Path Map

Volunteering – How You Can Help

Volunteers are important to help us deliver projects that conserve our mountains and provide access for outdoors enthusiasts. Our volunteering opportunities give people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds the chance to get involved and play their part.

Conservation days can include upland path maintenance and erosion control, and other practical conservation work.

Whatever type of volunteering you take part in you will work alongside experienced people, learning techniques that enhance your practical conservation skills, and increase your knowledge of the natural and cultural heritage of our mountains. You’ll also make new friends.

To volunteer with OATS or find out more about our maintenance volunteer programmes, e-mail our Activity Projects Officer, Ewan Watson – [email protected]

There is a range of ways volunteers can get involved with us:

Conservation Volunteering Days

We want people to join in Conservation Volunteering Days to help protect and enhance upland habitats. On such days you will get out in the mountains, discover new places, take on challenges, meet people, learn new skills and improve your health and wellbeing through outdoor activity.

Spaces are usually limited and volunteers must book their places in advance. All of our activities are shown in our events calendar.

Adopt A Path

Developed by OATS, the Adopt A Path scheme lets you become a custodian of one of the paths we have worked on.  Adopt a Path volunteers report on damage or other path issues, allowing maintenance to be targeted to best effect. Volunteers get training and support to carry out path surveys safely and effectively, in order to supply us with the essential information we need. Find out more here.

Corporate Volunteering

During The Mountains and The People project OATS ran corporate volunteer days across Scotland’s two National Parks. These were a great way to give something back, enjoy new experiences, break down barriers between teams or just have fun. We are not currently offering tailored volunteer days for corporate groups, however if teams have annual days allocated for volunteer work then please do get in touch to find out how these can be used on OATS’ scheduled upland path volunteer days. To find out more contact Ewan Watson, Activity Projects Officer, on [email protected].

First hand accounts from some of our recent volunteers:

Click on the boxes below to expand our volunteer testimonials.

Alastair Borthwick - 2022

Alastair Borthwick has spent years in the hills and remembers back to times when fewer paths existed; “Access to the hills was typically via highly braided paths, trying to avoid the wet and muddy areas and thereby making the problem worse.”

Now retired and living in Coylumbridge he is an enthusiastic volunteer with OATS, recognising that built paths require maintenance; “Properly constructed and drained paths have brought a huge change in conditions underfoot but also make it easier to navigate around areas and give quicker access to popular summits. But they do need regular maintenance to avoid repeating the problems of the past. As someone who has benefitted from the large investment in path building I’m more than happy to give my time to keeping the path network in good condition.”

He is also a volunteer ranger with the Cairngorms National Park and enjoys volunteering with OATS as part of a focussed approach within the Cairngorms providing a varied calendar or opportunities.
“I enjoy meeting the other volunteers from lots of different backgrounds and it’s a great chance to share enthusiasm and knowledge about the outdoors. It’s amazing what a small team of volunteers can achieve in a day and I particularly like the walk back out if it’s raining and you can see all the drains working as intended. Lunch breaks on sunny days are good as well, especially if there is home baking to share!”

Alastair adopts a path in the Northern Cairngorms from Coire Raibert to Loch Avon. This involves surveying the path each year to report any issues which feed into the maintenance schedule as well as helping landowners identify any problem areas. He is always glad to get out and survey here and says; “it’s one of my favourite routes in the Cairngorms and always a great day out.”

Ken Thomson - 2022

Ken Thomson from Aberdeen, now retired, has been involved with OATS since the beginning, both through path maintenance volunteering and as an adoptee in our Adopt A Path scheme.

“As a hillwalking club secretary, I was involved in the 2000’s with the Upper Deeside Access Trust (OATS’s predecessor-but-one), going to its meetings in Aboyne, and learning about pathwork on one and then both sides of the Cairngorms. I even organised a couple of ‘social’ meetings of path adopters in Aberdeen.”

Being on the East of the Cairngorms Ken has helped out in the Deeside area, “My first personally adopted path went along the Quoich on the south side of Ben a’Bhuird, but in 2018 I moved to the one going up above Callater Lodge towards the White Mounth en route to Lochnagar”

He is dedicated in getting out to do his surveys and will do a few small repairs whilst he is out such as clearing blocked drains. He takes pride in his custodianship of the path, “This involves a couple of visits a year on my own, with spade strapped to the bike or on my shoulder. But the Callater path is – though I say it myself – in pretty good nick.”

