Case Studies - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Llangollen Canal

Exceptional heritage asset value

When UNESCO declared the aqueduct to be a World Heritage site, it explained:

‘The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a highly innovative monumental civil engineering structure, made using metal arches supported by high, slender masonry piers. It is the first great masterpiece of the civil engineer Thomas Telford and formed the basis of his outstanding international reputation. It bears witness to the production capacities of the British ironmaking industry, which were unique at that time.’

The aqueduct is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument which means that consent is required (from Cadw, the Welsh Assembly Government’s historic environment service) before any repairs or alterations can be made to the structure.


The authenticity and integrity of the surviving structure was a major factor in achieving these listings. Built between 1795 and 1805, the canal is carried 126 feet above the River Dee in the original cast iron trough.


On one side there is no parapet, creating a real sense of drama for passengers crossing on board boats. The opposite side carries the old towing path, allowing people to freely walk across the aqueduct. The iron railings that form the parapet on the towing path side offer protection from the drop. They are, however, more widely spaced than would be permitted in a new structure.

In consequence, there is an identified risk of young children squeezing between the railings. However, as the structure is of exceptional heritage asset value there is a presumption against the introduction of physical risk controls that would adversely impact on the authenticity and integrity of the original design.

The Canal & River Trust, who are responsible for the aqueduct, have undertaken visitor safety assessments of the site and concluded that although the gaps are wider than one would construct today, to reduce the width would not only have an adverse impact on the heritage value, but also increase the wind loading on the structure which could have a detrimental effect on the aqueduct. They have therefore chosen to leave the railings unaltered, but apply management controls to ensure that parents and guardians are made aware of the risks that will be encountered if they choose to take children across.


Prominent signs and posts use pictograms to convey clear advice to walkers before they reach the aqueduct.

Wider heritage context

You can better appreciate the importance of the aqueduct to the locality by downloading these documents produced by Wrexham Borough County.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Conservation Area Assessment and Management Plan

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site Presentation

This case study was written by Ken Dodd and was published in October 2015

This website entry was last updated on 9 February, 2016

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Case Studies - Skellig Michael, County Kerry

The Office of Public Works cares for the island on behalf of the Irish State.

Skellig Michael (also known as Great Skellig), is a towering sea crag rising from the Atlantic Ocean almost 12 kilometres west of the Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland.

Located at the western edge of the European landmass, Skellig Michael was the chosen destination for a small group of ascetic monks who, in their pursuit of greater union with God, withdrew from civilisation to this remote and inaccessible place. Some time between the sixth and eight centuries, a monastery was founded on this precipitous rock giving rise to one of the most dramatic examples of the extremes of Christian monasticism.

Skellig Michael and its neighbouring islands contain some of Ireland’s most important sites for breeding seabirds both in terms of size of colonies and diversity of species.

The well-preserved monastic remains have retained a strong spiritual appeal. To witness the physical achievements of the early monks and experience the solitude, broken only by sounds of seabirds and the ocean, evokes a quiet sense of magic. George Bernard Shaw, on a visit in 1910, described it as an ‘incredible, impossible, mad place, part of our dream world’.

In 1996 UNESCO inscribed the island on the World Heritage List as a site of outstanding universal value.

Visitor Risk Management

Its isolated location and difficult access pose considerable challenges in managing the site. There are significant constraints to finding solutions for some quite complex problems.

OPW, in managing the site, aims to provide a safe environment where the risks are at an acceptable level; however a safe environment does not imply the absence of risk. It is critically important, therefore, that visitors are made fully aware of the risks presented by the nature of the terrain and other natural hazards that await them. By applying the VSCG principles OPW seeks to achieve a balance between conservation of the built and natural heritage, visitor access and safety.

Notwithstanding the monument’s archaeological, cultural, spiritual and environmental importance, it is not OPW’s objective to provide easy access for all, irrespective of levels of fitness and agility.

Due to its location (some 11.6km off Bolus Head out in the Atlantic Ocean) access to Skellig Michael is by boat and is only possible when weather and sea conditions are favourable. Visitors are only allowed from late May through to late September.

Following noticeable increase in damage to the site in the
early 1990s OPW introduced a daily limit of 180 visitors. This is managed by a permit system which controls the number of boats and passengers allowed to land on the island.

Visitors are exposed to significant trip and fall hazards. Disembarking from the boats can be difficult, and once on the island, access to the monastery is via approximately 600 steps. These steps, although maintained, are irregular and of dry stone construction and by their nature do not comply with modern safety standards. Handrails have not been
introduced because they would compromise the exceptional heritage value of the site. However, visitors are advised by on-site signs of the intrinsic hazards of visiting the island. Information signs which include safety information are also located at all departure ports. Information on visitor safety is also provided on websites in the form of a safe access guide publication and a safety video.

A further important issue relating to the safety of visitors on the island is the duration of their stay. Boat timetables allow sufficient time to climb the steps and tour the monastery before descending to take the boat back to the mainland.

A regular guide service was introduced in 1987 and has operated each season since. The main function of the guide service is to protect the site, interpret the history, archaeology and significance of the monastic settlement, regulate the numbers of visitors within the monastic enclosure, monitor visitor numbers, the number of boats landing and weather conditions.

To further reinforce the safety messages, visitors are met at the bottom of the steps by a guide, who gives a brief talk on visitor safety and protocols to be taken on their visit to the Island.

Emergency Planning

OPW is committed to ensuring that high levels of health and safety for visitors are maintained on the island. Close links have been established with the area air and sea rescue organisations and the local coastguard. With their co-operation, full-scale safety evacuation drills are carried out regularly to complement and inform the current emergency plan for Skellig Michael.

