Protecting the Peaks Together

All posts by: Alison Austin

Ben Nevis weather station

For the first time in 113 years Ben Nevis has a weather station. The station is part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science’s (NCAS) “Operation Weather Rescue”. This recent citizen science project aimed to digitise all the raw weather observations from the observatory which once stood on the summit of Ben Nevis. Between the 1883-1904 weather data was collected every hour of every day resulting in endless spread sheets of figures.

In the summer of 1881, Clement Lindley Wragge climbed the mountain daily to make initial observations, leading to the opening on 17 October 1883 of a permanent observatory. The building was manned full-time until 1904, when it was closed due to inadequate government funding. The twenty years of readings still provide the most comprehensive set of data on mountain weather in Great Britain.

The Ben Nevis weather observatory.

With the present day weather station it will be possible to compare the data from over 100 years ago. The old information is still useful because it can shed light on past storms in the Scottish Highlands as well as providing ongoing insights into how weather systems evolve as they pass over Scotland’s largest mountains.

It is planned that the weather station will be removed in December and the results will be presented in the UKCP18 report which will detail projections of how the UK climate could change. Although temporary, NCAS hope to secure long term funding to place a permanent weather station on the summit of Ben Nevis.


The temporary weather station currently on Ben Nevis.

Would you like to see a permanent weather station on Ben Nevis? Comment with your views below.

The Real 3 Peaks Challenge

On a very wet and windy Saturday a team of 109 volunteers took on the real 3 peaks challenge. Not to be confused with the national three peaks challenge, this particular challenge is intended to clean up the litter left by the hundreds of thousands of walkers who visit the UK’s most popular mountains. Started in 2013 by mountain guide Richard Pyne after he was appalled by the litter on Ben Nevis, the challenge takes place every year after the peak walking season is over. The growth and support of the challenge is reflected in the dedicated volunteers who give up their time to help. In the past, the challenge has usually just taken place on Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowden but this year many other popular mountains were included such as Ben Lomond and Man Tor.

This year on Ben Nevis, 14 volunteers set off from the visitor centre at 8am and headed up the freezing cold and blustery footpath. The weather was grim but spirits were high! Having reached the summit the group spent some time clearing the immediate area around the summit shelter and the shelter itself, by this point everyone’s first bin bag was already full. Later we walked across the plateau in a line trying our best to pick up as much litter as possible. The usual suspects were being found, tissues galore, banana peel, orange peel, bottle tops, tampons and panty liners, sweet wrappers, foil, crisp and sandwich wrappers, plaques, flags, bits of walking poles, and some very old tin can drinks. Most shocking was the discovery of a peanut packet with the best before date of Jan 1987! The rest of the day was spent descending the mountain and picking as much litter along the way as possible. The area around the Red Burn and John’s wall received a lot of attention!

In total, around 120kgs of litter was taken off Ben Nevis this year, thankfully less than previous years. This is largely due to increased litter picks throughout the summer months by the John Muir Trust and the public becoming more aware of the litter issue.

Across the entire challenge over half a tonne of litter was removed. Here are the results for each mountain,

Ben Nevis – 120kgs from 14 volunteers
Scafell Pike- 55kgs from 34 volunteers
Snowdon – 280kgs from 29 volunteers
Lochnagar – 13.4kgs from 3 volunteers
Ben MacDui – 7kgs from 4 volunteers
Ben Lomond – 16kgs from 8 volunteers
Mam Tor & Dovestone – 77.5kgs from 17 volunteers


570 kg s from 109 Volunteers!

The John Muir Trust would like to thank everyone involved and we hope that one day this challenge will no long be necessary.

Alpine wildflower recce on the North Face of Ben Nevis

Standing looking up from the CIC hunt situated below the north face of Ben Nevis with its eternal snow patches and towering alpine cliffs it is hard to believe that anything would call this deadly environment their home. To most this mountain may seem alien and uninhabitable but believe it or not Ben Nevis is bursting with life! For those daring enough to venture, the north face can offer some very unique biodiversity which is rarely seen elsewhere in the UK.

The North Face of Ben Nevis from the CIC hut.

