Information and Advisory Note Number 146 Back to menu
1.1 Scotland's hills and mountains are of great recreational value. They are Britain's best areas of wild land and have Britain's best resources of snow and ice. They offer challenging opportunities for hill-walking, climbing and skiing; and their outstanding landscapes also attract visitors who enjoy the hills without engaging in the more active pursuits.
1.2 A tradition of free access to the high hills was confirmed in Scotland's Hills and Mountains: a Concordat on Access (Access Forum, 1996). The government has since proposed that there should be a right of access, taken responsibly, for informal recreation and passage. Legislation will come before the Scottish Parliament in late 2001.
1.3 Surveys suggest that in any one month of survey, 4 to 5% of the Scottish population go climbing, hill-walking, or mountaineering (MacGregor & Martin, 1999). The typical mountain user is a well-educated, middle-aged male. Some 55% of visitors to the Cairngorms surveyed by Taylor & MacGregor (1999) were between 35 and 55, and 60% were male.
1.4 General walking surveys demonstrate the popularity of the hills amongst those who do not necessarily want to reach the summits. About 10% of those interviewed by System Three Scotland (1996) took their last walk in a mountain or moorland setting.
1.5 Mountain-based recreation is economically important to many communities, particularly out of the main tourist season. Between January and March it may comprise more than 80% of tourism-related income. In 1996 it was calculated that mountaineers spent a total of £148.9 million in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area, generating about 3,950 jobs (Highlands and Islands Enterprise, 1996).
2.1 General activity
2.1.1 At the turn of the 19th century, mountain activities were largely the preserve of the well off, who had transport, leisure time and money (Hankinson, 1972; Crocket, 1986). For some, they later became a temporary escape from the monotony of unemployment or the grind of the Clydesdale shipyards (Borthwick, 1939; Connor, 1999), and are now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a popular pursuit. Significant factors in accelerating the popularity of mountain activities include:
2.1.2 While there is a lack of long-term data, comparison of the 1973 STAR
survey and the UK Day Visits Survey of 1995 indicates a growth from 0.8 million
to 1.8 million trips (Davison, 1997).
2.1.3 Long term growth is best indicated through surrogate data showing increases in the number of those completing the Munros, the number of mountain rescues and growth in hill-walking/ mountaineering clubs (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Three indices of growth in mountain recreation 1945-99. Data supplied by Dr R. Aitken, after Aitken (1977). Derived from annual listings of mountain rescues and Munro completions in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, and from the records of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
2.1.4 Short-term fluctuations in activity reflect weather conditions.
2.1.5 The only long-term dataset for one location is numbers of people observed on the Cairngorm plateau between 1943 and 1987 (Watson, 1991). This shows a very low level of use of the hills until the early 1960s (Figure 2). As well as the factors listed above, the increased activity was correlated with the opening of the Cairngorm chair-lift.
2.1.6 The distribution, as well as the numbers, of hill-users has expanded; but areas with easy access from the Central Belt still attract the most visits. The 1995 walking survey found that the Perthshire hills and the Grampians/Cairngorms attracted 37% of those whose last walk was in a mountain/moorland setting (Davison, 1997). However, surveys show that a few people travel very long distances. For example, 3% of those on a day-trip to Glen Shiel had come from the Borders (Herries, 1998).
Figure 2. Mean numbers of visitors per day on the Cairngorm plateau 1943-1988. Source: Watson (1991).
2.1.7 Trend data, and even good participation data, for individual hill-based pursuits are scarce.
2.2 Rock climbing
2.2.1 Although participation has increased nationally in recent years, the main growth has been indoors (i.e. using artificial climbing walls), and on easily accessible outcrops. A series of poor summers, and increased foreign travel, have also restricted the increase of activity in the Scottish mountains
2.2.2 Most climbers have concentrated on the comparatively accessible crags of Arrochar, Glen Coe, Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms. In recent decades, those of a pioneering spirit have taken advantage of improved access and increased personal transport to explore north and east of the Great Glen. Only a few such sites have subsequently become popular, including the sea-cliffs of Aberdeenshire, the Old Man of Hoy, Rieff, near Ullapool, and Pabbay and Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides.
