannot have rewarding experiences on mountain summits. In fact many people who go on to lead active, healthy, outdoor lives cite the experience of being taken into the hills as a youngster as vital in forming their later perceptions.”
The BMC also commented on the national park’s announcement it would remove ‘false paths’ from Snowdon.
Following the conclusions of the coroner during the inquest into the tragic death of Dylan Rattray, 21, on Snowdon, the park authority agreed to remove ‘misleading’ paths on the mountain such as those leading into hazardous terrain.
Jon Garside, BMC training officer, explains: “To some people it might seem easy to blame ‘misleading’ paths for accidents. But simply removing paths is not the answer.
“It is wrong to say that paths, summits or any other physical aspect of the mountain environment are inherently dangerous. The key factor is people themselves and their ability to deal with the hazards they encounter. To stay safe people must be taught to rely on their heads, not cues provided by artificial pointers.
“Promoting and teaching the skills needed to operate in mountain environments is not a quick fix, it takes time, patience and resources. But it is ultimately a far better insurance against accidents than ‘landscape improvements’. This is where the focus of the national park’s efforts should be.”
The BMC also pointed out that the Snowdonia park authority’s funding, like all national parks across the UK, has been drastically cut in recent years. It said that to properly manage a mountain of Snowdon’s popularity would require a substantial investment in money and resources.
Mr Jones said: “With continued cutbacks to national park funding, the park authority is clearly struggling with the resources it has available to deal with the considerable problems that managing an area such as Snowdon poses.
“Snowdon poses unique and special problems for any organisation trying to manage and conserve its special qualities. With over 477,000 walkers on its main paths each year it is arguably the busiest and most popular mountain in the world. It needs a vision and a funded work programme that’s agreed and shared with all stakeholders to provide the resources required to protect the special qualities of this unique and often abused mountain area.”