A combination of higher and more intense levels of rain fall and increased tourism in the last six years has created a potential time bomb in respect of accessibility in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB and on designated National Trust land.
The evidence is the damage caused to popular footpaths, which cross fragile shallow soils, laid over limestone. These soils are very susceptible to local compaction and the combination of increased intensity and frequency of rainfall events and a higher number of walkers has caused surface and some larger scale erosion at pinch points on popular walks.
Evidence of winter erosion at a pinch point on the circular “Lots” walk Silverdale AONB
Tourism is becoming an increasingly important element in the economic survival of the AONB, as it offers an alternative experience to the Lake District. The landscape is more mellow and diverse and relatively empty of visitors. Due to its diversity of scale, it is also able to absorb walkers in to the landscape, without the perception of overcrowding and avoiding the honey pot mentality. New cafes and craft shops have opened recently and pubs have been restored with the objective of capturing these new visitors.
However, if footpaths are not negotiable, the erosion causes a visible stain on the landscape, local farmers see valuable grassland disappearing and the special sense of place is compromised; then this could affect the future success of the area as a tourist destination.
It is only too evident in the Lake District, what the solutions to this problem are - paths of stone slabs or gravel on the most popular routes, which create an artificial network across the fells, destroying the sense of isolation and uniqueness.
In the Arnside and Silverdale AONB, similar problems are becoming evident. The answer is pro-active and forward planning, rather than waiting for the problem to become unmanageable. In particular the use of sustainable grass reinforcement systems could have an important part to play in restoring areas of grassland, preventing erosion and reducing wear and tear on shady poorly drained woodland paths.
Due to the shallowness of these soils, the process does not just involve removing soil and introducing reinforcement, but will require local excavation by machine to gain a greater depth of soil to facilitate good long term stability, drainage and resilience. This work might be seen to be expensive with little to show in the short term but the implementation needs to be viewed in the long term and not just as a means of “repairing” paths but as an aggregated response, which could eventually contribute to the future economic prosperity of the area.