2010 Risk Review

Following two fatal incidents on Skellig Michael in mid 2009, OPW commissioned Byrne Ó Cléirigh to undertake a detailed risk review. You can view their final report here:

Current Safety Advice

The latest sign design is available as a PDF here:

The safe access guide leaflet and information flyer are available here:

You can view the safety video by following this youtube link

This case study was written by Padraic McGowan and Ken Dodd and was published in February 2015

This website entry was last updated on 27 October, 2015

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Case Studies - Westonbirt Old Arboretum Play Trail


At Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, the Forestry Commission aims to connect people with trees. Their belief is that positive experiences from outdoor play in childhood promote positive attitudes to the environment through into adult life.

Children’s play

Nature play trails have been created to encourage children to explore more widely than in the confines of a traditional playground. This allows accompanying adults to also enjoy walking through more of the arboretum.

Each play piece has been carefully chosen with a view to achieving good learning outcomes.

The principles underlying this approach to play are examined in more detail in the Wild and nature play good practice guidance on this web site.

Developing Forestry Commission policy

Westonbirt’s philosophy towards children’s play has developed reflecting Forestry Commission guidance. The documents below illustrate the evolution of the policy.





Managed play pieces on the nature play trail

Every play piece has been carefully considered to balance the benefits from allowing play against the residual risk inherent in the structure.

At Westonbirt this process is undertaken by a learning and participation manager. The analysis is recorded and is shared with visitors, for example if there is an accident on a play piece.

Every piece has a written risk assessment.


The photographs to the right illustrate some of the play pieces. If you click to view the details the heading is taken from the play trail leaflet. There is then a list of issues that are considered in the design and maintenance of the piece.

The whole trail is inspected weekly with the results recorded. This is the form that is used.


Tree swings

Although not at Westonbirt, some sites have rope swings. Advice on their construction can be found in this document.


This case study was written by Ken Dodd and was published in March 2013

This website entry was last updated on 10 February, 2015

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Case Studies - Shorne Fort, North Kent


Shorne Marshes are on the North Kent coast, about 1.5 miles east of Gravesend. They are legally accessible for visitors on foot only. In July 2001, within 4 months of their acquisition by RSPB, a young girl fell off the 19th century fort that was part of the initial acquisition. The girl was at the fort with 3 friends, and they had climbed on to the roof. As she tried to climb down the side of the fort, at around 9.30pm in order to return home, she lost her balance and fell. Within a few weeks, RSPB were subject to a claim from the girl, alleging negligence in that they failed to prevent or warn her of the dangers of climbing on and falling off the monument.


Following the letter of claim, RSPB’s insurers instructed loss adjusters to carry out a liability investigation. Initially they concluded that primary liability would attach to the RSPB, but that arguments should be raised relating to contributory negligence on the part of the claimant. However, in a final report, with the absence of an up to date risk assessment and other measures, the loss adjusters altered their position regarding the contributory negligence and noted that this was “an accident waiting to happen”.

At the time, no formal systems were in place within RSPB to carry out detailed investigations into such claims and cases. When RSPB’s insurers raised reservations about the liability agreement in September 2003, RSPB started to investigate the incident further with a view to contesting the claim. In the intervening years, RSPB had re-assessed the site and highlighted as hazards a number of unprotected drops, the relatively easy access to the roof and the unknown stability of the structure. In response, a number of measures had been taken to try to exclude all access to the upper parts of the building and to fence off all unexpected drops. Warning signs had been put up (and removed regularly!) and an engineering inspection had been undertaken, repeated at the recommended intervals.

Risk assessment

However, North Kent vandals were clearly undeterred by these efforts. They persisted in climbing on to the roof from a number of places, and at one point took out angle grinders to cut down fences and use them as ladders to make climbing the monument even easier! A re-assessment noted that although the risk of falls from what is known as the middle platform had indeed been reduced (see photo 2), the palisade style of fence used appeared to have made the consequences of a fall from the roof much nastier than the broken ankle suffered by the original claimant!

RSPB are not specialists in managing the safety of visitors on historic monuments. This one is on a reserve without a daily permanent staff presence. Through VSCG partnership working, RSPB involved the safety advisor for English Heritage, who confirmed the thoughts that a further revision of the risk assessment was needed. This revision, the third in 5 years, recommended taking away the (expensive) fencing and other works that had been put in to try to block off parts of the fort. It also recommended removing the risk of falls by earth banking at the rear of the fort up to the middle level. Where the risk of falls remained, such as from climbing onto the roof, local signage would be used to warn of this risk, and no more.

Site staff took to this with gusto (and a big grant) and, with the help of local archaeologists, agreed how to preserve the monument and yet protect RSPB and lawful visitors. Earth banking was developed at the rear, steps put in and scrub cleared. All the extra fencing and brickwork, initially put up by RSPB to exclude people, was removed. The fort now looks fantastic, (or at least as good as a damaged Napoleonic fort can do), and is easily accessible at ground level from the front or rear for anyone to see. An interpretation panel will be erected explaining the fort’s significance and its relation to two others in the vicinity along the Thames.

Of course, it remains possible for people to climb on it, but that is felt to be the same on hundreds of other buildings and monuments in the care of English Heritage, the National Trust and others. RSPB’s historic building is in a similar state to that of others in the ‘sector’ and is now a resource to the site not a drain. Many extra ‘safety’ features have been removed and common sense has prevailed. An engineering inspection is still undertaken at appropriate intervals to check the structural integrity of the fort.

