The axe is to fall on a scheme that has managed Britain’s highest mountain for the last seven years.
The Nevis Partnership will wind up its activities next year because of cuts in funding. The charity has pumped £3m-worth of work into path improvements and other projects since it was founded in 2003.
The partnership’s board took the decision to stop its operations from next year, once current commitments have been met. Planned footpath improvements in Glen Nevis and on the lower Ben Nevis track worth £2.5m will not now take place.
The partnership’s manager Brian Wilshaw said: “We got core funding from the Highland Council and Scottish National Heritage. The SNH grant has remained constant, but the Highland Council funding has been cut by more than 50 per cent over the last four-year period.
“We have got no guarantee of funding beyond 2012.”
Nevis Partnership chairman Cameron McNeish said: “While I fully appreciate the current squeeze on funding will create casualties, I’m also concerned that Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis attract many thousands of visitors from around the world to Lochaber.
“More so, Ben Nevis, as the highest mountain in the UK, is of national importance and has been described by many as ‘iconic’. Over 150,000 per year climb to its summit, putting a huge amount of pressure on the mountain’s footpaths and facilities.”
“We have been aware of the potential cuts in funding for some time and we have spent an appreciable amount time examining our various options, but it has become quite clear that if public bodies really appreciate the importance of the Nevis Area, then they must all be willing to contribute sufficient resources to allow an organisation like the Nevis Partnership to manage the area effectively.
“The partnership directors are extremely disappointed that the magnitude of the cuts to our funding means that it has become impossible for the partnership to continue.”
The charity’s cash has previously come from organisations as diverse as The North Face clothing company, Care International, and the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.
The European Regional Development Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, HIE Lochaber and Highland Council have all contributed funds. The John Muir Trust, which owns much of the mountain, has provided management support, and Scottish Natural Heritage has been a major backer.
Mr McNeish added “In conjunction with the community, we hope to discuss the future management of the Nevis Area with the appropriate parties.”
Work completed by the partnership since its inception includes improved access to the north face via a new route through Chapman’s Wood; re-aligned the Ben’s summit navigational cairns to make it easier to descend from the summit in bad weather, and the creation of a memorial garden in Glen Nevis to those who have died on the mountain.
David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “MCofS was a founding partner and has been closely involved with Nevis Partnership at both board and project level since its inception, and we have contributed to the partnership’s work in many ways.
“NP itself has been successful in bringing together an incredible range of organisations, including government agencies, community councils, voluntary bodies, local guides and outdoor businesses.
“Their successes are too many to mention, but encompass key areas of interest to mountaineers such as safety, access and conservation. For example, improving access from the north face car park and the new path to the CIC Hut; providing much-needed information to hillwalkers, many of whom visit Scotland to climb The Ben and have no real idea of the conditions they may face; and to implementing other safety-related measures such as relocation of the summit cairns to assist people descending from the summit. There is of course much more that has been achieved and much more that needs to be done.
“Given the iconic status of Ben Nevis, its importance to the local economy, and the fact that it draws so many visitors, it is a real pity that the good work of the partnership cannot be supported through core funding which recognises the vital importance of their role and the benefits brought to the local economy.
“MCofS is saddened to hear the news and hopes that NP can find a way forward. We will do whatever we can to help them.”
Fran Lockhart, John Muir Trust area manager for Ben Nevis said: “It is very disappointing that the Nevis Partnership will be forced to cease operation. As an individual land owner the strategic problems of carrying out work, for example on path repairs are significant particularly when a path crosses land owned by several land owners with different priorities.
“The Nevis Partnership was not only instrumental in having specialist work carried out on the main path and cairns but was able to draw down significant funding to cover the costs and oversee the work.
“The numerous stakeholders involved with Nevis have successfully used the Nevis Partnership as vehicle for maintaining good relations and regular communication. The partnership has also delivered many other benefits for the conservation of Ben Nevis, including the formation of The Friends of Nevis, employment and delivering projects such as the Sense of Place which is now underway at the foot of Glen Nevis.”
The partnership’s demise will lead to the direct loss of three jobs with others likely as an indirect affect of the closure.
A Nevis Partnership statement said: “Over the next six months the board will consider the best way to manage the closure with due consideration given to existing staff and path maintenance liabilities.”