Over the last three summers the “North Face Survey” project run by The Nevis Landscape Partnership and Scottish Natural Heritage aimed to study this rare biodiversity. Bringing botanists, geologists and mountain guides together, the survey managed to access areas of the mountain never before explored by the trained eye of experts. It goes without saying the project was a huge success with many rare alpine species identified throughout the ragged cliffs and surprisingly green gullies.

Sadly this summer there was no survey and with a year gone by since the project finished, myself and Nevis property managed, Alison, decided it was important to revisit some of the sights to check on the progress of these secluded plant communities.

It was one of those rare Scottish summer days, with a warm light breeze and sunshine. From the car park we approached the CIC Hunt – An alpine hut situated within the corrie below the North Face of Ben Nevis. Here we had a bite to eat and pondered our route. We decided to venture onto Ledge Route, a simple but still very adventurous day on the mountain.

Setting off from the CIC hut we picked our way through the small rock bands and scree slopes searching for plant life along the way. Parsley Fern and Mountain Thyme were resilient within this ever mobile area of mountain side.

Having reached the grassy bank of Ledge route we were starting to find many of the more rarely sighted alpine species. Within No. 5 Gully Starry saxifrage and Alpine Speedwell were making an appearance. Hare’s-foot Sedge, a species that is at home in Svalbard, also was found. Moving our way onto the scramble section we were finding Starwort and Arctic Mouse-ear, both of which seemed comfortable considering the location they inhabit.

Alison scouting the plant line in No.5 Gully

Although the day was warm and sunny, having experienced Ben Nevis during periods of intense winter conditions and remembering how cold it can be, I found it hard to believe that these little, seemingly delicate, wildflowers call this environment their home.

Arctic Mouse-ear

After the short scramble we topped out onto Carn Dearg – A north eastern peak the Ben Nevis. From here we hand railed the cliff edge where we came across a friend and local mountain guide, Mike Pescod. Mike was part of the team during the North Face Survey and has developed a keen eye for rare alpine species. He reported to us that during his day with clients he stumbled across Highland and Alpine Saxifrage around No.4 Gully, both of which are very scarce!

Mike Pescod with his clients making their way down Ledge Route

Having topped out, we ended our day by joining our route up with the main mountain path and litter picked our way down the mountain.  With Ben Nevis usually shrouded in cloud and pelting rain, our day in the sun was a perfect remind why we do this type of work for a living.

Ben Nevis in the rare sunshine.


Ben Nevis Work Party

A wet but positive day on Ben Nevis!

On the 10th of June a gang of our committed volunteers gave up their Saturday to take on the glorious Scottish summer and help clean up Ben Nevis. The weather was uninviting to say the least but thanks to our hardy group we had a very successful day.

As you all know, Ben Nevis being the highest mountain the UK, can offer various degrees of challenge. One of them is getting to where we want to be so we can do the necessary work. A usual trip to Ben Nevis takes about 7 hours so as you can imagine most of our day was taken up by reaching where we wanted to be.

Having reached our spot we aimed to “de-roughen” the path. The path itself is in good nick but typically over a period of time large stones and scree can migrate their way onto the path making it hard for walkers. So it was up to us to tidy this! And what a mighty fine job our volunteers did! almost like a new path!

Whilst this was happening, a small  group continued onto the summit of Ben Nevis to carry out a litter pick. In particular we aimed to give the summit shelter a clean out. The summit shelter is rarely used as a refuge in the summer and is often used as a bin, so when possible it is important to arm yourself with bin bags and give it a clean out. To our surprise it was in relatively good shape. Although, the rest of the summit was a different story! Thankfully we had plenty of hands and bin bags. Filling our bags to capacity we carried as much as we could down the hill.

Having said this, it was great to acknowledge the fact that when compared to previous litter picks on Ben Nevis there was much less litter. Now, it is not obvious if this is walkers being more responsible but what is clear from experience and talking to others is the collective community that are working together to respect Ben Nevis. Many mountain guides operate on Ben Nevis and from first-hand experience we know they are a vital part of our team! Many guides practice a leave no trace policy and some even take more of the hill than they brought up! So from us at the 3PP and John Muir Trust, thank you to all that have helped keep the mountain litter free over the years.

Because of the weather we did not get the chance to take many photos but it was safe to say we had a very successful work party and the mountain is doing well!