Settling the claim

As regards the claim, it proved difficult to retract the original admission, with RSPB insurers going to a court hearing to make the case and losing. Discussions regarding damages were advanced and a large sum had been floated in late 2004. However prior to settlement, the very diligent combination of Safety Officer and local staff discovered that at the time of the incident Shorne Marshes were closed due to foot and mouth, a point not identified by the original insurer’s loss adjuster. Indeed, the claimant was breaking the law by being there, and RSPB staff, understandably, had not been able to get onto the land to carry out the assessment that was necessary. Following these internal detailed investigations, there was now sufficient information to be able mount a realistic defence to the claim (had it been possible to retract the earlier admission of liability). Much of this was thanks to the excellent record keeping by the staff based at the site and their willingness to get involved in the defence of the claim. Interestingly, agreement on a much reduced settlement figure was quickly reached.

Lessons learned

As a result of this and previous claims there is now a much improved system in place in RSPB to help staff who are involved in claims, and to ensure that they receive support during what can be a daunting process.

  • Pre-acquisition safety visits are now the routine, to minimise the likelihood of RSPB being in this position again.
  • Evidence of assessment and decisions really does aid defence against claims.
  • Safety advisors can be really helpful and sensible.
  • Claims are reviewed internally in RSPB by someone with appropriate experience, to help prevent any payment being made due to procedural problems.
  • The involvement of others in the sector doing similar work – benchmarking – is invaluable in reaching a common sense solution.
  • The VSCG guiding principles and risk matrix is useful in aiding decisions over reasonable interventions for the location, type of visitor. and presence of RSPB staff.

This case study was written by and was published in October 2008

This website entry was last updated on 5 March, 2009

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Case Studies - Brereton Heath Local Nature Reserve, Cheshire


Brereton Heath Local Nature Reserve, formerly Brereton Heath Country Park, was created from a redundant former silica sand quarry by Congleton Borough Council in 1982. The site occupies eighty five acres and includes woodland, remnant lowland heath, and a fifteen acre lake. The lake was created by quarrying operations, and is up to thirteen metres deep. There are shallows and, in some places, steeply graded sides.

The facility has been managed by Cheshire County Council Countryside Management Service since its opening.

During ten years of dereliction prior to purchase, the site attracted unofficial use for swimming, and water activities. After being designated as a country park, this use increased dramatically, creating a culture of misuse. Although never condoned by either site owners or managers, visitors would travel up to twenty miles, attracted by what they perceived to be a substitute to a visit to the sea-side.

The carrying capacity of the facility was frequently exceeded. A hot summer Sunday would regularly result in a full car park of one hundred vehicles, supplemented by up to two hundred parked in local lanes. Litter, vandalism, and offensive behaviour, not only absorbed scarce resources in terms of staff time and finance, it also had a detrimental affect on other visitors, as well as local residents. Those wishing to visit to walk, and to experience the countryside, altered their visiting times to avoid the site at peak periods, or even for the whole of the summer.

Although Brereton Heath displayed ‘Dangerous water; No swimming’ signs at prominent positions from its opening, these were largely ignored. The high numbers using the water reinforced the swimming culture, beyond the control of staff. Visitors often believed that swimming must be legitimate, as so many people did it. Staff would even find young children left by their parents for the day, in order to go swimming, or to play with inflatable boats.

In addition to warning signs, handouts were produced, detailing the inherent dangers of the water. Staff would approach swimmers to explain the dangers. They would invariably be met with dismissal, or even by abuse or threats. Several serious incidents due to swimming were recorded.

A decision to deal with the problems, and to change the culture of the site, was taken in the early 1990s.

‘Soft engineering’ changes to discourage swimming

The key to controlling the misuse has been the adoption of ‘soft engineering’, to discourage and restrict access to the lake.

One of the main attractions for sunbathers and swimmers was the presence of three sand banks at the lake edge, which acted as ‘beaches’. These areas have been fenced off, covered in top-soil, and planted with a mix of indigenous trees. Alder was found to be the most suitable species, due to its ease of establishment, and tolerance to drought. Two of these areas now form a bird reserve.

The first ‘beach’ was allowed to establish before work commenced on the second. This allowed vegetation to establish undisturbed by the public.

One ‘soft engineering’ idea which met with problems has been an attempt to establish reed beds, both as habitat, as well as a further barrier to discourage access to the lake. This is attributed to a lack of nutrients in the water for plant growth, a lack of ability to control water levels, and to the grazing of reeds by waterfowl.

Efforts are continuing, and some success has been gained by the planting of greater reedmace, as this has been less prone to grazing than the phragmytes originally used. Experiments are also taking place with floating nesting platforms, but care has been needed not to create a new target for swimmers.

Organised water activities

Although canoeing is a recognised activity, providing a facility for local clubs, it is closely regulated by the sale of permits. Applicants must adhere to strict conditions of use; provide a risk assessment, evidence of insurance cover, and use safety equipment. Canoeing is prevented at peak periods so as not to encourage others into the water.

Introduction of ‘pay and display’ parking charges

The introduction of ‘pay and display’ parking has helped in that visitors appear more likely to respect a facility for which they have had to pay. In the early days of its introduction, it was apparent that those swimming or misusing the reserve would be more likely not to have purchased a parking ticket. The issuing of penalty payment tickets has helped to reinforce positive behaviour.

Success of changes

Within a few years, visitors’ perceptions of the facility changed totally. People no longer perceive the site as somewhere to swim. The groups of youths who dominated in the past have been replaced by families, and others seeking quiet countryside recreation.

