[5th World Trails Conference 2015] Trail Resuscitation and Restoration (2) | Hadrian’s Wall Path | The Challenge of Managing Visitors and Archaeology

5th World Trails Conference 2015

#101 Concurrent Session | Trail Resuscitation and Restoration (2)

Hadrian’s Wall Path | The Challenge of Managing Visitors and Archaeology

 David  McGlade – National Trail and Volunteer Officer

Thursday, January 15, 2015, Seogwipo ICC

Presentation Slides Download (PDF)

It gives me great pleasure to talk to you today about my 20 year project on Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail.

So carrying capacity and Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail – the challenge of managing visitors and archaeology.

Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England.

Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. Hadrian’s Wall is an ancient monument of international significance. The wall was constructed in 122 AD under the orders of the emperor Hadrian and it marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire.

80 Roman miles long long it was a complex structure with forts, mile castles, defensive ditches and roads.

We have two ariel views of the wall showing a mile castle, the smaller turret.

The Roman occupation of Britain ended in 410 AD but the Wall has left a permanent mark on the physical and social landscape of Britain.

In 1987 UNESCO recognized its importance in world history by awarding it World Heritage status. That has helped to promote the Wall as a tourism destination.

And today there are now 14 National Trails in England and Wales totaling over 3,500 KM.

I would like to show you some general views showing Hadrian’s Wall and National Trails at their very best.

This is the World Famous Houseteads Roman Fort in the middle of the wall.

And some more views of the wall and the national trail alongside it.

Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site is one of the most legally ‘protected’ landscapes in the world. However, the 1,900 year old Wall and its associated archaeological earthworks without appropriate management are easily damaged.

Sections of the wall will actually collapse if people are allowed to walk on top of it. Here we see erosion in 1991. This was before the national trail was established. This is actual damage to the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall.

Here we have drainage problems where visitors are forced to walk on top of a monument.

And I ask the question: ‘Is this much damage acceptable or is it damage at all?’

Or is the answer to construct engineered paths everywhere?

Why then if the wall is so sensitive why develop Hadrian’s Wall Path?

In 1984 it was suggested that the best way of reducing the risk of erosion and damage to the wall was to spread visitors over a much wider area.

A 135km walking route was researched and subjected to considerable archaeological scrutiny. It received government approval in 1994 and finally opened in May 2003.

However, there was a condition. The government insisted that the trail’s clear aim is to manage it as a green sward (which means a ‘grass path’).

In the World Heritage Site Management Plan it states: ‘Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail should be proactively managed primarily as a grass sward surface to protect the archaeology underfoot and the setting of the World Heritage Site’.

Now a green grass sward path like this one. But not like this. And this is the same site.

A beautiful green sward path like this? And the same site in winter like this. In an area in winter soils become water logged.

So why is it important to maintain the green sward path?

The answer is because everywhere underfoot there is the likely-hood of finding archaeology. A green sward is considered the best way for both the archaeology as well as the landscape setting of Hadrian’s Wall itself.

Here are some examples of what I call near-surface archaeology.

It might not look like very much, but it is archaeology.

And in this picture this is all that remains of Hadrian’s Wall. There’s even less in this picture.

Remember the wet area in the earlier slide? We accidentally came across a Roman well. So everywhere there is the likely-hood of finding archaeology.

So carrying capacity. Archaeological earthworks, high rainfall and large numbers of people conflict with each other it is impossible to say how many people the landscape can take before their is damage and we believe it is much better to achieve consensus of all organizations by defining and working towards the agreed quality standards.

So let’s just reflect on a moment. I have some photos of Hadrian’s Wall taken in the 1890s. And I the same views today. I just wonder will the Wall look the same in another 100 years time.

A photo in the 1890s. And today.

It really hasn’t changed much at all.

Another view from the 1890s.

Nothing has changed. Even the sheep are still there on the hillside.

However is the green sward a realistic aim? Is it a realistic quality standard?

