A FACELIFT of one of Scotland’s highest and most popular mountains has been completed after years of controversy.
Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve will officially re-open tomorrow with a 1970s visitor centre described as a “hideous beast” removed in a bid to better protect the landscape.
The National Trust for Scotland, which took over the Perthshire site in 1950, has also protected rare plants that grow on the slopes of Ben Lawers – the tenth highest Munro – and the surrounding mountains.
Fences have been built around tall flowering mountain plants to stop sheep grazing on them and montane willow scrub has been helped by the introduction of trees grown at the reserve’s base in Killin.
New paths have been built to link a new car park to the traditional route up Ben Lawers and another path has been constructed to meet the start of the route up neighbouring Munro, Meall nan Tarmachan.
There will be new information boards and a nature trail has been retained, but the trust has decided that toilets and refreshments are not in keeping with the natural surroundings.
Property manager Helen Cole said: “Ben Lawers is one of Scotland’s most popular walking destinations, with seven Munros, fabulous views over Loch Tay and a huge diversity of plant and animal life.”
Ms Cole said that while the changes, costing £195,000, were being planned, preservation of the hillside was central, alongside access for walkers, hence the lack of toilets and a cafe.
She added: “We have access to the hills at all times and that is part of the founding remit the trust – access and conservation. Ben Lawers is an interesting one because it was the first countryside property to be bought primarily for conservation.
“There are potential conflicts between access and conservation. The majority of visitors are hillwalkers and most of them stick to the main routes to bag their summits.”
She said problems with water supply and altitude had ruled out compostable toilets. Of refreshment facilities, she added: “We feel it isn’t an appropriate thing to do there. The decision is to concentrate our limited funds on what we consider the important conservation work on the hill rather than sidelines, which I think a cafe would be.”
Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive for exceptional examples of a number of habitats, rare on a European scale.
The previous car park was built 1,400ft up, in the 1950s, during the construction of a hydro-electric power scheme on the adjacent hillside. The visitor centre followed 20 years later but many labelled it obtrusive.
David Gibson, the chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) said: “The MCofS is not in favour of developments in the mountains and we believe that the removal of the Ben Lawers visitor centre will ultimately enhance the visitor experience.
“We recognise and welcome the work that NTS has undertaken over many years to regenerate the woodlands and manage visitor access to reduce impact on the mountain.
“In coming years this can only result in an improvement in the appearance of what is, in visitor terms, one of Scotland’s busiest mountains.
“This legacy serves to remind us that we should at all costs avoid use of the bulldozer in the mountains – be it for renewable energy developments or hill tracks, which create scars across the face of the mountains; nature takes a long time to heal, if it ever heals at all.”