Even on the hottest days, it is now rare for staff to need to speak to anyone regarding swimming. When this does occur, swimmers are quick to leave. In the past swimmers were determined to continue as so many others were also in the water. Now they feel ‘out of place’.

A new ‘visitor profile’ has developed. Family groups tend to dominate at busy periods, with the focus of recreation now being away from the water body.

Allied to other changes, particularly the promotion of wildlife and habitat through improved interpretation, and the provision of environmental arts, the public perception of the facility has become much more positive. Resources have been freed to improve both facilities and habitat, to cater for educational visits, and develop community involvement opportunities. One example of this is a resident coppice craft group, who provide life-long learning opportunities, and create outdoor environmental art sculptures, sometimes with local schools’ involvement.

Adoption of ‘Local Nature Reserve’ status, in 2005, has been followed by the awarding of the Civic Trust ‘Green Flag Award’ in 2007. A visitor survey carried out by Cheshire County Council in 2006 found a 100% satisfaction rating from 1000 people questioned. The changes and improvements to the nature reserve featured strongly in visitors comments.

This case study was written by and was published in March 2009

This website entry was last updated on 5 November, 2015

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Case Studies - Dalby Forest, North York Moors

Dalby Forest is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission

It is an excellent example of how leisure activities can be safely accommodated within a working forest.

The forest contains over 8,000 acres of woodland that is open for exploration by the public. Facilities include play areas for children, barbecue sites, waymarked trails, cafés, cycle hire, craft workshops and a new visitor centre, opened in 2007.

This case study illustrates two of the fundamental guiding principles of the Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group.

  • take account of conservation, heritage, recreation, cultural and landscape objectives
  • do not take away people’s sense of freedom and adventure

Because of its size and the variety of activities taking place, it is helpful to consider different parts of the forest against the VSCG risk control matrix.

Dalby Forest Visitor Centre

The visitor centre, being easily accessible by car and with its facilities for children, sits firmly at the “urban terrain” end of the spectrum. There is a high level of management intervention to ensure visitors are safe.


Cycling provision illustrates the opposite end of the risk control matrix. The black routes require users to take responsibility for their own safety with a very high level of technical ability and fitness expected. Routes are graded and clearly signed so that cyclists do not inadvertently take on terrain that is beyond their capabilities.

A green route is included that does not require special skills or fitness, designed for beginners and families.

There are 73 kilometres of graded and sign-posted routes and a specially designed skills area, Dixon’s Hollow, making Dalby Forest one of the best purpose-built facilities for cycling in the country.

The skills area has been created in 3 acres of old quarry. This helps to screen it from view and restrict access. It is, however, close to a car park and forest road, which allows easy ambulance access. It is also possible to land a helicopter nearby. Forestry Commission staff carry out a daily visual inspection and make a written weekly report on site safety.

Care is taken to ensure that here are no nasty surprises. Signs at Dixon’s Hollow clearly warn riders of the risks, and indicate the level of skill expected. The design of the skills area incorporates carefully positioned rocks that require appropriate levels of skill to access the track. Heights are kept under 1 metre to minimise the severity of injuries from falls.

This was all designed by the Forestry Commission in partnership with Pace Cycles and the SingletrAction user group.

SingletrAction is affiliated to the International Mountain Biking Association and work using their standards. These aim to ensure sustainable, natural trails that cause minimum disturbance to the landscape and give maximum fun on the bike.

The Forestry Commission brought forward plans for forestry work along the lines of the trails. In effect, the next 10 years of anticipated work on the trees was carried out prior to the construction of the cycle routes. This should ensure that future use will not be disrupted.

Go Ape

The forest caters for adventurous visitors with ‘Go Ape,’ a high wire adventure course of rope bridges, tarzan swings, and zip slides, 40 feet up in the trees.

Go Ape operate a dozen sites and have worked on Forestry Commission land since 2002. Their vision is to provide an eco-educational experience where participants absorb valuable risk assessment and risk management skills, whilst having a naturally thrilling time on an environmentally responsible and sustainable activity.

The adventure course is designed in association with conservationists and arboriculturists to ensure that the structures are safe. These specialists use their knowledge and experience, together with techniques such as ultrasound to monitor the internal health of the trees, to ensure that the natural environment is protected. The structures are designed to allow trees to grow unrestricted. Build materials are selected to blend into the natural scenery.

An element of risk is designed into the activity. This follows the Go Ape philosophy that exposure to risk in reasonably controlled circumstances is necessary for people to learn how to safely assess and deal with risks that present themselves in life.

Everyone receives a safety briefing from a trained instructor at the start and must wear a safety harness. But after that participants are unaccompanied and take responsibility for attaching themselves to the safety system.

The detailed Go Ape risk assessment can be downloaded using the link at the bottom of the page.

This case study was written by Ken Dodd and was published in November 2007

This website entry was last updated on 5 November, 2015

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Case Studies - Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland

Skara Brae, on Orkney, is the best preserved prehistoric village in Northern Europe. The excavated farming settlement dates back 5,000 years, and is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

It is a very popular tourist attraction, visited by many coach parties and organised tour groups as well as families and individuals. This can create crowd pressures on site during the height of the season.

