Project Output Report
Project Main Output: Trialling Pilot Actions
Work Package 4: Trialling of Practical Initiatives Specific (adaptable) to Each Site
Project Objective 3: Trialling of practical initiatives for sustainable environmental management
Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland
Work Package 4 (T3) enabled the implementation of practical initiatives and the use of new solutions, linked with and informed by earlier work done in WP’s 2 and 3, Designing and Learning. WP4 was linked to Communication through reaching out to key users, locals and stakeholders by promoting environmental awareness and local ownership.
WP4 contributed to several project overall objectives, e.g. improving skills to deal with issues of environmental management, exploring new concepts for balancing tourism, cultural and economic interests with environmental needs, promoting civic pride and raising awareness about fragile ecosystems, creating living laboratories, trialling tools, techniques and methods, and promoting learning through exchange of ideas and best practices across the partnership. These objectives aim to the main result of the project; to enable knowledge exchange and transfer across the partnership, and further beyond to the NPA region. Seminar topics covered a wide range of views and ways of dealing with issues connected with sustainability in path management showcasing the diversity of approaches and traditions within the partner countries.
Capacity building was achieved through upskilling programmes and living laboratories. In the core of WP4 was working together with an international group of path management experts. To reach more effective site management, teams from all partner countries met to learn from each other and to get inspiration from each other’s work to create and trial new innovative techniques. Participatory methods included carrying out visitor surveys and deploying GIS technology for sustainable management. The WP promoted engagement with locals, volunteer groups, stakeholders and decision makers through seminars, events and training. A benchmarking visit to Scotland was included in the WP.
This report summarises actions taken by five project partners, highlighting project achievements specific to each partner site and country. During the course of the project it became obvious that there are rarely one size fits all solutions although many of the challenges experienced by partners may have been very similar.
In total, 24 reports were produced in the Work Package, all uploaded to the Dropbox account shared by the partnership. Evidence to support the work undertaken in WP4 has been uploaded to Dropbox, as well. A table showing how the work of Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland has contributed to the horizontal principles set to the project is attached to the 6th partner claim.
- Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland (PWF)
Activities carried out by PWF ranged from a visitor survey in Hossa National Park, a landscaping trial in Oulanka National Park, reporting on how the new PAVE GIS system has helped in drafting implementation plans and organizing the Linnanvirta event in Kajaani.
In the attempt to work towards a more sustainable management of protected areas, new ideas and methods were trialled. The ASCENT project enabled PWF to put together an effective package of tools that support each other in this effort. The visitor survey in WP4 was one of the starting points. PWF carries out visitor surveys in all 40 Finnish national parks on a regular basis to improve the visitor experience and to collect vital information for monitoring purposes. The long-awaited LAC (Limits of Acceptable Change) ICT tool was acquired thanks to the project and now the technical solution is in place. During ASCENT, the LAC method was piloted in Hossa. Visitor surveys feed data into the LAC system, making them a crucial part in working towards sustainability. The PWF visitor survey template was introduced to other partners for inspiration in drafting their own templates – adapted to the partner’s needs and sites. Main results of the survey carried out in Hossa NP can be read in the English summary attached to the 6th partner claim.
PAVE is a GIS system for implementation planning and monitoring launched in PWF during winter 2017-18. Most of PWF field work staff attended the training and currently, there are over 400 PAVE users. PAVE contains all information on structures, paths and sites of cultural heritage in protected areas, and like visitor surveys, feed data into the LAC system. Monitoring information is gathered into management plans and thus these tools together have enabled PWF to upgrade the sustainable management in Hossa NP. This project legacy will live on for decades in the work of PWF towards ecological, social and economic sustainability. The LAC method has been spread to other national parks and protected areas, and at the end of 2019, nearly 20 sites will have this monitoring system up and running. The Ministry of the Environment ratified the management plan for Hossa NP in July 2019, and in their letter of ratification they specifically mentioned the need to monitor the impact of nature tourism and LAC as a tool to do it. The principles of all the above mentioned tools are applicable at any site, as long as they are adapted to local circumstances, and have therefore a potential to help out practitioners anywhere.
