1.4 Planning and post-project maintenance
What is maintenance?
Maintenance is the process by which a balance is sustained between use for public access and the condition of the route and the site that it crosses. If we wish to continue ‘taking out’ the benefits of public access to the site, we need to continue ‘putting in’ continued effort to maintain the site and paths in good condition. The level of effort needed to strike a balance between use and condition is the amount of maintenance that is required each year.
Maintenance work has several key features that distinguish it from path construction, improvement or upgrading. Some of the key features of maintenance are that it is:
- regular – carried out periodically and continuously, and usually several times each year;
- routine – work takes place because it is predicted that the route will require attention, rather than being reactive and waiting for the route to fall into poor condition;
- work is to a standard – a clear decision is made amongst site managers, owners, users and funders about the expected use of the route, the type of use intended and the quality of the route that needs to be maintained;
- sufficient – the level of effort each year is enough to keep the path in the desired condition long-term, and not allow it to deteriorate.
Maintenance usually entails relatively small-scale works, carried out on a regular basis, and is usually revenue funded. This contrasts with construction work, usually referring to larger scale, one-off activities that are usually capital funded. Maintenance work often requires a variety of different small tasks to be carried out and collectively; this effort keeps the route in good condition. Maintenance is not about changing the nature of the route through intensive work or widespread improvement.
Ideally, maintenance work takes place continually and at a level commensurate with the impacts of use. There are some routes that have been maintained continuously for many years, with effort increased as the levels of access has increased. On these routes the path condition is generally good, and the path has not required major rebuilding, as the level of maintenance has kept pace with the level of use and site change. Far more frequently, and on the vast majority of paths in Scotland at present, maintenance work takes place after the path has been rebuilt. The need to rebuild the path is due to the lack of long-term maintenance in the past, which has allowed the condition to deteriorate to such a stage that major rebuilding is required. As more paths are repaired, and new paths built or come into use, the total maintenance effort for access to Scotland’s countryside is rising steadily.
However, it has traditionally been very difficult to generate grant funding for Revenue-based works. It may be well worth identifying other methods of raising funding for this type for maintenance.
It continues to be the case that path maintenance work is under-resourced and there is difficulty meeting the current maintenance need for existing routes. Path managers need to make the best use of the resources they have available for maintenance, and be inventive about the ways in which this work is enabled. There is current debate about improved mechanisms to enable path maintenance to take places, and a gradual shifting of emphasis from the construction of paths to the maintenance of paths, as the process and extent of path repair continues.
There are four key reasons why path maintenance is essential:
- Continuing use – without maintenance, the continuing use of your paths may be in jeopardy. This may be due to deteriorating path condition, making sites inaccessible, particularly for less mobile users, or deterring use as the site is physically scarred and unattractive. Continued maintenance enables continued public use of the site, with more maintenance being required for high use or multiple use routes.
- Environmental impacts – poorly maintained paths and long-term undermaintained paths lead to soil erosion, habitat damage, and visual scarring in the landscape. Continued maintenance prevents this environmental damage taking place, and enables a balance between continued public access and high environmental quality, particularly on sensitive and high use sites.
- Resource protection – newly constructed or recently rebuilt paths require continued maintenance. Without this, the investment of time, effort and money will be put in jeopardy. Different paths require different levels of maintenance to keep them in good condition, and benefits of rebuilding a route may be only temporary if maintenance is not adequately carried out.
- Value for money – path maintenance work requires relatively modest resources each year, but needs those resources to be available continuously. The cost of reconstructing a path once it is severely deteriorated can be as much as the maintenance bill for 20-30 years of regular maintenance. The cost of maintaining both rebuilt and existing routes in fair condition represents good value for money, in the long-term.
What is your policy on maintenance?
Maintenance work is not an ‘add-on’ to the process of access management after construction: it is an integral function of access management and decisions across the site. Do not build a path if you do not have future resources to maintain it in good condition.
Maintenance is an integral part of managing access. Thinking about maintenance should start at the very beginning of deciding how to manage access on any one route or site. The frequency of maintenance that will be needed, the type of maintenance work to be carried out, and the extent of maintenance needed are determined by the level of anticipated use of the site, the environmental conditions on the site, and the style and extent of construction work that is taking place. In planning access to a site, maintenance, more than any other aspect of access management, is controlled by wider site management – the level of promotion, the size of carparks, the sort of use that is encouraged, will all help to determine the level, timing and types of access use.
If you have limited resources to put towards path maintenance, then you may want to consider avoiding certain types or levels of use, moving public access to less sensitive parts of the site, or seeking more resources to rebuild the site robustly. All of these will help minimise future maintenance. If you have good availability of resources for access – such as an income coming from carparking or available volunteer groups, maintenance work may enable the level of use to be built up over a long period of time, as your maintenance abilities gather pace. If possible, increase the annual maintenance effort in preference to major capital construction.