In order to see the details of the furniture that is still preserved within the dwellings visitors walked around the narrow wall heads. Over the years many initiatives have been taken to improve the visitor experience, reduce the risk to visitors, and help in the conservation of the monument. These include:

  • consolidation of wall heads and paving narrow points to improve the paths
  • protecting a few areas with handrails (but many drops were still left exposed)
  • constant supervision by a minimum of two stewards
  • building a replica house so visitors can experience how the houses would have been from the inside
  • an audio visual presentation in the visitor centre allowing visitors to take a “virtual tour” of the monument
  • installing a toughened glass roof over the best preserved house

However these methods of control and protection did not prevent visitors occasionally falling into the remains of the dwellings, suffering serious injuries. The risk assessment was reviewed, and a decision taken to prohibit visitor access to the wall heads of the houses, allowing access only along a dedicated route around the perimeter of the monument. It is also planned to install cameras inside one of the houses so it can be viewed from the safety and comfort of the visitor centre. This will:

  • remove the risk of visitors falling into the monument
  • allow less able visitors to enjoy the site
  • enable a number of visually intrusive structures and handrails to be removed

By following the guiding principals adopted by the VSCG, both safety and the presentation of the monument has been improved.

This case study was written by and was published in October 2006

This website entry was last updated on 9 February, 2016

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Case Studies - Fort George, Moray Firth, Scotland

Fort George was built by George II on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth. When completed in 1769 it was the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain, and it has been preserved as an example of eighteenth century military engineering at its best.

Although it is still a working barracks, and welcomes over 4,000 visitors each year, it has remained virtually unaltered, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. This means that any modifications to improve safety need to be carefully balanced against the impact they will have on the presentation and conservation of the monument.

With almost a mile of boundary walls, the bastioned ramparts of the main fort and outworks have many unguarded drops over which people could fall several metres. Even though there are no known occurrences of people having fallen, the site would be classified as “urban terrain” by the risk control matrix in the VSCG guiding principles. Recognising this, a risk assessment was undertaken to review the risk control measures in place and consider whether any improvements were necessary.

The significance of the monument and the need to preserve its appearance meant that fencing the edge was not an option. Instead, it was decided to use a combination of measures which would together be effective, but which would not impact upon the monument to the same degree.

Some pictorial warning signs were already in place on the ramparts. The locations of these were altered and additional signs erected so that they are always visible to visitors approaching the unprotected edge. It was also decided to erect an additional sign in the car park as the drops are not obvious from this area and children could run on ahead before their parents were aware of the danger.

Staff are trained to warn visitors of the hazards of the site when they purchase their admission ticket. The risk assessment, however, also identified the need for supervision of visitors on the ramparts, especially at peak times, to ensure children are effectively supervised, and visitors are taking reasonable care. The opportunity to include warning messages in future editions of the free audio guide, available in several languages, was also taken.

The grass is kept short so that the edges of the structure are more easily identified. In parts of the outworks a replica palisade fence has been installed to highlight what would have otherwise have been a blind drop.

A few very short sections where the risk is particularly high, such as either side of the Ravelin Bridge, have been fenced off. Elsewhere cannons have been placed in gun embrasures to discourage people from climbing out onto the bastion walls. In addition temporary barriers are erected during special events when large numbers of people congregate on the ramparts to view the activities on the parade ground below.

See also the good practice guideline on managing risk from drops

This case study was written by Historic Scotland and was published in June 2005

This website entry was last updated on 10 May, 2014

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Case Studies - Blythe Waters, West Midlands

Blythe waters is a commercial fishery set in 20 acres of countryside, 1.5 miles south east of Knowle in the West Midlands. The water was developed as an 8 acre fishery by its previous owner and comprises 4 “pools” containing carp as the predominant species.

One of the lakes, Home Pool was developed directly under the path of a high-voltage power line. The 275kv line spans the water at a minimum height of 11metres. British Waterways realised there was issues surrounding the use of this pool as a fishery so decided to consult the lines owner to agree a way forward. Current good practice guidance from the Angling & overhead Lines working group, states that a minimum exclusion zone of 30 metres should be observed at locations where an overhead electrical power line crosses over or adjacent to the water.

This distance should only be reduced where the findings of a “suitable & sufficient” risk assessment demonstrate that the risks from the line can be appropriately managed.

The introduction of this guidance on home pool would have caused a closure of the water to angling and a consequential loss of revenue to the owner. A working group comprising the local Fisheries Manager, Fisheries Supervisor, Safety Advisor & British Waterways representative on the Angling & Overhead lines working group was set up by the local Service Manager.

The aim of the group was to carry out a risk assessment of the site, identify the core issues and the methods of angling on the pool to allow development of a management system, which included appropriate risk controls for the site.

On completion of the site assessment a site meeting was arranged with a representative of the owner of the overhead line. The working group discussed the findings of the risk assessment and agreed the introduction of revised/additional risk control measures which included:

  • Removal/re-alignment of angling platforms immediately adjacent to the overhead line
  • The introduction of two floating booms positioned directly below the outer conductors of the overhead line
  • Revised signage to indicate the presence of the overhead line &
  • The extension of an area of reed-bed directly below the line to stop access to the water.

The introduction of these measures both safeguards the anglers and the income from the facility.

This case study was written by British Waterways and subsequently verified by Carl Nicholls, Fisheries & Angling Manager, Canal & River Trust and was published in 2004

This website entry was last updated on 10 May, 2014

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Case Studies - Kingsford Forest Park, Kidderminster

This case-study illustrates how levels of risk can be reduced to a more acceptable level. It is perhaps of particular interest to managers faced with activities on their land that, pragmatically, it would be impossible to eradicate even if it were desirable to do so.