With time on his hands and eager to work, Ken has joined path maintenance volunteering parties throughout summer 2022, “I was pleased to able to join some of Shona’s merry gangs in 2022, working on a number of paths on this side of the Cairngorms, from Ben a’Ghlo and Glen Clova northwards. It’s quite hard work – a six-inch cube of watery peat weighs a surprising amount, and usually resists being extracted from the ground – but it’s highly satisfying work, with Shona’s cake to look forward to when she lets up from cracking the whip.”

Spending time in the outdoors maintaining paths in the Cairngorms has a wider impact for Ken, as he says, “one develops a ‘critical eye’ for paths elsewhere in Scotland and beyond!”

Brian Macgill - 2022

“I too liked the idea of giving something back,” says Brian Macgill, a volunteer with OATS’ path maintenance project.

Brian, a lifelong hillwalker from Inverness who retired in July 2022 from the ICT department at The Highland Council, is often out in hills of the Cairngorm National Park.

He had visited the OATS website and read about the work of volunteers. This inspired him to sign up as a volunteer and he has now taken part in several outings this last summer/autumn; “It’s about contributing something to the wellbeing of the mountains.”

Brian, aged 66, is easy to talk to and enjoys working alongside a variety of volunteers. He says: “It is a good way to meet people and make friends, especially from other age groups. It’s really encouraging to see the younger folk, many of whom are being allowed to have day-off by their employers, volunteering in this way in the hills.”

He also likes the physical side of the work but is happy to get stuck in; “Yes, it is hard physical work but like some other volunteers, I am also a gardener and therefore know how to wield a spade. Most of the work I’ve been involved with so far has been clearing path features, like water bars, on existing paths.”

Whilst some paths need more work than a group of volunteers can do in a day, Brian reflects in the importance of the tasks the work parties carry out: “I think that path maintenance ensures good quality access to the hills and facilitates ‘visitor management’ at the same time as addressing sustainability concerns. Yes, its satisfying work particularly when other walkers happen by and ask what you are doing. You can see there is instant recognition on their faces that such work is benefiting their day out!”

Amy Wall - 2022

Amy wall, 27, reflects on her experience volunteering with OATS as being, “a really rewarding experience. The volunteer days have given me the opportunity to learn new skills, meet some wonderful people and look at the landscape from a different perspective.”

Although busy with work with the Royal Air Force, Amy has found time to help out and is glad of it; “Being able to give something back to the local community and help protect some of my favourite paths within the Cairngorms National Park has been very gratifying. I hope some of the work we’ve done will help maintain access to these beautiful places, so other people may enjoy them as much as I do.”

Amy Wall

Like the majority of the summer volunteering days, the paths Amy has worked on have been restored by the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland in the past. Hill tracks get a lot of footfall from Munro-baggers, hill runners, mountaineers and other hill users. Combine this with wet and wild weather the Cairngorms National Park can experience, and the paths quickly get eroded. Clearing drainage features along the paths can make a huge difference to the longevity of the surface; and prevent people walking on the surrounding delicate upland habitats.

“It’s amazing how much you can accomplish as part of a small team, in such a short space of time. I definitely get a sense of achievement when I reflect on all the work everyone’s done throughout the day.”
It is fantastic the way a group of strangers can team together and work alongside each other for a day. But Amy says it’s not too difficult: “The other volunteers have all been like minded, and I’ve really enjoyed getting into the mountains alongside people from all walks of life.”

Living in Rafford in Moray, Amy has joined path maintenance sessions in a variety of weather conditions; from battling with the wind on Carn Ban Mor to getting a good soaking in the Chalamain Gap. Yet she sees the positive side of even the wet days and says: “The volunteer days are good for the soul, I often come home feeling content and fulfilled. I think that’s why I keep coming back!”

Pat Brechin - 2020

“I just liked the idea of giving something back,” says Pat Brechin, a volunteer on The Mountains and The People path-building project.

