Helen Cole, of the National Trust for Scotland, told of how conservation work on Ben Lawers had been set back years as a result of accidental damage caused by hillwalkers and runners. Normally about 30,000 people visit the mountain every year, but monthly figures recorded after the spring lockdown show that footfall has doubled.
And each foot, especially those which stray off the path, causes an often imperceptible amount of erosion that, when combined with thousands of others, has serious consequences.
“It’s heartbreaking... seeing accidental damage being done. People don’t know they’re doing it but something as simple as walking off the path can be quite a big problem if it’s done in the numbers that we’ve had recently. Social distancing has got a major part to play too, as people try and avoid getting too close to others,” said Cole.
With the Highlands so close to Scotland’s population centres, there is a risk we forget just how special a place it is. But look at a satellite image of Europe at night and the Highlands almost disappear, demonstrating the light touch of humanity. There are few such places on this congested continent.
Just as we are attracted to its wildness, its remoteness, so too are many tourists from overseas and there are some who have relocated permanently, either to the Highlands or to Scotland, just so they can enjoy its natural splendour.
But we do need to make greater efforts to ensure that our light touch does not become a heavy one.
This is a task that falls to all of us as individuals but also to hillwalking societies, tourism bodies and the government. So on popular hills like Ben Lawers, we need to stick to the path, but we should also think about climbing the less well-known peaks. Depending on where you start, a 2,500-3,000ft Corbett can actually involve more climbing than a Munro.
The Highlands are wonderful and special. Let’s all work to make sure they stay that way.