Kingsford Forest Park lies about two miles north of Kidderminster and is within easy reach of the Black Country. It is managed by Worcestershire County Council’s Countryside Service from Waseley Hills Country Park some ten miles away. Over the past two or three years it has increasingly been used by downhill mountain-bikers who had developed their own unofficial courses. Most of the courses crossed a busy path causing a number of problems including:

  • Risks (perceived and genuine) to other visitors including horse-riders and walkers often with young children
  • Risks to less experienced riders using the courses unsupervised
  • Risks to even the more experienced riders
  • Litter and a general air of poor management

It was decided that it would be both impractical and unnecessary to stop mountain-biking entirely. However, it was felt that the risks needed to be reduced. Because it was difficult to make contact with the participants and because the problems had become so great:

  • Trees were felled across the courses making them impossible to use
  • Signs were posted explaining why the action had been taken and asking participants to make contact with the Countryside Service

A group of mountain-bikers in their twenties soon made contact and discussions were held to agree a way forward:

  • One official route has been agreed and way-marked in such a way that an inexperienced rider could not inadvertently stray onto it.
  • No jumps are permitted to be constructed without the written consent of the Countryside Service
  • The Countryside Service has provided bins and the mountain-bikers ensure that no litter is left in the area
  • The mountain-bikers have been encouraged to focus activities on agreed days and to provide marshals at the point where the course crosses another path
  • A code of conduct has been agreed to improve relationships with other visitors
  • All participants are encouraged to wear helmets and to maintain their bikes properly

The approach described is endorsed by the County Council’s Legal and Insurance departments; and whilst it is still possible for a rider or other visitor to be injured, the likelihood of this occurring has been reduced dramatically.

This case study was written by Andy Maginnis, Worcestershire County Council and was published in September 2003

This website entry was last updated on 5 November, 2015

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Case Studies - Gas Street Basin, Birmingham

Gas street basin is located in the centre of Birmingham adjacent to several major visitor attractions. The re-development of the area surrounding the canal in the mid-1990’s highlighted a need to provide a higher level of management than provided previously. This case study looks at the site and management controls that have been implemented.

Gas street basin is bounded by a number of large commercial organisations. The design of the development opened up the waterfront to a range of users and visitors to locations such as the Sea life centre, the National Indoor Arena and several bars and restaurants in addition to the normal use of the waterway.

Responsibility for the waterfront rests with British Waterways (now Canal & River Trust). However, due to the complex mix of uses of the waterfront and adjacent property management procedures were developed in partnership with other stakeholders. It was recognised early in the project that successful management would rely on good communication and co-ordination between all interested parties.

Once the design and planning issues had been discussed a visitor safety risk assessment was prepared for the site. The assessment concentrated on the interaction of users of the waterway corridor such as walkers, cyclists and boaters, patrons of the pubs and restaurants and other visitors using the waterfront to gain access to the adjacent visitor attractions.

Key considerations for the assessment included:

  • steep slopes and steps on accesses to the waterfront
  • low parapets on bridges over the waterway
  • moving equipment such as lock gates
  • uneven & slippery surfaces
  • crowd pressure from visitors converging in small areas
  • vandalism to existing lifesaving equipment

Outputs from the assessment were shared with the partners and were used to develop robust management procedures and suitable risk control measures.

When considering suitable risk controls for the site it was obvious that the use of fencing to protect land users would constitute a hazard to users of the water space. Consequently risk controls were selected to allow visitors to enjoy the experience of the waterfront using their life skills where hazards were obvious. Fencing and other hard control measures were limited to areas where the hazards were not so obvious. For example where there were sudden changes in height or direction.

A further key element of the success criteria was the availability of life saving equipment. It was apparent from previous records that such equipment had been frequently vandalised. After careful consideration of the patterns of use, agreement was reached that throw lines would be held by adjacent businesses, as they were open when the need for deployment was greatest.

In addition, information signs were erected to inform visitors of where the nearest equipment is located. Once the management plan and agreed risk controls were in place the local management team monitored incident reports to establish any trends or changes in use. A tally form was developed to allow businesses within the waterway corridor to record brief details of any incidents that occurred. This has allowed the risk assessment and management procedures to be reviewed and improved where necessary.

The risk from parapets on Canal & River Trust waterways is currently being reviewed in relation to: parapet height, parapet width, width of path over bridge, height of fall from bridge, footfall, rural or urban location, local attractions, typical users and the likely consequences. There are a number of basin bridges in the city centre which have parapets below 500 mm and a fall of over 1 metre. They will be further risk-assessed to consider the need and practicality for additional safety controls.

This case study was written by British Waterways and subsequently reviewed by the Canal & River Trust and was published in 2004

This website entry was last updated on 10 May, 2014

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Case Studies - South Stack Cliffs, Ynys Mon

Over 150,000 visitors come to South Stack each year (2004 data). Many of these visitors walk along the coastal path which is often very close to the cliff edge.

A visitor risk assessment has been produced by site and safety staff. The majority of visitors are concentrated in the honey pot area around South Stack and Ellin’s Tower where the paths come close to the edge of the relatively high sea cliffs. Ellin’s Tower acts as an information and viewing point and has RSPB staff based there throughout the busy visitor season. The visitors to this area are felt to be more likely to be unfamiliar with the terrain encountered than those accessing the more remote areas of the reserve. A need to place additional health and safety measures here has been identified. Around the honey pot area the paths are maintained to a high standard and a system of bilingual zoned signage has been introduced:

  • Level 1: At all of the access points to this area, a bilingual warning sign reading ‘Unprotected Cliff Edge’ has been erected with the standard yellow and black warning triangles with black exclamation mark. This is an advance warning to visitors advising them that they are entering an area in which there is no barrier between them and the cliff edge.
  • Level 2: At the end where the access routes join the cliff top path, immediately before the cliff edge a second set of bilingual warning signs reading ‘Dangerous Cliffs’ with a symbol of white triangle with red border and black exclamation marks has been erected. These signs warn visitors that they should not go beyond the sign.