Pat, a keen hill-walker who had recently retired, was out in the Trossachs when she saw a sign asking for volunteers to help with path repair and building as part of the project. It inspired her to sign up and take part in around 20 days of work over the past three years.

“You want to contribute something to the wellbeing of the mountains – I’m one of the thousands of people wearing these hills out,” she adds.

She mainly worked in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, including on the Ben Venue, Ben Ledi and Cobbler paths, but also helped out with path-work at Beinn a’Ghlo and Beinn Tilt near Blair Atholl. Her volunteer teams worked in all weathers – rain, hail and wind.

“It’s hard work, it’s quite physical, but I have a garden and I am used to it,” she said. “The worst bit was lugging tools up a mountain: spades and mattocks are quite heavy.”

Most of the work she carried out was clearing drainage features and maintaining existing paths: “Cutting drainage ditches, up to your knees in water, it’s like being a kid again,” she laughs, but she also learned how to build paths, laying stones and bedding them in.

“It was really hard work and it makes you appreciate how much is involved in path maintenance,” she says. “But part of the satisfaction is going past where you have worked before and seeing what you’ve done, as well as other walkers thanking us as they pass.”

Pat, who’s 68, and from Edinburgh, appreciated meeting people and making friends, especially from other generations: “There was really good camaraderie… some people just came once but a lot came a few times. There was a real mixed bag of people, it was lovely.”

Debbie Greene - 2020

Debbie Greene is one of the volunteers OATS has recruited for its Adopt-a-Path scheme, and says the work just adds to her enjoyment of being in the hills.

For six years she has monitored the path leading from Cairngorm summit across the high plateau to Lochan Buidhe, just before the final climb to Ben Macdui.

“I was hyper-keen to be involved when I heard Adopt-a-Path was being launched,” she says. “I am out in the hills all the time and for the last 20 years I‘ve lived close to them. I am never going to be someone to lift giant boulders all day but going out and keeping an eye on a path is an easy thing I can help with.”

OATS trained her in path surveying, recording erosion problems, braiding where the path spreads out, blocked drainage, and crumbling steps. More often than not her path is covered in snow, leaving her a tight window to fit in her two surveys a year.

Debbie, whose day job is as local operations manager for government agency NatureScot, says preventing erosion is especially important as the area is protected under almost every designation possible, from being a Site of Special Scientific Interest and designated habitat to being part of the Cairngorm National Park and a National Nature Reserve. Three years ago she found a section completely washed away, and the path suffers from floods of snow melt.

As well as reporting back she will do some minor repair work herself: “Sometimes I take a little trowel and use it or the heel of my boot to clear water-bars. If there’s a loose stone in the path I move it to one side.” Anything bigger she reports back to OATS and the response from repair teams is rapid.

“It’s really worthwhile,” she adds. “It’s an opportunity to combine my love of the hills with doing something useful.”

Damien Theaker - 2020

Footpath repair skills and experience gained with OATS are feeding back into another volunteering scheme thanks to the participation of Damien Theaker.

Damien, from Helensburgh, first volunteered with the Mountains and The People project in 2016, after hearing about it through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park (LLTNP), where he already did some volunteering. He was attracted because it was clear OATS was in it for the long haul.

“Rather than just walking away from the project once the capital work was completed, like so often happens, and then the whole thing falls into disrepair, what they were saying was we have invested all this time and money, now what we want to do is keep an eye on it.”

That, he said, was where the volunteers came in, providing inspection through the Adopt A Path scheme and light maintenance and repairs through volunteer work days, spending some enjoyable days working with the Trust: “They were good days out, and you had other people there with different interests, maybe birds or other wildlife. You got a chance to learn stuff from them.”

He said when LLTNP decided to set up a volunteering scheme of its own for path-fixing, he immediately got involved, knowing what he had learned with TMTP would be useful. OATS provided a day’s training in maintenance, reporting software, and safety. He has since helped train a team of volunteers for the park in path maintenance.

The LLTNP Volunteer Rangers have already set to work on some of the mountains where paths have been constructed by TMTP, and after a break because of the Coronavirus crisis, they should be back on the hill by September 2020.

A keen mountain biker and hill-goer, he added: “Volunteer path-work is hassle free, if you’re there you can do it and work as hard as you like, no-one’s marking your performance, and you’re putting something back.”