The Impact of Adventure Activities in the Roaches.


This study compares a low grade accessible and popular route; Rocking Stone Gully, graded V Diff at the Lower tier (Site A) with a less popular high grade route; Ascent of Man, graded E3 6a at the Lower tier (Site B) at the Roaches to determine biodiversity and measure the environmental impact of rock climbers. The Roaches was selected as a popular and historic climbing venue.

Rock climbing has been highlighted for causing environmental impact by Attarian (1996) and Cole (1993). It was hypothesized the biodiversity would decrease closer to the base of the two crags, site A would have a lower biodiversity to site B and soil density would increase nearer the base of the crags and at Site A. Biodiversity was measured by the number of species, the percentage of plant cover and soil density within quadrats of convenience increasing in distance from the base of the crag.

Results supported the hypothesis with high soil density nearer the crag bases, and greater biodiversity at Site B. Possible remedies include education in environmental responsibility for climbers and closing off certain crags for restoration and rehabilitation.


The Roaches is a historic gritstone climbing venue owned by the Peak District National Park Authority (British Mountaineering Council 2009). With a plethora of British traditional grades from Moderate (low beginner grade) to E8 (very high advanced grade), the crag’s diversity has attracted many climbers (British Mountaineering Council 2009).

Such high usage has a negative impact upon the environment. The British Mountaineering Council (2013) warns of environmental damage occurring at the Lower and Upper Tier crags at the Roaches, encouraging climbers to use established footpaths, not short-cuts on moorland areas, restrict leaving litter and human waste and restrict abseiling. Attarian (1996) establishes general impacts to crags caused by rock climbers: visual damage, sanitary damage, increasing soil compaction, erosion, multiple trails and disturbance to wildlife and vegetation.

Cole (1993) considers the impact of recreational activities, and warns activities such as rock climbing, can impact the vegetation by erosion and path formation, trampling, uprooting and damage which risks death and impacts the food chain to grazing animals. Liddle (1975) examines how trampling affects stem height, seed and flower production and carbohydrate reserves, reducing reproduction of plants. Cole (1993) mptes compaction and erosion of the upper layer of soil, the organic horizon, an important layer of dead organic matter that increases the absorption of water into soil thereby decreasing water runoff.

This research investigated whether rock climbers visiting the Roaches have a detrimental effect to the biodiversity and percentage of species local to the environment.
Hypothesis: The biodiversity, number of species measured and plant cover percentage, will decrease closer to the base of the crag. Increased damage will be recorded at the more popular crag (Site A). Soil density will be greater nearer the base of the crag and at the popular crag (Site A).


Design: A study was designed to compare the impact of a popular crag: Rocking Stone Gully, graded Very Difficult at the Lower tier (site A), and a less popular route: Ascent of Man, graded E3 6a at the Lower tier (site B) (Appendix A). Old text by Hurlbert (1984) promotes comparative or manipulative experiments as measurements of a property within an ecological system at two points to ascertain differences. Both points of comparison were taken at the Lower Tier to minimise the chance extraneous variables could affect the data; less trees could create more sunlight which could be responsible for the difference in biodiversity and richness of species.

To generate quadrats, a 10-meter rope was used at 90 degrees to the base of the crag downhill. At 1 meter intervals, a quadrat of convenience was taken maximising the percentage of ground cover and minimising the percentage of rock cover. The quadrat was a 220cm sling using 4 pegs to provide a 55cm by 55cm square and a volume of 3025cm².

To measure biodiversity, the number of species was recorded. Dupuis and Joanchim (2006) term the quantity of species present in a specified sample region as species richness. Krebs (1989) encourages quadrats for estimating species richness in a biological community when the researcher does not want to sample the entire region. Dupuis and Goulard (2011) suggest the sample region is divided into special units termed quadrats for convenience, generally of equal size and numbered 1 to the total sample size, to visually record species detected (Dupis and Goulard 2011).

Morris et al. (1995) warn quadrats can be subjective to observer error and small, randomly placed samples such as portable quadrats providing poor, inaccurate data. The quadrats were photographed to provide visual research data validity, reducing observer subjectivity. Manning and Freimund (2004) promote visual research methods for measuring the impact of outdoor recreation, providing a valid representation of visitor standards at the site.
Three factors were tested within each quadrat; the number of species, the percentage of plant cover, and soil density. The number of species and percentage of plant cover were measured visually through counting and estimation of proportion. Williams et al. (2001) offer the probability of detecting species depends on how identifiable the species are. Measuring species and plant cover might lack accuracy however; small quadrats provided sufficient time to confirm data.

Soil density was taken throughout the quadrat providing an average measurement. A tent peg was inserted into the ground with practiced, consistent pressure performed by the same person for continuity. The peg was measured with a ruler, measuring peg height above ground to calculate soil penetration. This test mimicked static cone penetrometers, which measure soil density by applying force into the ground at a constant velocity until it can be pushed no longer (Jones and Kunze 2004). The reliability and accuracy of using a tent peg instead of a penetrometer is reduced as human error is greater in maintaining constant velocity and pressure.

To ensure safe practice a risk assessment was completed. Risk assessments are advised for environmental studies for determining the probability and magnitude of risk and offer a means of decision-making and consideration for the benefits of environmental action or land use (Brown 1988). Equally, risk should be determined in terms of potential ethical impact (Brown 1988).


