High praise for Fix the Fells volunteers

Date: Wednesday 14th June 2017

A GROUP of volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain and improve upland landscapes have narrowly missed out on a top award.

In September 2016, Nurture Lakeland nominated the Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen for a Queen's Award for Voluntary Service 2017. This award was created by the Queen in 2002 to mark her golden jubilee, recognising excellence in voluntary activities carried out by groups in the community.

The Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen maintain and repair the iconic yet fragile upland fell paths in the Lake District.

This group of 117 active volunteers, operating since 2007, has made a significant contribution to the protection of the Lakeland landscape, reversing an environmental problem and thus directly benefiting local communities and visitors.

The pressures on upland landscapes, both the number of feet on the fragile paths and extreme weather events, are increasing. The lengthsmen are at the front line of the battle to keep the fells open for business.

The nomination was supported by letters of recommendation from Cumbria Tourism and the Field Studies Council, praising the group for maintaining and caring for a precious natural resource upon which our local communities, economy, wildlife and future generations rely.

Eric Robson, chairman of Cumbria Tourism, said: "The majority of Cumbria communities rely heavily on income from the visitor economy and without the dedicated efforts of the Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen, upland paths would be in a significantly worse condition.

"That is turn would undoubtedly have a negative impact on local economies."

The work of the lengthsmen is visible to fell walkers and visitors and is frequently praised and commended by those who see it as they pass by or engage in conversation with the volunteers.

The volunteers are enthusiastic ambassadors for the wider Fix the Fells projects, attending many local events, and highlighting the importance of path repair and erosion control whenever they can.

They support visitors to High Wray Basecamp, working with many organisations whose members have little or no experience of the countryside, such as inner city youth charities and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres.

For many of these visitors to basecamp the experience can be life changing. As a result, the group is very well respected in the local and visiting communities.

This is demonstrated by the fact that more than 45 local businesses have chosen to fund-raise for Fix the Fells, and donations are also frequently received directly from passing walkers.

Tim Foster, head of the Field Studies Council Blencathra, said: "Repairing and maintaining the paths means that the fells remain accessible for recreating, learning and reconnecting with nature."

On 11th January 2017 the independent assessor came to visit the team and was given a full briefing on FtF and the volunteer lengthsmen scheme as it entered its 10th anniversary year.

The visit was a success and as a result, the Lord Lieutenant was able to submit the nomination with a strong recommendation. The group then had to eagerly await the decision for five months until the announcement of final results last month.

On 25th May 2017, despite the high praise from the committee, the group received the news that in the end the lengthsman were not selected to receive the award this year.

The award is extremely competitive and the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service team assured the Fix the Fells group that the nomination represents a tremendous achievement. A spokesman said: "Everyone involved, and particularly your volunteers, should feel immensely proud of the recognition that a nomination for this award represents."

Lord Lieutenant Claire Hensman also had high praise for the team, and sent a letter of thanks saying: "I am writing to thank you and all your volunteers for the wonderful work that you are doing to keep the over-loved paths and tracks repaired and maintained for our precious fells.

"I am sure, however, that the good work will continue and recognition and appreciation of the great contribution of your volunteers will come in many other ways in the future."

The volunteers have taken the news in their stride and are back out on the fells doing what they do best.

Barry Capp, Fix the Fells lengthsmen co-ordinator and volunteer representative, said: "We gave it our very best shot and we could not have done more — unfortunately on this occasion we were not successful."