Inspired by landscaping done on Slieve Gullion by the Northern Irish ASCENT team, PWF decided to adapt some of their techniques on Pieni Karhunkierros, Oulanka National Park. The landscape, as well as materials available, were very different on the two sites. However, the target was the same – to divert visitors and to stop further erosion. Landscaping was done in connection with the new implementation plan drafted for the area using the PAVE GIS system. As part of the plan, the old path was diverted away from a dangerous cliff edge. Further to safety issues, erosion caused by hikers threatened endangered flora growing on the cliff. As the rocky habitat, and flora depending on it, is very scarce in the area, it was felt important to protect it from getting more eroded than it already was. Inspiration from one partner to another was gained in Oulanka National Park during the living laboratory visit from Northern Irish partners, as well. The use of timber is not that common in NI, but a traditional material in Finland, and the visit led to a timber trial in Northern Ireland.
In 2017, the Linnanvirta event was organized with the support of ASCENT with the special theme of recreation in the wilderness, raising awareness of the use and protection of local green areas and engaging local people and communities. The newly established Hossa National Park along with other recreational and protected areas managed by PWF were introduced in the event. The ultimate target was to increase local ownership of these areas and to promote their sustainable use through engaging the general public, associations and other stakeholders. Linnanvirta is a free of charge event with a low threshold to attend, with focus on children and families, supporting equal opportunities alongside with promoting a nature friendly attitude and feeling proud of local green areas.
- Newry, Mourne and Down District Council & Mourne Heritage Trust
(NMDDC & MHT), Northern Ireland
In the core of activities in Northern Ireland was working alongside experts, ASCENT teams and volunteers through training courses, living laboratory visits and in other contexts. A visitor survey was carried out for better understanding of the visitor profile to mitigate the current and future pressures in the area following growing visitor numbers.
The work of the Northern Irish ASCENT team emphasized learning through working together. Living laboratory visits in every partner country brought new ideas, enabled exchange of methods and skills and were in an important role in getting the teams acquainted to build a mutual trust and easy interaction. One of the outcomes of these visits was the use of timber in path building. Timber is not a commonly used material in Northern Ireland but a traditional material in Finland. Following the NI team’s visit to Oulanka National Park, the idea of using timber evolved. Pine branches were used in an innovative and unforeseen manner in path building, fitting local circumstances and needs. Branches mimicked existing tree roots and were positioned to retain aggregate in place. The work has been praised by visitors and another path section will be treated in the same way in the future. Visitor counts show that the main access point to Slieve Donard is the Glen River path, with over 90 000 journeys yearly. This spot was chosen for a visitor survey in July 2018 and as a pilot site for the timber trial.
Sheep wool and rushes have been used on Slieve Gullion in the past to form the base for an aggregate path. This method was introduced to the Norwegian project partners and the good people of the Heathland Centre in Lygra. Sheep wool tends to be a problem waste in Norway rather than something worth working on and a new way of benefitting from it as a path building material was received with lots of interest. Transferring such inspiration and new ideas from partner to partner is only possible through discussions, working on site and getting acquainted with local methods.
Mourne Heritage Trust coordinated an upland path work training course as the need for training had become apparent. Local needs and suitability of the training were emphasized in the planning process. Training was aimed at land owners and other practitioners. NMDDC and MHT developed a structured path training course, which became a more significant element in the project than originally envisaged, meeting a need identified through the living laboratory visits. Flexibility was key in adapting to the particular needs of stakeholders. The courses included a theory session involving webinars, a site visit and practical hands on training in a range of path techniques. MHT is now registered as a Provider Partner of LANTRA and the ultimate aim is to run accredited courses through them providing upskilling opportunities to the local community. LANTRA is one of the leading awarding bodies for land-based industries in the UK and Ireland developing training courses and nationally recognised qualifications.
The need for training and upgrading skills was discussed at the thematic seminar held in Northern Ireland in April 2018 with the theme of Approaches to Path Repair in Sensitive Landscapes. The subject was approached from the standpoint of an environmental engineering company, the public sector/NGO and volunteers. The discussion highlighted the problems that all ASCENT partners face of working within resource constraints. Often resources are only available as capital funding; a constant effort should ideally be supported, providing maintenance of capital works. Presentations referred to the importance of applying best practice, but the discussion reiterated that these were limited without broader skill sharing and development and strategic resourcing.