Figure 2: Number of Species with increasing distance from the base of Rocking Stone Gully VD (Site A)

As predicted in the hypothesis, the biodiversity of the crag is reduced nearer the base of the crag, illustrated by figure 2 as the base of the crag (0->3m) has no species present. McMillan and Larson (2002) note the base of the crag, the talus, is used as a belay stance, a rest position for climbers, a place for storing and sorting packs and gear and commonly very rocky. This high intensive usage of the talus could correlate to the lack of species richness. McMillan and Larson (2002) also consider hikers a major source of disturbance on the talus. Climbers moving around from crag to crag account for disturbance.

Such impact is demonstrated by a recently uprooted tree at the base of Piece of Mind crag, near Site A. This could be due to a lack of nutrients or water within the soil resulting in the death of the tree, suggesting the base of the crag and talus has been damaged by climbers and is struggling to sustain species.

Figure 3: environmental damage present at Piece of Mind crag and just to the right of Site A

McMillan and Larson (2002) found in a study measuring climbed and unclimbed routes, an increase in species richness and percent cover for unclimbed crags. Comparing this with Sites A and B, there is more plant percent cover and species richness at site B (less frequently climbed) (figure 4). The species richness does not reach the same quantity as Site A, but is more consistent in cover across the distance measured, including the base of the crag.

Figure 4: Number of species with increasing distance from the base of Ascent of Man E3 6a (Site B)
Figure 5: Graph to represent the percentage of rock and plant cover with increasing distance from the base of Rocking Stone Gully VD (Site A)

Figure 5 demonstrates an increase in plant cover percent with increasing distance from the base of the crag. At 5 and 9/10 meters a path intersects the line of measurements, reflected by a sudden decrease in plant cover. The percentage of rock is illustrated to understand the layout of the quadrats. Despite positioning quadrats in areas of convenience at marked intervals of 1m from the crag, there were quadrats where rock formed part of the cover, reducing the plant cover for sampling.

Figure 6: Graph to represent the percentage of rock and plant cover with increasing distance from the base of Ascent of Man E3 6a (Site B)

Figure 6 illustrates Site B, where a much higher and consistent plant cover percent with a range of 95-100%. This confirms the hypothesis that Site B, the less frequently climbed route, has more plant cover than Site A.

Figure 7: Graph to represent the Soil Density (cm) with increasing distance from the base of Rocking Stone Gully VD (Site A)

Figure 7 demonstrates high soil density at the base of the crag which is a popular site for groups to belay from, leaving packs and gear. At 5 and 9/10 meters where paths intersect, the soil density increases, seen by a reduction in the depth (cm) the peg was able to penetrate. This suggests in areas of high intensity usage and footfall, there is a higher soil density. Comparatively, the density of Site B is much less with higher penetration values across the distance measured. Pickering and Hill (2007) evaluate daily use such as trampling, causes damage to the mineral soil exposure, compaction and plant cover. Site B is able to maintain minerals, equal density and an organic horizon which Cole (1993) reports important so soils can absorb water, decrease water runoff and decompose natural organic waste.

Figure 8: Graph to represent the Soil Density (cm) with increasing distance from the base of Ascent of Man E3 6a (Site B)


The results indicate rock climbing and recreational activities cause environmental damage such as complete loss of species, high soil density and path erosion at the base of the crag measured to sample the impacts of group use (Site A) (0->3m). The species of richness is greater at Site B and more consistent with percentage of plant cover, indicating less effect of rock climbers causing environmental impact at this site. The results support the hypothesis that high use of crags for rock climbing causes more damage than low use. This study was limited to comparing two sites; further research should compare multiple sites and monitor the number of people using the crags regularly.

Attrian (1996) approaches the solution to environmental impact as climber education regarding environmental impact and increased awareness and responsibility for the environment and a hands-on approach with community and management processes. Such as educating climbers to leave no trace and pick up litter left by others. Sanitation has been marked by the British Mountaineering Council (2013) as a problem causing environmental disturbance (Figure 9). Human waste indirectly affects the environment through acceleration of some species growth and directly through removal of soil and vegetation to dig a hole (Pickering and Hill 2007). Attarian (1996) also notes poor sanitation as an environmental impact. In solution sanitation and pollution, Hanemann (2000) encourages making rock climbing more accessible by constructing pathways to crags, toilets, rubbish bins, parking and bolting routes to stop people lighting fires and damaging vegetation. The disadvantage is reduction in the sense of adventure some climbers relish and the negative impact of increased participation. Ebert and Robertson (2007) describe traditional climbers search for exploration and risk and being in a remote area, seeking gratification in increasing self-reliance to overcome obstacles.

Figure 9: Litter present at Site A - Evidence of poor practice and consideration of the environment at a popular climbing crag

Whilst it is unfavourable to close off an area of climbing where damage has occurred, the damage caused requires restoration and time to recuperate. Cole (1994) advocates removing the disturbance can provide quick recovery. However, the practicality of blocking access is difficult, especially at a popular venue such as the Roaches. Additionally, closing one section will increase the areal extent of damage (McMillan and Larson 2002). McMillan and Larson (2002) believe providing information on the ecological rational the restrictions will produce positive reactions. Nuzzo (1995) considers more than two years is required to restore damage to heavily used crags. A more adaptive approach would be to monitor progress of the crag talus and dynamically assess when the crag is ready to accommodate climbers. Further, Kuntz and Larson (2006) highlight the need for research into the environmental impact of rock climbing both on the plateau and talus.

Figures 10-15: Erosion from Crag with increasing distance: Site B (left), Site A (right)

If you are interested in this subject and would like to know more or check out the references, please use the contact us page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *