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30 Jul 2021

A day in the life of a ... Senior Ranger

Written by Alasdair Eckersall, Senior Ranger, Ben Lomond
A man works on a rocky mountain summit, with Loch Lomond seen in the distance far below. He uses a sharp axe-like tool to work at the path edge.
Alasdair working on the path of Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond is a busy place, as most folks will know! But for the three staff who work here, it’s not just busy with visitors but also with a wide range of ongoing projects. Here, Alasdair offers a behind-the-scenes glance at the important role he plays in caring for this special place.

At Ben Lomond, we carry out a range of tasks and projects on the wider estate, as well as run a bunkhouse, used by many hundreds of West Highland Way walkers each year. For me, as property manager and ranger, that usually means a constant juggle of office-based and outdoor time; no two days are the same.

But this summer, things are different. Ben Lomond has become more popular than ever in the periods between lockdowns, which has unfortunately led to an increase in path erosion and concerns about the rapid spreading visible on the main path. Some of the work to stop this is going to be tackled by contractors, but it also needs lots of our input. For three months I am devoting much of my work time to tackling one of the higher sites, between 830m and 900m altitude, on the main path. The work doesn’t just involve practical labour (although there is a LOT of that!), but we are also raising awareness with many visitors who are discovering the hills for the first time, and aren’t familiar with the impact we can have on mountain vegetation.

So, in the near future, many of my work days will consist of an early, 90-minute tramp up the hill to get to the work site by 9.30am or so. Hopefully, the weather is grand and there’s a chance for a wee sit down to take in the view, catch my breath and have a coffee from the flask. Then it’s time to winkle the tools out of their hiding place and get stuck in.

A view of a stony mountain path. Several tools lie at the side of the path, as well as a spade resting in a cross-path drainage channel.
Path repair work underway on Ben Lomond

The work is a mix of improving the path surface, widening it where necessary, and creating obstacles – generally making the ground as rough as possible – to either side. This combination puts the walking pressure back on the established path surface and off the fragile, soft ground to either side. There’s a fair bit of stonework: building drainage and re-working sections of stone pitching to give a better surface. There’s also a lot of digging, creating various humps and mounds to obstruct the new routes that people have trampled.

A couple of days have been rough so far, but generally the weather has been kind. The hardest part of my day is definitely the walk up, doing it day after day. Although I have always respected our in-house path team, I take my hat off to them again – the endurance they show in their job, year in, year out!

Lots of walkers mill around on a wide path approaching a mountain summit.
Ben Lomond is busy this year!

The hills are busy with walkers now, with a regular chatter of greetings, curiosity about our work, requests for us to put an escalator in and enquiries as to whether I’ve found any gold yet. Occasionally, someone struggling suggests that the landscaped mounds are the graves of walkers who didn’t make it, and asks if they can reserve one … To be honest, the patter hasn’t changed at all since I first started working on upland path repair in the 1980s!

There’s also wildlife to look out for, with a pair of ptarmigan nearby and ravens regularly cruising past.

At this altitude, once the vegetation disappears it can take decades to recover. This is why we are trying so hard to prevent the erosion from worsening. Everyone can help keep path erosion in check; if you’ve had to step off the path to let someone past, or find yourself on the soft ground to the side of the path, just take that one wee step back on to the worn path surface. This simple act will help protect the mountain landscapes we all love and enjoy.

I love this place, I leave no trace

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