Tuesday 16 March 2010

Where now for Ben Nevis?

Switching on the computer this morning I was skimming through the mostly trivial posts on Facebook when my attention was caught by one from Cameron McNeish regretfully announcing the closure of the Nevis Partnership, of which he is the chair. The Nevis Partnership, a charity pledged to “guide future policies and actions to safeguard, manage and where appropriate enhance the environmental qualities and opportunities for visitor enjoyment and appreciation of the Nevis area”, will close sometime next year due to lack of funding. For the last seven years the Nevis Partnership, made up of a wide variety of groups including community councils, Highland Council, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the John Muir Trust and Scottish National Heritage, has worked for the conservation and restoration of Ben Nevis and the surrounding area. The closure of the Partnership means the loss of three jobs and the end of plans for repair of the lower Ben Nevis Track as well as other projects. Does this matter? I think so. Generally I’m not in favour of much management of the hills. Wild areas should be left to be wild. Reducing grazing pressure and repairing footpaths is about all that’s needed in much of the Highlands. Ben Nevis is different though because it’s the highest mountain and therefore very popular. Over 150,000 people are estimated to climb it every year. And then there are all those who visit Glen Nevis and walk its footpaths but don’t climb Ben Nevis. This huge volume of visitors puts enormous pressure on footpaths and the natural environment so some management is needed. Now the local community and the various landowning bodies will need to find a way to work together to achieve this. There is also Friends of Nevis, a charity set up by the Nevis Partnership, which Cameron says will continue and which will now be even more important.

Ben Nevis is not just the highest mountain in Scotland, it’s also one of the most impressive with the biggest and most spectacular cliffs of any Scottish hill. On a sunny day in summer, when the mountain is thronged with walkers and it would not be surprising to see an ice cream van on the summit and a row of deck chairs overlooking the great North Face, it might not seem wild but climb to the top up the snow and ice of the cliffs and descend in a storm or camp alone on the summit and all the glory and wildness of Ben Nevis returns and it is seen in its full magnificence. This iconic mountain deserves funding as a key part of the national heritage of Scotland. If Ben Nevis is not worth any money where is?

Photo info: Walkers on Ben Nevis, June 2009. Canon EOS 450D, Tamron 11-18@16mm, 1/1250@ f5.6, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6


  1. It is sad that this is happening, I hope the organisations still work together at trying to get volunteers helping with things like litter collections on the Ben.

    I like Chris that you talk of the Ben like you do. I think that wild camp you had up there alone in the deep snow which you have documented before now had a big affect on your relationship with the Ben. I was up on the Ben the week or so before you did that camp and got engaged on Carn Mor Dearg looking over to the North Face on a perfect day.

    The likes of Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike are often dismissed by ignorant walkers who go along with the whole myth of them being just a tourist traps wwith no decent routes. Like you say, they can be as wild as any mountain on the right day.

  2. Jamie, you're right, that night on the Ben did have a big effect on me. I imagine getting engaged on Carn Mor Dearg would have an effect too! I never viewed the Ben just as a tourist trap though - winter climbs on the North Face and the Carn Mor Dearg Arete showed me many years ago that it is a fine mountain. The Snowdon Horseshoe and Scafell Pike under snow showed me those were real mountains too - long before I even saw Ben Nevis.

  3. Perhaps we don't need the Nevis Partnership assuming that the Friends of Nevis are able to properly maintain the hill paths and educate people on what is expected of them when walking there. If we do need another organisation or more funds for the Friends of Nevis then this money should , I think, come from those who gain most from the Tourism generated by The Ben and also the Scottish Government as it is of national importance and all people of Scotland benefit from it. Best wishes, Alastair