The paths in our National Parks are the foundation for our enjoyment of the outdoors. Our Mend our Mountains campaign is back and on steroids this year – the plan is to raise £1 million to repair some of Britain’s most popular – and heavily eroded – footpaths! Here’s the first in a mini-series of interviews to find out more about what each of our National Parks needs in terms of restoration. Adam Vasey is a Park Ranger at the New Forest National Park.
The Mend our Mountains appeal, which is generously supported by headline sponsors Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+Rock, is on track for its £1 million target with eight months still to go. So what can you do to get involved? From organising your own fundraising challenge (check out BMC member Richard Duckworth’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ challenge to walk all the projects supported by the appeal here) to donating money or buying something like a box of Clif bars, there are plenty of big and small ways you can do your bit, depending on how much time you have! You can either donate specifically to one National Park or generally to the greater cause.
So what does the New Forest need funding for? Sarah Stirling talks to Adam Vasey.
SS: So you're a Ranger – that sounds like a fun job!
AV: Yes – part of my job is to go off exploring and walking the paths – they pay me to do that, if you can believe it! National Park Rangers are responsible for taking care of bridleways and byways, dealing with the public and organising events and volunteers, amongst other things. It’s very varied work and full of interesting things.
I’ve only been working at the New Forest for five weeks, so I’m new here but I’m not new to National Parks – I was a Ranger at Exmoor National Park for 8 1/2 years. I moved because I wanted a change; to check out a different National Park. Exmoor is the UK’s second-least visited National Park, while the New Forest is one of the busiest, so there are many challenges on the wildlife and people here.
What's the main conservation challenge you face in the New Forest National Park?
There’a an old joke round here about a rider going along a path, seeing someone stuck in a bog up to their waist and asking, “Are you OK?”
“I’m OK,” the stuck person replied, “But I’m a bit worried about my horse…”
The main problem here in the New Forest is that there are some really muddy bits that need ‘stone hogging’, as it’s known locally.
WATCH Mend the New Forest
You've worked on two Mend our Mountains campaigns previously, can you tell us a bit about that; how important is this annual funding boost to National Parks?
Yes, whenever there is a Mend our Mountains campaign running, it's part of my job as a Ranger to help organise fund-raising on a local level and then to help use that funding to carry out the repair work. I worked with the BMC on two Mend our Mountains campaigns when I was in Exmoor and the funding really was invaluable. It's essential to complete large projects that our standard maintenance budgets can’t cope with.
Two years ago we used Mend our Mountains funding to helicopter some stones onto a really boggy and important bridleway in Exmoor. This year, before moving to the New Forest, I was focussing on their current Mend our Mountains campaign: the plan is to use the funding to repair a sensitive upland site called The Chains, using a natural technique called soil inversion -–you essentially turn the soil over so the rockier stuff is on top to protect it. We did some experiments with the technique last year and it worked really well in that environment.
WATCH Adam on the Mend Exmoor video:
So what will you spend the Mend our Mountains funds on this year in the New Forest?
The main challenge in the New Forest is that there are so many people living here who want to access the National Park, explore a wild place and get out into the countryside. It’s essentially a small area of National Park serving a huge population.
So this year we are planning to use the Mend our Mountains funding to repair paths in the Lepe Country Park. It’s an ideal gateway for the more casual visitors who don’t want to walk for miles. They can learn about the National Park, go for a gentle explore, then head to the Lookout Restaurant for a cup of tea. This in turn relieves the pressure on the more sensitive areas of the Open Forest, like the sensitive heathland habitats that the New Forest National Park is famous for.
There’s a nice mix of everything in Lepe Country Park. By the sea there is a stunning coastal landscape – you can see the Isle of Wight, yachts and pleasure craft in the Solent, then you walk up through beautiful farmland, pass through ancient woodland and cross some rivers. Did you know that many of the troops heading for Normandy during World War II left from Lepe?
We essentially want to use the Mend our Mountains funding to repair a much-loved five-mile circular walk called the Lepe Loop, which gets impassible with mud. We are hoping to raise enough money to make it easier for families and the disabled to access it, in off-road buggies and on off-road mobility scooters called ‘Trampers’. That doesn’t at all mean we want to pave over paradise – it’s just the boggy bits that would need repairing, and we would also need to replace a few gates and bridges.
Adam repairing a path in Exmoor two years ago thanks to BMC Mend our Mountains funding. Photo: Steve Guscott / ENPA
So tell us what you're doing in the New Forest to help with the Mend our Mountains fund-raising bid?
Fund-raising is going well so far. It’s such a grear route - I was out on the Lepe Loop this morning so I’m all full of beans about it! So many people support it and want it to be better. I’m organising some guided walks – if people donate a certain amount they get a free pass [see below for full list].
We are also organising a local raffle – I’m currently hunting around for a lead partner on that – we want to blag a spa day or an overnight stay at a hotel if possible. We have loads of other prizes, like a pub lunch, vouchers for family events and so on. Local businesses have been really generous.
Volunteer groups and local youth groups like the Princes Trust will help us carry out the repair work, so it’s a good opportunity to get members of the community and young people involved in helping with the work and to promote a sense of ownership of the route for generations to come.
Sounds great –good luck!
Mend the New Forest Walks
The New Forest National Park are currently planning some guided walks. The fees for these walks will go to the Mend New Forest campaign. Keep your eye on the Mend our Mountains website for dates – they will be running next spring.
Walk the Lepe Loop
Join Alison Steele, creator of the Lepe Loop, for a walk along this beautiful trail we are desperately trying to raise funds to protect. The Lepe Loop is a fantastic walk along the beach, combining coastal and countryside paths. The Loop starts and finishes at Lepe Country Park, so why not pop into the Lookout afterwards to sample their delicious range of cakes!
Sea dogs and salty tales
Discover the history of Lymington’s coast, salt industry and smuggling, led by a National Park Archaeologist. Learn how salt was worth its weight in gold and how it turned Lymington into a thriving town, with cargo regularly shipped to Europe and the Americas. Explore the UK’s last sea salt boiling houses, and the salt marshes which were perfect hideaways for smugglers’ contraband
The Huff-Duff and the Secret Bunker
Join a National Park Archaeologist to take in breathtaking views from Ibsley Common, an area steeped in military history. Visit the Huff Duff (an old directional station) and don a hard hat to explore the secret bunker!
Countryside Rights of Way
Join National Park Access officer Adam Vasey as we inspect and explore the rights of way network within the New Forest. We’ll talk about the history of Rights of Way, the creation of National Parks and the threats and challenges facing the New Forest.
Check out the Mend our Mountains website for more details of the campaigns currently going on in our other National Parks and how you can help.
For more information on the New Forest National Park: www.newforestnpa.gov.uk.
WATCH: Mend our Mountains
Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million
Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million is a BMC campaign to raise £1 million to repair paths across the UK's 15 National Parks.
If you love the outdoors, we're asking you to support your favourite mountain by donating to Mend Our Mountains. You can donate online here.
WATCH: Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million