2.2.3 Improvements in equipment and clothing, along with the development of greater skills have ensured that the leading climbers are continually developing harder climbs in the traditional areas.
2.2.4 Fashion is a major influence on short-term trends in climbing. A new guidebook, or a major article in a climbing magazine, can lead to an area or individual crag becoming very popular for two or three years.
2.3 Winter climbing
2.3.1 Participation in winter climbing was low until the 1970s. Improved equipment and technique, and the leadership of skilled individuals, then led to a rapid expansion in gully climbing, which developed into mixed rock and ice climbing on buttresses. Participation increased greatly through the 1970s, although participation in any one year is highly dependent on the weather.
2.3.2 The numbers of people seeking out new routes remains comparatively small, the majority continuing to climb primarily in the traditional areas of Ben Nevis, Creag Meagaidh, Glen Coe, Lochnagar and the Cairngorms.
2.4 Other activities
2.4.1 Cross country skiing and ski mountaineering have grown in popularity, but numbers are difficult to estimate, being too low to register in market research surveys.
2.4.2 Although downhill skiing increased rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s, no overall trend is apparent in more recent years. Large year to year fluctuations are related to various factors, including the number of days with snow lying and the number of high wind-speed days. Poor skiing seasons from 1987 to 1991 correlated with very poor snow years. Although 1993/94 had a high number of snow days, ski days were relatively low due to the large number of weekend storms (Cannell et al., 1999).
2.4.3 Participation in other mountain based activities is currently low:
3.1 For hill-walking, the best comparison is between the Scottish Tourism and
Recreation Study of 1973 and the National Walking Survey of 1995 (Davison,
1997). Further information is derived from sportscotland's data (formerly the
Scottish Sports Council), summarised in MacGregor & Martin (1999) and from
System Three Scotland's walking survey for Scottish Natural Heritage (System
Three Scotland, 1996).
3.2 Data on Munroists, mountain rescues and hill-walking/ mountaineering clubs, were provided by Dr R. Aitken.
3.3 Information on trends in climbing was provided by Dr C. Wells.
Access Forum (1996). Scotland's Hills and Mountains: a Concordat on Access.
Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Aitken, R. (1977). Wilderness Areas in Scotland. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen.
Borthwick, A. (1939). Always a Little Further. Glasgow: Ernest Press.
Cannell, M.G.R., Palutikof, J.P. & Sparks, T.H. (1999). Indicators of Climate Change in the UK. Climatic Research Unit and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Wetherby: DETR/CRU/NERC
Connor, J. (1999). Creagh Dhu Climber. Glasgow: Ernest Press.
Crocket, K. (1986). Ben Nevis. Scottish Mountaineering Trust.
Davison, R. (1997). Hill-walking in Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage Information and Advisory Note No. 80. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Hankinson, A. (1972). The First Tigers. London: Dent.
Herries, J. (1998). Glen Shiel Hillwalking Survey 1996: 3August-3 November 1996-Report of Findings. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Survey and Monitoring Report No. 106. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (1996). The Economic Impacts of Hill-walking, Mountaineering and associated activities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
MacGregor, C. & Martin, I. (1999). Sports Participation in Scotland 1998. Edinburgh: sportscotland.
Scottish Hill Runners (1997-1999). Scottish Hill Running Calendar. Scottish Hill Runners.
System Three Scotland (1996). A Survey of Walking in the Countryside in Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Survey and Monitoring Report No. 11. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Taylor, J. & MacGregor, C. (1999). Cairngorms Mountain Recreation Survey 1997-98. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Survey and Monitoring Report No. 162. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Watson, A. (1991). Increase of people on Cairngorm plateau following easier access. Scottish Geographical Magazine. 107 (2) 99-105.
Further detailed information on Natural Heritage Trends: Access and Recreation can be found in Information & Advisory Note No. 142.
To obtain further information about any of the issues raised in this l&A Note,
Ms Jeanette Hall (Author) or Mr Ed Mackey
Environmental Audit Group
Chief Scientist's Unit
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
EDINBURGH EH6 5NP
Tel: 0131-446 2457
Fax: 0131-446 2405
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