Away from the honey pot area, the likelihood of falls from the cliff is much reduced. This is due to the considerably lower visitor numbers and the increased likelihood that those visiting these areas are more familiar with the terrain. Generally in these areas of the reserve no specific controls are in place to manage health and safety of visitors, the hazards being natural and obvious.

After this and earlier risk assessments the decision not to erect fencing along the path was accepted. There is no history of people falling off the cliff tops, any fencing would detract from the natural landscape and would require extensive maintenance. Legal derogations would have to be applied for as the area is an SSSI and part of an AONB.

Over a number of years some works have been undertaken to use low earth banks as buffers between the path and the cliff where especially sheer drops or crumbling cliff edges were found.

A fully accessible path has also been constructed from the main visitor car park and lead directly to Ellin’s Tower. This is set well back from the cliff edge.

See also the Carnewas, Cornwall case study and the good practice guideline on managing risk from drops

This case study was written by and was published in June 2005

This website entry was last updated on 14 November, 2006

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Case Studies - People’s Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire

A benevolent Victorian land owner built a community town park with landscaped lawns rolling down to a series of shallow ornamental lakes. The park was designated a conservation area and was fully restored in 2002. However, the original Victorian design concept of a seamless visual aspect from grass to water was now seen to create an issue of child safety near the water’s edge. (See photo 1)

Because the grass slopes down towards the lakes small children could easily run or roll into the water, which is around 30 cms deep at the edge, dropping to 100 cms at the centre. A risk assessment highlighted the need to deal with the hazard, but fencing the edge of the lake would destroy the attraction of the historical design.

Agreed Safety Controls

It was agreed that there were three methods of access prevention which were acceptable, and these were used where necessary to ensure maximum effect.

1. Increased planting

Where there was existing planting adjacent to the waters edge this was inter- planted with ‘barrier’ type plants to make the shrub beds impenetrable and prevent children accessing the water through the shrub beds.

2. Extending existing margin planting.

Where there was a need to preserve a vista down to the waters edge, bund walls similar to those existing were created at a minimum of a metres width from the edge of the pond. The bund walls were submerged below the water level to discourage attempts to walk out along them and were backfilled with soil to 25mm below the waters surface and planted with water plants. This would discourage anyone from attempting to enter the water and if by accident a child were to step off the stone pond edge then it would simply become muddy rather than at risk.

3. Fencing

For all other areas a 750mm high fence was erected. This was of the ‘estate’ style which was considered to be in keeping with the history of the park and by moving it back from the waters edge to the path edge this would achieve the best balance between view and access and ensure that the impact on the grass maintenance was minimal. The consensus on fencing was that the estate fencing at 750mm would be the most unobtrusive and in keeping with the age of the park. Concerns that children may be able to climb through or under the bars of the fence would be addressed by installing stainless steel wire through the fence equidistant between the rails if the gaps prove to be too large to prevent access thus retaining the visual effect of a lightweight fence while removing the risk of access.


It was agreed that there would be signs advising of the danger at each of the entrance gates, and in front of the pools.

Thus the principles of the VSCG were followed and risks to visitors’ safety were minimised without detracting too much from the historic detail of the park.

Further Information

The park is now managed Calderdale Council

This case study was written by and was published in 2004

This website entry was last updated on 5 April, 2012

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Case Studies - Wigmore, Herefordshire

Wigmore Castle was one of the last medieval castles in England that had never been fully excavated and restored for viewing by visitors. It had been left to decay since the 1700s and much of the masonry has collapsed. In the late 1990’s the privately owned castle ruins were becoming very unstable and although quite remote, were considered dangerous to anyone who might venture to explore them. English Heritage intervened on behalf of the Secretary of State and funded a repair project, on the understanding that the castle must be accessible to members of the public. However, the decision was taken to restore it in its romantic ruined state, with none of the usual presentation and access works.

Repairs were limited to essential stabilising of the remaining masonry and only minimal safety provisions where there were exposed sheer drops. These included raising the height of some wall remains to protect sheer drops, or to introduce a few essential barriers. The policy was that undergrowth of brambles, nettles and thorns would be encouraged to grow in areas which would be potentially more hazardous, and access encouraged to safe routes by occasional cutting of the grass.

The only works carried out to provide safe access was a set of timber steps cut into the steep bank of the hillside leading up to the ruined Keep, as it was considered a desire line for visitors. The treads of the steps were formed of old railway sleepers covered with wire netting for grip. A timber hand rail was provided and intermediate barriers to break up the long flight of steps.

Due to its remoteness in the Welsh borders, the site is not manned by custodians and visitors must understand that no assistance is available if they need it.

The basis for safety must be an understanding with our visitors that this is a rugged environment and they must show a substantial degree of responsibility, not-withstanding the extensive safety works which have been carried out to repair unsafe structures and protect unguarded sheer drops. This principle of shared responsibility with visitors is in keeping with the Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group’s guiding principles.

To inform visitors arriving at the footpath gate with regard to safety we include a bold safety message:

FOR YOUR SAFETY: Wigmore Castle has been restored in its romantic ruined state. The structure has been stabilised and access to sheer drops minimised. However, visitors are requested to take extreme caution when exploring the site and to keep to cleared paths and steps. Children must be kept under close control and not allowed to climb on walls or banks. Stout footwear is strongly advised.