Ben Nevis footpath work party in the sunshine!

A team of volunteers and staff from the Friends of Nevis, John Muir Trust and Nevis Landscape Partnership have taken part in a triple path maintenance and clean-up.

Every year, 30-40,000 people seek to complete the Challenge by reaching the three summits in a single trip, which can put strain on the footpaths and surrounding vegetation additionally the Challenge can also generate serious litter problems.

The volunteer work party on Nevis this month concentrated on clearing drainage and water bars and channels on 3km of the Allt a Mhuillinn path to the North Face to keep rain off the path and prevent it from washing away

Susan Nicholl from the Friends of Nevis and Nevis Landscape Partnership said:

“Looking after mountain paths is like painting the Forth Bridge. With 100,000 people ascending Ben Nevis every year, it involves a continual cycle of work parties just to carry out essential maintenance and to clear up litter.

“Fortunately we had glorious weather and were able to get through a huge amount of work, so we’re satisfied that the Ben will be capable of shedding whatever amount of water pours down from the skies in the coming months. Our volunteers have been brilliant and we can’t thank them enough for their dedication and commitment to this magnificent mountain.”

Between 2014 and 2017, the Nevis Landscape Partnership invested £540,000 on repair contracts on the lower half of the main footpath, and expects to spend a further £330,000 by 2019 as part of a five-year Heritage Lottery Funded project.

Alongside the thousands of individuals who take on the Challenge it is recognised that the weather also plays a role in wear away the mountain path. In recent weeks Ben Nevis has witnessed high snow fall which can be seen on the North Face throughout the summer. With a combination of 100,000 walkers, melt water from snow during the warmer months and heavy rainfall, the Ben Nevis mountain path is fighting a constant battle against erosion. The clearing of water bars and drainage was an attempt to reduce the effects of the extreme weather so that water can flow freely away from the path and walkers.

Alison Austin, the John Muir Trust’s Land Manager for Ben Nevis urged people carrying out the Three Peaks Challenge to come properly prepared:

“We welcome individuals and groups coming to Nevis to raise money for a range of charities which do wonderful work. At the same we would appeal to those participating in the Three Peaks Challenge to be aware that this is a sensitive landscape.”



Ben Nevis hits new high after trig point restoration

18 March 2016

Recent summit repair work by the Trust and Nevis Landscape Partnership helps Ordnance Survey recalculate height of UK’s highest peak

Trig point before repair work completed
Trig point before repair work completed

The official height of Britain’s highest mountain has risen by a metre as a result of a new Ordnance Survey measurement made possible by recent summit repair work carried out by the John Muir Trust and the Nevis Landscape Partnership.

The work included restoration of the base of the triangulation point that had become hollowed out and unstable because of the double impact of the weather and its popularity as a platform for people to stand upon for photographs.

After its sides and steps were rebuilt, Ordnance Survey was able to mount a sophisticated satellite positioning receiver on top of the structure. This in turn allowed the surveyors to record two hours of data from the highest point of the summit, providing a more exact measurement than was possible back in 1949 when the height of Ben Nevis was last measured.

The height of the mountain, previously recorded as 1,344m, is now 1,345m. Alison Austin, the John Muir Trust Nevis land manager said: “We are proud to have played our part – along with the Nevis Landscape Partnership and the local contractor Stonescape – in helping Ordnance Survey make this historic revision to the record books.”

The recently completed restoration work on Nevis also included the improvement of three kilometres of footpath, the upgrading of 16 of the 23 navigational cairns on the Ben, and the cleaning up and repair of the summit shelter.

The work was jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Ordnance Survey and the John Muir Trust

Lifting materials to repair trig point
Lifting materials to repair trig point

Perfect Day for Bucket and Spade

pic4 wplaunch

The work party on Ben Nevis on Sunday was unequivocally about the quality of the day over any size aspirations (not that we’re competitive Snowdon and Scafell!!).

Glorious alpine-like weather for our hardy team of four…Susan and Dennis (Susan has just taken up the post of Nevis Landscape Volunteer Co-ordinator, they have a great volunteer ranger scheme coming up shortly) and Keith joined us from Glencoe.

Read more