Each site and each organisation will need to strike a balance between path construction and path maintenance. Whatever that balance is for your site or organisation, you should have a clear maintenance policy that reflects your emphasis, the commitment of your organisation to continued maintenance, and the standards of path quality of access you wish to maintain.
What standard are you maintaining to?
Maintenance standards describe the quality of access provision that is required of the site. This is described in words or using photographs and sets out the minimum quality of path required, and the types of action and maintenance work required routinely to keep the path in that condition. Maintenance standards will be very different for different types of route. Upland paths standards will focus on environmental quality, site drainage and secure stonework. Community path network maintenance standards will focus on accessibility, site safety, and impacts on and management for other land uses.
Types of work
Practical maintenance of access requires three types of work:
- Routine inspection – at least annual inspection of all routes to check their condition and work needed. This also includes an annual safety assessment of the site for public use, and a review of current levels of hazard and risk.
- Routine maintenance – at least annual routine repairs to surfaces and structures; clearance of vegetation; clearance of drains and ditches; and other appropriate practical work. Major structures, such as bridges, may require specialist attention and engineering inspection.
- Minor repair or pre-emptive work – reactive work arising as a result of use of the site, severe weather condition, or some type of damage, and picked up by either routine inspections or by reports on condition coming in from users, owners and others. This work requires more time than is available during the routine maintenance work, but usually requires an urgent response to stop it deteriorating further.
As a path manager, you will have to estimate the frequency, extent and intensity of maintenance that is required for all three types of maintenance work. Taking into account a number of factors, including the length of the route, the gradient of terrain, the levels of use, the type of use, the standard to which you are maintaining it, and other factors, you will need to estimate the frequency of maintenance inspection and routine maintenance tasks each year, the amount of time you expect each of these visits to take, including time to write up reports and circulate them to other parties, and the likely level of response work – less if the route has been entirely rebuilt and is currently in good condition, and much more if minor pre-emptive work is envisaged instead of major capital reconstruction.
The estimated annual costs per kilometre for maintaining different types of path in Scotland at year 2000 costs are:
Cost per metre of path management
All at 2000 prices (£)
|All costs one-off, except maintenance||Lochaber||Loch Lomond||Wester Ross||Cairngorms|
|1||NS||New path on new or alternative line||32.35||43.00||38.36||87.00|
|2||NH||New path on existing line constructed by hand||37.01||46.50||38.36||58.00|
|3||NM||New path on existing line constructed by machine||19.20||24.00||22.65||29.00|
|7||MA||Maintain annual cost||0.62||0.90||0.92||1.50|
|Aggregate and stone pitched paths|
|£0.10/m (over entire network)||per year||The Footpath Trust|
|£1.20/m||per year||NTS Goat Fell|
|£1.17/m||per year||NTS Ben Lomond|
|Machine & hand-built|
|£0.88/m||per year||West Highland Way south|
|£0.98/m||per year||West Highland Way north|
Maintenance requires consistent and concerted effort with both clear responsibilities for initiating the maintenance and skilled workers who know the sites. It is therefore necessary to record in writing the maintenance policy, standards, procedures and annual reports for the sites, so this information can be passed on in the file to future site managers.
Information is contained in the maintenance file, which records the frequency, location and intensity of maintenance work to be carried out, the completed site file on the areas of the site that are likely to require most maintenance attention, and the types of maintenance task that will be needed. The maintenance file need only be two pages long, as it simply records each occasion on which routine maintenance, site inspection, and risk assessments were carried out. The maintenance file should also include all of the information collected in the site file, such as site risk assessment, a set of full site ‘as built’ drawings and relevant background information.
Each time the path is inspected, or routine maintenance work is carried out, a short report is written up on site, entered into the maintenance file, and circulated to each organisation that holds a copy of the information. This type of report will differ between different types of path, and different people carrying out the work. The two examples here show a site report form for a professional pathworker carrying out repairs on a mountain path alongside a report form for local volunteer path wardens carrying out inspections and minor repairs on a community path network route.
