1.3. Path Assessment
Before any upland pathwork takes place, it is essential that a full assessment is undertaken, in context with the surrounding environment. This can encompass an administrative or land ownership area; a geographical upland area or mountain range; a network of local paths on a popular mountain; or a single path corridor. It will consider all of the influencing factors which may be crucial to future management: the land through which it passes; the people who use the land; the people who use the paths; the visual impact of use, and potential work; environmental and physical features.
The Path Assessment is essentially a path management desk exercise - all available sources of information and understanding of the site will be used to identify and decide where condition and specification surveys are required. The full assessment will therefore include results of path survey work, as detailed in Path Survey. The Path Assessment is a mini management plan for recreation on a mountain site - it is likely to be implemented over several years and will need to be updated. Path assessments should link directly to other plans, where they exist - for instance, designated site management plans, bio-diversity, habitat and species action plans, and area based access strategies.
The assessment makes sure that all factors are considered, and integrated with the practical aspects of the pathwork. A comprehensive assessment will gather all relevant background information about the area, as well as detail about the path network or path, in order to produce a strategic report or ‘management plan’. This will:
Coire Dubh, Glen Torridon. A path assessed within a mountain area suffering from increasing recreational use. Surveys identified the spread of severe trampling and water gullying in a fragile environment. The assessment indicated high priority for funding of sensitive path repair work. (See Environmental Impact for the solution and designed pathwork.)
- identify factors and causes attributing to the path condition and the scale of work required
- prioritise work and quantify the resources required and any constraints
- influence the solution and design for pathwork required
- establish a plan of action for current and future levels of work
- determine the overall level of funding required
- enable resources to be targeted and work implemented
A management report on one path, assessed within a wider area. The written site description, maps and photographs are accompanied by condition survey sheets (see Path Survey). Click image to enlarge.
Sources of Information
Information can be gathered from a variety of sources. Local authority records, in planning, countryside or recreation departments, may include old survey data, maps and photographic records. Landowners and local residents can also provide useful information, which should be gathered by talking and meeting with the appropriate people. Community councils will often help with this type of research and survey. Information should include:
- background detail, maps, photos - on geography, historical and current land use, user profiles, patterns, numbers etc.
- views of users, land owners, special interest groups etc. - information from people familiar with the site is invaluable, particularly regarding changeable local factors such as water flow, alternative local routes and short-cuts and seasonal variation in use
- promotion of areas or routes - information from local tourist businesses, guide books or specialist use
- past and new path survey data - on path use, condition, problems and work required - obtained from results of path condition and work specification surveys (see Path Survey)
Communication and consultation
A variety of people are concerned with path management. They may all play a role in the path assessment whether providing information or involved in consultation.
- Landowners - including the factor, land agent or estate manager - can provide information on many areas of the path assessment.
- SNH - representing the government - involved in designated area and recreation management as well as conservation and funding issues.
- Path or property manager - working on behalf of the landowner, charitable trusts or local authorities - normally responsible for the assessment, generating path surveys and strategic reporting.
- Surveyor - trained specialist working for the path manager or landowner - carries out condition or specification surveys.
- Users - organised groups, local community, or simply people who use and know the path - an invaluable source of local information about the path use and area.
- Funding partners - public, voluntary and private - potentially contribute to the funding of path management and the pathwork, and often have views on how their resources should be applied.
Assessment information format
This wide range of information and views is structured into categories. A common format of Path Assessment includes:
- Reason for path, and setting
- Access to path and access restrictions
- Habitat and vegetation
- Weather trends
- Boundaries and maps
- Previous management
- Overall and path section survey results
- Dynamism of the path and sections
- Likely impact of no action
- Priority sections for work
- Specification survey details
- Extent and style of work
- Techniques to be used
- Path alignment
- Quantity of work, work days and length
- Future monitoring and maintenance programme
- Costs and funding
- Contracts and supervision required
- Programming and timing of work
- Availability of materials, on or off site
- Access to site for workers, plant and materials
- Health and Safety considerations
- Additional constraints or restrictions
The use of data-bases for storing data and compiling results will be useful on all large scale assessments where more than one path is being assessed as part of an area network. Using the information
Having gathered together all the detail under suitable headings, and identified problem areas and potential solutions, the assessed information is used to make decisions and plan the programme of work for the path or paths in question. A draft should be circulated to all relevant interested parties for consultation. Consultation responses should be incorporated into the plan. The next steps in the path management process can then be taken.
- Bid for resources, with the aim of securing funds to carry out the work required, staged over several years if necessary.
- Implement pathwork, according to the results of the path assessment and the principles and techniques set out in this manual