This case study was written by and was published in 2004

This website entry was last updated on 22 August, 2012

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Case Studies - Carnewas, Cornwall

Carnewas is a heavily visited National Trust (NT) property on the north Cornish coast. There are spectacular views of the cliffs, beaches and offshore sea stacks, known as Bedruthan Steps. There are extensive cliff walks, and a steep staircase provides access to the beach. Nevertheless, it is a hazardous natural environment – much of the cliff edge is unfenced, with steep drops and some undercutting. Swimming from the beach is dangerous due to unpredictable currents, and there are risks of rock falls and being cut off by the incoming tide.

In the late 1990’s, the NT completed a major engineering project to restore the staircase giving access to the beach. The staircase is heavily used by visitors arriving from both an NT and an adjacent private car park. The extent of use and the concentration of visitors at the head of the staircase justified extensive physical safety precautions – these include barriers at the platform at the top of the staircase, and rock safety netting to prevent rock falls. The steep staircase has handrails from top to bottom.

After this, the NT came under pressure from the local authority to provide additional sections of cliff edge fencing elsewhere on the site, and to provide staff to supervise the beach (even though this is not owned by the NT). The NT argued that these measures involved excessive intervention in the natural landscape, and were inconsistent with precautions adopted by neighbouring landowners.

Fencing in this situation was likely to have encouraged people to approach too close to the cliff edge, the installation of fencing would have involved significant risks to staff or contractors; there would be an ongoing maintenance obligation; and since it was impracticable to fence the whole stretch of coastline, there would always be unfenced sections where risk remained.

The Trust’s position was not based on resistance to any intervention in the natural landscape, since extensive measures had been put in place at the staircase to ensure safe access to the beach – including rock bolting, rock safety netting and handrails. The risks and alternative precautions were identified and recorded in the risk assessment process. Greater emphasis was placed on managing access and developing emergency procedures, and by informing visitors of the hazards on site through safety information, interpretation, and verbal information from staff.

See also the South Stacks Cliffs, Ynys Mon case study and the good practice guideline on managing risk from drops

This case study was written by and was published in 2004, revised November 2005

This website entry was last updated on 5 November, 2015

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Case Studies - Lord’s Rake, Scafell, Lake District

Lord’s Rake is a long, steep, narrow gully with high rock sides. It is located close to the summit of Scafell Pike and is commonly used as one of the routes of ascent up Scafell. This is a popular route for climbers and walkers, and is described in detail in Alfred Wainwright’s guide to the Central Fells and other guide books.

In early 2002, a large slab of rock detached from the western side wall and became wedged across the top of the Rake. This rock had large cracks and was clearly unstable. There was a risk that this rock might fall down the Rake. If this occurred whilst people were in the Rake, they would almost certainly be killed. Over time there have been further rock falls.

In March 2003, the wall on which the slab was resting itself collapsed, causing secondary falls of rock and generating very unstable material.

Further reconnaissance by independent writers indicates that the whole rock wall above the Rake is slowly becoming detached from the surrounding rock, and will in time collapse into the Rake, as indicated below.

The National Trust is the owner of the land. Trust staff have been monitoring the situation for some while, together with members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team. The following precautions have been implemented:

  • advice has been sought from a geo-technical expert
  • signs have been placed at both approaches to Lord’s Rake warning of the danger
  • notices and information have been placed in various car parks and at Wasdale campsite to encourage people to plan an alternative route avoiding Lord’s Rake
  • a system has been introduced for regular checking of all signage and information
  • the hazard has been communicated to relevant magazines and groups

In addition, regular information updates have been placed on the Wasdale Mountain Rescue web site, and on

It is probably the issue of signage in relatively remote mountain areas that has generated most concern, in particular from the British Mountaineering Council’s local Mountain Liaison Group, and the Lake District National Park. There are fears that increased signage in open country damages the beauty of remote natural landscape, and may set precedents for other locations.

A risk assessment has been carried out and reviewed regularly, taking into account the VSCG Guiding Principles. There has been much discussion on whether the feature should be categorised as rugged or wild terrain. Normally, there would be a presumption that terrain of this type, at a height of over 2000’, and at least one and a half hour’s strenuous walk from the nearest car park would be categorised as wild terrain. In such wild mountain areas, one would expect no or minimal management intervention, and an advanced level of user skills, knowledge and self-reliance. However, in reality, many people who attempt this route to ascend one of England’s highest mountains, particularly in summer, are ill-equipped and under-prepared. The location has therefore been categorised as rugged terrain for the period from Easter to October, and wild mountain terrain for the winter months.

At first sight, the actions taken appear to be contrary to one of the fundamental guiding principles, i.e. that we should not take away people’s sense of freedom and adventure. We recognise that people should be free to participate in high-risk activities such as fell walking, but so long as they are aware of the risks. In the Lord’s Rake situation, the problem is that even experienced and able fell walkers would not be aware of the specific high risk from falling and unstable rock until they were half way up the Rake in an exposed and vulnerable position. The National Trust has placed greater emphasis on some of the other guiding principles – the need to ensure that visitors are aware of the risks they face, the need to inform and educate visitors about the nature of any hazards, and the importance of finding the right balance between user self-reliance and management intervention. At the same time, the Trust must take account of both its moral duty to all visitors, and its legal duties under health and safety and occupier’s liability legislation. The precautions adopted for Lord’s Rake are site- and time-specific, are based on a local risk assessment, and will be reviewed and adapted as natural erosion processes continue.

This case study was written by and was published in August 2003

This website entry was last updated on 9 November, 2006

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