In addition to routine inspections and maintenance work, occasional repair work will also be needed. This may range from replacing a crossdrain that has been washed out by a sudden rush of water, to repairing a kissing gate that has been damaged by frequent use, or blocking braids on a path where spreading width has been observed for several years, but has now reached a state at which action is necessary. The response to repair works will vary from site to site, but for all sites a contingency budget should be kept aside for this type of work. The exact location is unpredictable, but the fact that it will occur can be reasonably predicted and estimated. The difficulty of estimating the size and frequency of repair work is made easier if the risk is spread over a large number of sites. For instance, hold a single repair budget for a network of 100km of path network, with an expectation that 12–15 repairs visits will be needed each year across the network in addition to routine maintenance visits. It is important to brief those carrying out routine maintenance work not to undertake lengthy repair work, as this will detract from the time available for maintenance across the whole path. Instead, they should collect detailed information on the location, type of work required, and make an estimate of the time or cost of carrying out the work and, if possible, take photographs of the site.
Maintenance work does require a wide range of path skills, and should not be carried out by unskilled, or unsupervised staff. The harder part of maintenance is having a mechanism to remind or trigger routine actions to take place at the appropriate time each year, particularly if the maintenance could easily be postponed in favour of more immediate or urgent construction or other site management work. This temptation must be resisted, and programme of maintenance kept up.
There are a number of personnel who may carry out maintenance work, including:
- Path contractors: Footpath contractors may be engaged on contract to carry out maintenance inspections, routine work, and repair work if necessary. Usually carried out by a team of two, with a contract that extends over several sites it is not worth setting up a contract for only a few days of maintenance work. It is essential to build up a good working relationship with the maintenance team so that you get the right type of feedback on the condition of the routes, as well as the trust that work is being carried out conscientiously.
- Dedicated site staff: On larger, publicly owned access sites, dedicated maintenance teams are employed, for instance on NTS properties or longdistance routes. These teams specialise in routine maintenance inspections, maintenance work and repair work, and build up a good knowledge of the site. This type of provision is only possible with adequate resourcing and with an access route or area that warrants dedicated maintenance staff all year round.
- Other site staff: These include countryside rangers, private estate staff, farmers and others. If it is possible to include maintenance duties in the job description of site staff, or to pay an annual amount to on site land management staff, this can often be a very effective way of carrying out maintenance. The route is regularly visited in the course of work, and there is a strong incentive to keep the path in good repair. Such workers will need encouragement, training and supervision to make sure the work is carried out, and to the required standard.
- Volunteers: Volunteers have been involved in path maintenance for many years, and with good organisation, supervision, training, tools, and encouragement can carry out a very effective job. There are a number of different models of volunteer involvement, including:
- Path wardens: Community path networks may be maintained by a small group of local residents who volunteer during evenings or weekends to carry out minor maintenance work on the routes. Options range from people regularly walking the route providing path inspection reports, through regular Sunday working parties, to a repair team who are trained and equipped to respond.
- Adopt-a-path: Several walking clubs have ‘adopted’ footpaths and taken on the maintenance responsibility, particularly on popular mountain routes. The climbing club receives tools and training, and incorporates visits two or three times per year to the route, as part of their programme of club meets. As with all volunteer work, this input is not free of charge, and does require training, supervision, encouragement and safe working.
Do not build what you cannot maintain. Identify the likely need for maintenance and the resources as part of the initial project planning, and include this as an integral part of the project proposal and funding package. Do not embark on the project unless you have either secured the resources required to carry out this work in future, or have a commitment to fund future maintenance long term.
When designing the project decide, before embarking on construction, how maintenance work will be carried out, and the balance between construction and maintenance work. It may be possible to reduce the capital investment and the scale of construction work, if you are confident about future revenue and availability of maintenance work. The shift in emphasis of path work in Scotland to a focus on pre-emptive and maintenance work, will only be possible when revenue for continuing ‘stitch in time’ pathwork is secured and made available for periods of 5–10 years, giving path managers confidence to take this route.
Make sure that the contractors, site staff, or volunteers carrying out maintenance work have the right skills and are correctly briefed. They will be dealing with all types of construction work, and need to report on built structures. They will need a very wide range of skills, and not simply the ability to scrape a spade through a crossdrain! Explain to whoever is carrying out the maintenance work how this fits into the programme of wider management, and make sure you receive back an accurate and comprehensive record of the maintenance work and the condition of the site. This may be the only report you receive on the site for a whole year.
Safety is particularly important during maintenance work – both on site while maintenance work is being carried out, and through the annual audit site safety condition. As for any construction work, no matter how minor, a risk assessment should be carried out, and only trained and competent personnel should perform maintenance work. Path inspections may be carried out by a single member of staff working alone, if they follow the lone working, and logging in/out procedures. All practical maintenance work should be carried out by a team of at least two people for safety, work efficiency and morale. The maintenance visit is usually combined with a safety assessment of the site, from the point of view of the user. This includes identifying any change in condition, site hazards and re-evaluation of the risk assessment on an annual basis.
Start maintenance before path damage occurs, and if damage does occur, pre-empt the need to entirely rebuild the path with small scale and timely repairs.