Welcoming people back to Snowdonia
Over the past month the Snowdonia Society has been working with the National Park Authority, the Outdoor Partnership and the National Trust to organise volunteer days to assist with welcoming visitors back to Snowdonia.
On March the 23rd the UK went into lockdown. Within days Snowdonia went from a hive of activity to a place of tranquillity. The regulations meant that the most popular mountain areas became off limits. The weeks turned into months which led to a sense of a new normal in the park. The roads were empty, laybys and paths were clean, and a flourish of wildlife was seen in new areas.
It was inevitable that this would not continue indefinitely. People are part of Snowdonia; not only the 25,000-plus people who call it home but also those who visit. National parks provide many benefits to human health and well-being and visitors to the park provide a source income for local businesses. Lockdown has brought into focus how visitors affect Snowdonia both positively and negatively.
The “welcome back” volunteers
In preparation for the return of large numbers of visitors, the partnership called for volunteers to assist in welcoming people back to Snowdonia. This team of volunteers would work alongside the wardens and the existing volunteer warden scheme which sees experienced individuals provide a presence on Snowdon.
The “welcome back volunteers” provide an on the ground presence in some of the most popular areas of Snowdonia. Volunteer days run from Friday to Sunday each week, with volunteer teams covering key areas including car parks around the base of Snowdon (Nant Peris, Bethania, Rhyd-ddu and Cwellyn), the Llanberis path and Ogwen.
The volunteers provide advice and guidance to visitors, including information on routes and transport. In addition, they help ensure that visitors act responsibly at a time of real anxiety following relaxation of coronavirus regulations. The volunteers also clear litter.
There was an overwhelming response from people wanting to take part. Indeed, there were many more applicants than spaces available. The partnership tries to harness the enthusiasm of people willing to give their time to protect Snowdonia, whilst keeping numbers low enough so that the days can be run safely.
How is it going?
On July the 6th the 5-mile travel limit came to an end allowing people to travel into Snowdonia once more. In the weeks that followed volunteers have played an essential role in helping manage the national park’s most pressured places.
Visitors were initially slow to return to the park, but this soon changed and the numbers increased considerably. This was especially true on the sunny weekend of the 17th July which saw issues resurfacing at Pen y Pass with vehicles parked illegally along the road. In response, a radical decision was made to close Pen y Pass car park at weekends.
The response from both visitors and locals has been positive, and people have been appreciative of the efforts of the volunteers particularly when it comes to litter management.
One key concern is the lack of preparation prior to visiting Snowdonia and particularly Snowdon. This can be as simple as not adequately dressing to hike Snowdon or not having a place to stay arranged ahead of time. As a result, the volunteer team have seen several visitors camping in unsuitable locations with many campsites remaining closed. This includes camping on private land clearly displaying “no camping” signs and camping close to footpaths. These unsuitable camping locations often come with associated problems such as open fires and litter.
Unfortunately, litter continues to be a problem in Snowdonia after lockdown. This has ranged from fly tipping of kitchen units to smaller items such as soiled tissues, bagged dog mess and banana peels. The Society’s aim is not only to manage the litter by picking it up also but to tackle the problem at its cause by raising awareness and educating people.
Over 160 bags of litter have been collected since the beginning of the scheme.
One of the success stories of the project is the volunteers themselves who are a dedicated group. They consist of local people who call the area their home, individuals who make their living in the park and those from further afield who wish to give something back to an area that they enjoy spending time in.
What is next?
The challenges remain and the “welcome back” volunteer scheme will be continuing in the weekends throughout all of August, providing information and managing litter.
Snowdonia Society staff and National Park volunteer wardens are already carrying out mid-week footpath repair and maintenance days on Snowdon..
The Snowdonia Society’s wider practical conservation volunteering programme is gearing up for restart in September, all being well, so there will be many more opportunities to give a Helping Hand then. Get in touch if you want to help out.
We would like to thank all the volunteers who have been involved with this project for contributing so much to the National Park. These selfless individuals give up their time to help in what way they can. Spare a thought for these volunteers next time you head out onto Snowdon.
Tread Lightly/ Stay Safe/ Be Kind