For those who don their hiking boots and head up some of Scotland’s favourite mountain paths, there is the reward of spectacular scenery and a boost to their health and fitness.

Now two leading outdoor organisations are warning that many of the nation’s most iconic mountains are being “wrecked” by over-use and the post-Brexit loss of vital European funding for repairs, leaving them in desperate need of investment to halt their decline.

The problem has soared in the wake of the pandemic, as increased numbers of walkers sought solace in the beauty of the Scottish hills and mountains.

It is now being suggested that wealthy walkers stump up "a few quid" to help a campaign to protect the mountain paths.

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The sudden loss of millions of pounds of European cash previously available to help fund path repair schemes plus the changing climate, has resulted in a serious deterioration in paths creating a range of environmental issues.

Of major concern are slopes in private ownership; they do not have the same potential access to government funds as those within Scotland’s national parks or covered by NGOs.

Mountaineering Scotland and the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland have now joined forces to launch a major campaign aimed at raising awareness of the urgent need for investment.

HeraldScotland: Damage at An Teallach in Wester Ross which is earmarked for a £300,000 restoration Damage at An Teallach in Wester Ross which is earmarked for a £300,000 restoration (Image: Dougie Baird, OATS)

The ambitious three-year partnership includes a call for everyone who benefits from Scotland’s spectacular hills and mountains – from the walkers who visit to businesses which cater to their needs and governments – to play a role in halting the decline.

The OATS chief executive, Dougie Baird, said: “Hill-walking is generally a … pursuit of folk who are reasonably moneyed, and [given] what people are prepared to pay for a jacket or a rucksack, I would imagine a keen hill-goer or mountaineer is probably wearing a couple of grand on his back, with a £30 grand car in the car park.

“What we’re really saying to them is there’s no public money, there’s no tax dollar going in to help manage [paths] so it’s really down to us and if we can afford it we should be prepared to give the hill a few quid.”

The two organisations are also urging a full survey to identify the scale of the problem and a new funding model to help landowners access financial support to carry out repairs and maintenance.

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The campaign, It’s Up to Us, includes new plans to raise £300,000 for vital path repairs on one of Scotland’s best-loved mountains.

They have earmarked the hill path from Dundonnell on An Teallach in Wester Ross, for a £300,000 restoration project intended to address decades of erosion.

They say the An Teallach path is a clear example of a popular mountain path on privately owned land with no government funding currently available to help maintain its routes.

The project has been boosted by a £100,000 60th Anniversary Diamond Grant Award from the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.

Mountaineering Scotland CEO, Stuart Younie, said: “Scotland’s informal hill and mountain path network plays a vital role in helping us to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of being active outdoors, which was never more evident than during the pandemic.

“Active tourism also makes a significant contribution to the Scottish economy and to local communities across the highlands.

“We need to recognise the cumulative impact of recreational activity and extreme weather due to climate change on our landscape and do something positive to address it so it can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.”

HeraldScotland: A hill path from Dundonnell on An Teallach in Wester Ross is earmarked for a £300,000 restoration

He added: “There has been no replacement for the funding lost following Brexit.

“The majority of Scotland’s mountains are under private ownership with no funding available to help them.

“Private landowners don’t generate any income from people walking on their mountains, but a lot of people benefit from using their paths.

“We want people who use the paths to get on board and think about making a small contribution to help.”

He added: “From valleys to the top of the mountains is a really fragile ecosystem, we are seeing a lot more people on the hills using the paths, the impact of climate change with wetter winters and more rainfall in summer is having a significant impact.

“On an eroded path, the debris and stones are being washed away, leading to additional erosion.

“On some paths, such as at Beinn Dorain near Bridge of Orchy, we can see scaring up to 10 metres wide. People walk around trying to avoid puddles, which makes an even bigger scar.”

The campaign will also target Government, stakeholder agencies and organisations and outdoor businesses, and highlight the social, health and wellbeing, economic and environmental benefits provided by good mountain paths.

Despite walking tourism said to be worth £1.6billion to Scotland’s economy, there is no public investment from the UK and Scottish Governments to support mountain path and habitat restoration work outside of Scotland's national parks and NGO estates.

While the logistical issues of repairing mountain paths and trails means work is expensive: NatureScot estimated in 2019 that it costs an average of £90 per metre, although the true figure is thought often rise much higher.

Mr Baird, CEO of OATS, added  some mountain paths were being “wrecked” and are in urgent need of attention.

“In some areas there hasn’t even been a survey to see the extent of the problem,” he added.

“Ben Hope, Scotland’s most northerly munro, has been wrecked and areas of peat bog trashed.

“We no longer have access to European funding, which has provided significant support for path and habitat restoration projects in the past, with no funding from the government to replace it.

“It is vital to the success of the It’s Up to Us campaign that we engage with Governments and all stakeholders to highlight the desperate need for investment in mountain paths, and a long-term sustainable model that gives all landowners access to funding for essential mountain path maintenance is developed.”

Cameron McNeish, outdoor author, broadcaster and one of the most recognisable figures in the Scottish outdoors, is an ambassador for the new campaign. He said: “It’s such an important project for every person who loves walking on Scotland's hills and mountains.

“The original tracks and trails on our hills were never built to sustain the numbers that use them now, so it's up to all of us to pull together in every way we can and keep them well maintained.”