HELICOPTERS are being hired by conservationists as part of a major new effort to help save Scotland’s most popular Munros after thousands of hikers have caused severe erosion to high level paths.
The National Trust for Scotland launched the initiative at Ben Lomond, where around 100 tonnes of stone has been winched by helicopter to the summit and other badly scarred areas along the ridgeway.
More than 30,000 people walk to the summit of the iconic hill beside Loch Lomond each year, and this, combined with wind and rain, can be hugely damaging to fragile hilltop vegetation.
The day-long £12,000 airlift last week allowed the Trust’s repair team to triple the speed at which they can restore the mountain tops by saving them from the time-consuming task of searching for rocks and gravel among dwindling natural resources on the slopes.
It is the first key work to be carried out under the charity’s new £150,000 Footpath Fund campaign to preserve more than 400 miles of paths across dozens of Scotland’s highest peaks.
Bob Brown, the Trust’s upland path manager, said: “Hiring a helicopter for a day is expensive but it is cost-effective because it means our footpath team can spend more time on repairs, rather than transporting materials around the hill.
“The team could usually do a metre a day of path repairs if they were gathering stone in this way. Flying it in means they can do around three metres per day.”
The Trust owns 188,000 acres of key countryside including more than 40 Munros – peaks of 3,000 feet or more.
Helicopters have been used to deliver stone for high altitude path repairs before but only for short-term projects. The amount dropped on Ben Lomond is expected to be enough to provide material for repairs for at least a decade.
Maintenance of the mountain path network costs the charity £200,000 annually, most of which comes from fundraising and membership fees.
Just over £63,000 has been raised since the Foothpath Fund was launched in August. The campaign includes a landscape version of selfies – “landsies” – where supporters are urged to take pictures of their favourite views and make donations.
The Ben Lomond airlift was jointly funded by Scottish Natural Heritage.