- Donegal County Council (DCC), Ireland
The work carried out by Donegal County Council emphasized the use of participatory tools, GIS based applications and solutions in particular, and offering upskilling opportunities to local communities through courses and study visits with the aim of ensuring that learning and skills would be retained in the communities long-term. Trialling works were undertaken on Errigal conducted by contractors with the aid of 10 local volunteers.
As on many of the other ASCENT sites, visitor numbers have grown on Errigal. As a single clear path hasn’t existed to guide walkers, a number of “unofficial” paths have formed with visitors trying to find a dry route to the top of the mountain. The terrain at the root of the hill is very muddy and therefore paths tend to grow wider causing erosion and a scar in the landscape. The community, Donegal County Council and other stakeholders had a strong desire to improve the visitor experience on Errigal, restore the damage to natural habitats and improve the visual landscape impact of multiple evolved routes, by constructing a single sustainable path to the summit.
Involving the local community was at the core of a successful trial on Errigal. Volunteers took part in the path building trial through working at the site and attending a two-day path building training course. The local community was involved in the development of Errigal with 11 volunteers helping out with interviews of the visitor survey in summer 2018, as well.
Trialling works on Errigal took place in June 2019; this late in the project because of the approval of the planning application only in April 2019. Works were divided into two sections. The first one consisted of 70 metres of aggregate based path at the very beginning of the route and the second of 30 metres of pitched path higher up the slope. Skills and knowledge were transferred to the local volunteers through the involvement of an experienced contractor team. Volunteers will now have the expertise to maintain paths in the long term on Errigal; this will hopefully provide employment opportunities for locals. One goal of future management is that the current path width will suffice in the situation of ever growing visitor numbers. The trialling works that have been completed on Errigal will enable moving forward to a future implementation phase on a larger scale enhancing environmental sustainability and improving opportunities for habitat restoration and conservation of the mountain.
GIS technology was tested at Errigal by mapping all routes leading to the top of the mountain. Building the use of GIS technology further, DCC produced several maps with geographic information and story maps. All ASCENT sites were introduced at http://arcg.is/2xjtqxE. The final outcome of using GIS was the development of a mapping application “ASCENT in 3D” with all seven sites to be explored by users. It is accessible at https://www.ascent-project.eu/ascent-project-map/.
Community involvement was central in the work of DCC throughout the Work Package. An upskilling programme took place with participants from Ireland and Northern Ireland. The purpose was to offer learning opportunities to retain skills within the community. By attending the upskilling programme, local community members were afforded the opportunity to partake in skilled work including handbuilt techniques, and to have the expertise to maintain paths for the longterm management of Errigal. Locals and stakeholders were invited to take part in the ASCENT study visit to Scotland in 2017, as well, to view first hand the approach taken in Scotland regarding the many challenges of path management.
- Soil Conservation Service of Iceland (SCSI)
SCSI had a strong emphasis on training, upskilling and engaging volunteers in a variety of measures taken through ASCENT, with the aim of building capacity in path working. The tourism boom in Iceland has been drastic in the past years causing erosion, degradation, habitat damage and a need for new constructions. Influencing policies was achieved in many ways. A visitor survey was undertaken in Eldhraun and its purpose, in addition to finding out opinions and visitor experiences, was to find ideas for further development of local policy for infrastructure. Three upskilling courses were organized (and a fourth one in autumn 2019) with hands-on work. They were focused on different angles of path work and habitat restoration, introducing also traditional methods and design solutions. All courses included theory sessions and practical work and they were targeted to rangers, volunteers, stakeholders, practitioners and the wider public. They were designed in such a way that they would be easily transferred to changing environments from rural to urban sites. These courses have led to the Environmental Ministry of Iceland to adapt the structure and main focus of the courses. This decision will secure funding for years and is an important improvement in capacity building achieved through ASCENT, making the legacy of the project live long after the project with a significant impact on national policy making in Iceland.
