Are you an Arran resident? Or a visitor to the island? Whichever you are, the chances are that you’ll have enjoyed walking on one or many of the island’s scenic pathways. On some of the paths there are small signs acknowledging the work of the Arran Access Trust in developing and maintaining these paths. But how much do you know of this small but vital organisation?
What is the Arran Access Trust?
Firstly, a bit of history – it’s 25 years since a group of people from the island and beyond first met to discuss access problems for walkers to some parts of Arran. A Steering Committee was formed, composed of three groups of people – landowners and managers, land users and representatives from relevant organisations, including North Ayrshire Council and Scottish Natural Heritage. It was thought the latter could help make decisions happen and find money to help develop a path network. This led to an ‘Access Concordat’ being signed in 1996 and the subsequent formation of the Arran Access Trust (AAT) in 1999. The representatives of the three interest groups formed the basis of the Trust and continues to this day. This wide representation is important as it helps foster a shared understanding of the needs, requirements and expectations of the different groups who wish to use and manage our landscape.
The Trust’s initial tasks were to identify paths and routeways which all parties could agree to develop and improve, obtain the necessary permissions to complete the works and then find the funding to finance the contractors’ work. The first path developed was that beside the river in North Glen Sannox. This was closely followed by works on Glen Sannox to the saddle, Coire Fhionn Lochann and Loch Iorsa. In 2012, the AAT inherited the management of the Arran Coastal Way. By 2014 the AAT had secured funding to improve sections of the coastal way. These were completed by 2016 and, following on from this in 2017, the Arran Coastal Way was adopted as one of Scotland’s Great Trails.
As well as developing and improving longer stretches of track, the Trust has worked to obtain funding for materials for smaller improvements, often undertaken by local teams of volunteers. It has also helped village improvement committees to maintain paths of local significance, such as the Fisherman’s Walk in Brodick.
The Trust and the Arran Geopark
In 2017 the Trust successfully bid for and acquired the grant funding to develop Arran as a potential Geopark. The Trust identified the main sites of geological interest around the island which required small stretches of path to improve access to them. It also joined with the Lochranza Centre, National Trust for Scotland and Arran Heritage Museum to both improve existing interpretation and develop new information venues such as that at the Lochranza Centre. New interpretative signs were erected and leaflets produced, in both hard copy and on the web, to help guide and inform locals and visitors alike. Geopark staff are currently looking into possible accreditation of Arran as a UNESCO Geopark site.
The AAT’s importance for Arran
Clearly the Trust has been instrumental in the creation and maintenance of the path network around Arran which so many of us enjoy today. Accessible paths are a major draw for people choosing to live on Arran and those who visit. Businesses on the island, particularly those who benefit from tourism, are indirect beneficiaries of the Trust’s work. We have to thank the members of the Arran Trust who have pioneered a method of taking contributions from tourism to help fund works on the ground. But in looking to the future, and due in part to the challenges of climate change as our many coastal paths start to become eroded, the current Directors have been giving some thought to the aims, governance and funding options for the AAT.
It seems likely that, from here on, the focus of the AAT will be on the maintenance of the paths we currently have (including bridge repair and other associated works), rather than new path development. The coastal paths, in particular, are already feeling the impact of erosion as sea levels rise and stronger winds and higher tides take their toll.
The current AAT Board Directors are keen to promote a greater awareness and appreciation of the importance of our path network and the benefits it brings to Arran. They hope to raise the profile of the Trust in a range of ways – the aim being to:
Widen representation on the Board
The paths are used by horse riders, dog walkers, mountain bikers, long-distance walkers and local people out for a stroll. Representatives from these groups could make a useful contribution to discussions about funding future path maintenance.
Encourage volunteering for path upkeep
Some island villages organise beach clean-ups and cutting back foliage from local paths. One idea might be for a local group to ‘adopt’ a stretch of path for simple upkeep. Some Arran businesses encourage workforce volunteering; sustainable tourism is becoming popular – this includes eco-friendly holidays (or voluntourism) for those who want to give something back to the areas they enjoy visiting.
Increase financial help from the tourism sector
One of Arran’s main attractions for visitors is its scenic walks; our tourist-centred businesses benefit directly from the path network which visitors use and the efforts the AAT make to keep it accessible and safe. Funding is always required for materials and for paying contractors for specialist work. There needs to be a way for this financial commitment to be spread between those who benefit from the path network.
How you can help
Do you make use of Arran’s paths, either locally or more widely? Would it matter to you if they fell into disrepair? How could you contribute to keeping them going? Would you like to be part of the development of the new UNESCO Geopark of which good paths and signage are a vital part? If you have any ideas or would like to help, please come along to the public meetings which we plan to hold in the Spring or get in touch via our website
With many thanks to the Arran Access Trust for contributing this article.