By how much should the condition of the Trail be allowed to change beyond which any further change is considered to be unacceptable.

There is no easy answer. These are value judgement we have to make.

Today many archaeologists have concerns about the National Trail. They are concerned it will lead to further damage to the archaeology.

Indeed in 2005 we were reported to UNESCO and I will quote [from the BBC] “An archaeologist has warned in a report that urgent action is needed to protect the trail along Hadrian’s Wall from further serious erosion”

Believe me. You do not want to be reported to UNESCO. It’s not funny.

However, since 2005 our management strategy has largely been a successful one. We engage our visitors in the conservation process. We have our conservation tips.

1) Please avoid climbing or walking on Hadrian’s Wall.

2) Please do not walk in single file.

If I can just explain this one please. By walking side by side instead of single file you can double the carrying capacity on grass and its costs nothing. Simply by walking side by side.

And I am pleased to say all of the publishers of our maps and guidebooks now include these conservation tips.

So our management strategy. It is about proactive grassland management.

It is about sometimes cutting the grass and also giving people instructions. Here we are using temporary ground reinforcing sheets to help the grass to recover.

And then the same site a few weeks later. The sheets are then removed.

We do a lot of work repairing modern field drains.

Cutting the grass again and also aerating the ground. Spiking the ground.

Our National Trail passport operates in the spring, summer, and autumn only but not in the wet winter months when there is more risk of erosion.

Competitive running races are positively discouraged and instead event organizers are encouraged to work with Trail staff to find solutions that respect the Trail’s conservation aims.

large groups of walkers if they are managed properly and arrive at the right time of year they do not present a problem.

Here is a well behaved larged group in August 2012. There were nearly a 1000 people. However in the winter when Hadrian’s Wall’s soils are waterlogged and they can cause very serious problems as a result in erosion and damage.

In January 2003 a group of 850 people completely without warning and caused a lot of damage.

Here we have 850 people queuing to get through a gate. They caused a lot of damage. Afterwards it has been repaired.

Let me explain to you about our fixed point photographic monitoring.

It is a simple relatively low cost, but effective way of observing long term changes and trends in the landscape. It does require attention to detail and the best results are achieved when undertaken by the same person every year.

On Hadrian’s Wall Path we photographically monitor some 70 sites each with a east and west bound view. They are photographed every April, August, and November. In the following sequence notice the gradual changes occurring over a 10 year period. [Please see this link]

First I will explain that a large area of ulex europaeus was removed from this area here in order to allow visitor access to both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.

In the following the sequence notice as the ulex grows back how the risk of erosion and damage will increase.

So you see how as the ulex grew back visitors were channeled into a narrow path.

Lets have a look at another fixed point photographic monitoring site. This is one of the most visited sites along Hadrian’s Wall Path and see how the grass path responds eventually to the grass management in this 10 year sequence.

This was the same site in 1991 when the proposal was to build a stone path.

You can judge for yourself if our approach to the grassland management is the right one.


Actually photographic monitoring is one of the most important management tools that we use on Hadrian’s Wall.

Some lessons learnt.

It shows that time over time can be gradual as well as sudden. It’s not always obvious that change it taking place at all.

Understanding long term trends means you can make better decisions and also teaches you not to overreact to situations.

And finally a look at another World Heritage Site in the UK.

At Stonehenge the aim is exactly the same which is to achieve a green sward setting for the monument. It is achieved there by the same techniques of intensive grassland and controlled visitor management.

Remember it is essential to have clear aims and goals with your project.

On Hadrian’s Wall our aim or our quality standard is to maintain the green sward path. However intensive micro management like this can be expensive. It is expensive.

It does require a long term commitment to adequate resources or face the consequences.

But the rewards for this management approach are tangible and something I am very proud of. In 2011 the BBC magazine Countryfile, The readers voted Hadrian’s Wall Path as the best trail.

Thank you very much.

* Slide photos will added at a later date.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s