A large piloting exercise was carried out at the Skógafoss waterfall which is, in addition to being an attraction in itself, also the starting point to a hiking path. Visitor numbers have grown to more than a million visitors annually in 2017, causing erosion especially due to water damage. As a result to building a staircase up the hill to a new viewpoint, visitors have started to spread further away to the hills making the original problem grow bigger and expand to a larger area. Fast measures needed to be taken with water management, surface works and habitat restoration of the sides of the path. Contractors were hired and the project was implemented through consulting machine contractors from Northern Ireland. The main issue was water flushing the surface layer away and therefore the main challenge was to channel water across the path without giving it a chance to destroy it. Turf was used for habitat restoration and to landscape the sides of the path. It was observed that knowledge sharing was key in this project, in training practitioners and sharing methods – as in so many of the ASCENT trials. There are no “one size fits all” solutions, but other practitioners’ experience and knowledge are seen crucial in planning a path project – translated to local circumstances to achieve the best result possible.
The constant care of paths and sites is essential and in Iceland it is in large part carried out through volunteer work. Being able to keep maintenance on a good level also enables practitioners to try out methods and materials and monitor their usefulness in the longterm. Experience is gathered through years of working, and although the ASCENT courses were well received and tackled acute challenges, they can’t replace experience gained through a long career in path building and repair works. In the coming years, Iceland will be investing on tourism infrastructure and volunteer work will stay in an important role, although the need for contractor work is growing. Upskilling and knowledge exchange will be vital in the future in keeping up a high quality of new projects and maintenance. ASCENT trials, surveys and upskilling courses have led the way towards sustainable path management in a situation where the tourism sector is growing rapidly and path work requires a pool of skillful people to ensure the longterm success of undertakings on a variety of Icelandic sites.
- Hordaland County Council (HCC), Norway
Methods new to Norway were trialled as part of ASCENT and the importance of working together was a key finding. Seminars with locals and stakeholders led to new ideas been thrown in the air. A risk analysis and a visitor strategy were produced for Trolltunga and the surrounding national park. It is no surprise that some threats and problems on the Trolltunga path have been identified as a result of rapid growth in visitor numbers. Sensitive vegetation is vulnerable to wear, and human excrement, in addition to being an aesthetic problem, may have an impact on the water quality locally. A higher number of hikers heading deeper into the mountains closer to the population of wild reindeer would cause considerable negative effects – a similar problem of visitors spreading further away from an attraction point has been faced in Iceland at the Skógafoss waterfall.
The Norwegian ASCENT team trialled new techniques and materials inspired by the work and experience from Northern Ireland during a study visit in September 2018. The two teams worked together trying to solve erosion problems caused by heavy rainfall by building drains in the NI way. Two types of drains were built on a path that had grown up to 5 metres wide. Ditches were in place before the trial but a better solution was needed as water had kept displacing gravel and stones making the path hazardous to walkers. Building new drains was therefore not only a question of preventing erosion, but also a safety issue. As the path was up in the mountains and covered in snow during winter, the success of the trial could only be observed after a couple of years. Valuable lessons were learnt on how the water flow needs to be slowed down and attention given to the natural route water takes across the path.
Using sheep wool as a building material had not been tried in Norway before. However, it’s an ancient technique and at its best when used in soft and boggy areas. It’s a natural material that will not harm the environment or spoil the landscape. Water seeps through the wool and the aggregate on top of it will stick to it giving a soft surface to the path at first. Some aggregate may need to be added after the initial works but given time, the path will grow harder and last in perfect condition for at least ten years. The sheep wool trial generated a lot of interest and parties across Norway have been in contact with HCC to learn more.
Study visits showed their effectiveness not only in learning techniques and methods but also in building a sense of trust between teams, practitioners and others involved. Forming a network between organisations was seen as a key benefit from such visits. A mutual understanding will form a starting point for future cooperation. Through working together, valuable connections were built, potentially leading to more synergies later on. Thus, working side by side, doing hands-on work, resulted in more than just concrete trials; it helped getting to know one another and connecting people, which in turn have inspired ASCENT teams to look for new opportunities to spread the outcomes of the project through new ideas.
As part of the ASCENT legacy, exchange work experience or learning about volunteer networking were proposed for further examination in a seminar organized in conjunction with the study visit. Especially the successful engagement of young volunteers in the Mournes raised interest, as volunteering in Norway tends to be a hobby for older people, most of them men.
The significance of learning new skills through working together cannot be stressed enough. Project partners, with many others, got to know each other during the project through living labs and other site and study visits. Valuable connections were established, and they will form a starting point for post project co-operation. A mutual feeling of trust and getting acquainted forms a platform for low threshold communication and a more personal connection between people. It supports a straightforward relation enabling effective learning and generates an inspirational atmosphere in which new ideas can bloom. Many examples of successful cooperation can be given; getting inspired by work done in other partner countries (landscaping, use of timber); spreading knowledge on old and new methods (use of sheep wool and building drains); exchanging thoughts in volunteering, discussing the need for training and the use of materials, getting inspired and planning future cooperation to spread and deepen what has been learned so far. Skills that have been gained will be retained and benefit more than just the ASCENT sites and teams – knowledge and experience have already been spread outside the partnership and they will offer a lasting legacy in path management.
Common challenges can be solved together. For instance water erosion has proved to be a great problem in Norway and Iceland – and in other partner countries, too. Trialling methods in one country will benefit others. Inspiration can be found in using materials in an unforeseen way or trying a method through adapting it to local needs and conditions. Trying a mix of new and old methods can be an eye opener. Old methods may have been forgotten despite their potential as effective ways in path building still nowadays – on the other hand a method could be very familiar to some but unknown to others. In some cases machine work is required, especially with large projects targeting a new area. It’s a question of finding techniques that work on individual sites, in varying conditions. Working side by side and learning from others’ experience has proven to be a very effective way to achieve this. Constant care is needed on every site and skilled workers are a necessary resource to maintain sustainability of use and the good quality of structures.
Applying GIS tools enabled the production of maps and applications to inform target audiences of the seven project sites. Paths and trails were mapped and this data not only formed a route planner for visitor use but were used in developing management plans. It can be presumed that GIS tools will be used for more and more purposes in the future, giving accurate data, enabling monitoring over time, becoming a communicational tool, helping the practical field work connected to e.g. visitor surveying etc. Piloting different methods will show the way to best applications and the knowledge gained in ASCENT can be transferred to other sites in the NPA region and beyond.
A strong will to influence existing policies has raised especially in Iceland through creating a training system and training volunteers and practitioners in path management. The Environmental Ministry of Iceland is going to adapt the structure of the training, thus securing funding and creating a pool of experts able to mitigate the harmful impacts of growing tourism in the country. Monitoring the impact of nature tourism in Finland is largely based on visitor surveys – alongside with other sources. Visitor surveys inform the LAC system which was piloted in Hossa National Park. Since the pilot, the system has spread nationwide and will spread further in the coming years. The piloting work done in ASCENT has been noticed in the Ministry of the Environment. They have mentioned LAC as a tool used at PWF to monitor the impact of nature tourism, specifically highlighting the importance of monitoring the impact of growing visitor numbers to ensure ecological and social sustainability – underlining the significance of regular visitor surveying. In Northern Ireland, running accredited courses through LANTRA will have an impact on future upskilling in path management and on helping in the constant effort of maintaining upland paths and structures, providing opportunities for local involvement and a valuable project legacy.
Volunteer work, involving communities, raising awareness and strengthening local ownership have been a pivotal part of the project. Separate actions may sometimes seem insignificant, but ultimately they will create a bigger entirety with a big impact. Engaging locals, the wider public and others is not only beneficial to the practical side of things. It’s also about attitude education towards responsible behavior and raising new generations of nature friendly and conscious people who, hopefully, will support the aim of increasing the sustainable use of protected areas and other areas of natural beauty.
Darren Rice, Örn Þór Halldórsson, Leena Jartti, Davíð A. Stefánsson, Anu Hjelt, Torill Monstad, Edel McGeeney, Margaret Fitzgerald, Liam Ward, Rosita Mahony, Marta Rongved Dixon, Matti Tapaninen, Matthew Bushby