Understanding and Influencing Visitor Behaviour

A VSCG Workshop held in Richmond Park on 4 December 2013 explored the theory of planned behaviour and its application to visitor safety management.

Stephen Jenkinson used case studies to illustrate ways of influencing the behaviour of dog owners. Phil Whitfield, Head of Design & Interpretation, Forestry Commission Scotland, tested the theories on mountain bikers. He also showed how they could be applied in the design of key messages for visitors.

The documents below are primarily provided as a record for those attending the workshop. Others, however, may find them of interest.

Workshop presentations

Referenced documents relating to managing dog walkers

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Wild and nature play

Many organisations have traditionally provided formal managed play areas as part of a visit to a property or attraction. The recent trend away from manufactured items such as climbing frames and swings has led to the use of various terms to describe the provision of alternative types of play opportunities.
It is important that we fully understand what is meant by these terms and the implications for management of risk and the need for safety inspections.


Formal play uses manufactured items, bought from a supplier. These have been purpose-designed and built as play pieces. The design will have dealt with many of the inherent risks and they are often supplied with a certificate of conformity.

Nature play is the provision of a play opportunity within a structured play area using something from the natural environment rather than a purpose built piece of equipment. For example the use of a tree trunk as a climbing frame or balance beam. The piece is usually modified to provide safer access. Branches may be trimmed to avoid traps or limit heights.

There are also examples where formal play and nature play are found together on the same site, such as the National Trust’s Crow Wood play area at Lyme Park (below).

Wild play is opportunistic play with the visitor using something they would expect to encounter in the environment.

There is no planned intention for play to be part of the management of such a feature.

There may, however, be wider active encouragement for this type of play through national or local campaigns.

An example is the National Trust’s 50 Things to do before you’re 11 3/4 campaign that aims to promote nature and outdoor play as a fun part of a healthy, happy and enjoyable family life. First on the list of things to do is to climb a tree.

Management implications

Activity Play Type Management
Provision of a climbing frame, purchased from a commercial manufacturer. Formal Properly installed by provider or following provider’s instructions.
Safe fall zone created with relevant surfacing where appropriate.
Inspection on completion of installation by competent person.
Ongoing recorded inspection of the structural integrity of the piece and of any surfacing associated with the piece.
Use of a felled tree as a climbing frame within a designated play scheme. Nature Properly installed to ensure the piece is secure.
Some delimbing probably needed to reduce trap hazards, to ensure limbs are strong enough to hold the weight of the climbers and to limit the height a climber can reach.
Safe fall zone created with relevant surfacing where appropriate.
Inspection on completion of installation by competent person.
Ongoing recorded inspection of the structural integrity of the piece and of any surfacing associated with the piece.
Climbing a tree. Wild No management implications in terms of play provision.

Context is highly significant when defining type of play

Activity in Context Play Type Management
Visitors use brash from a thinning operation in a stand of trees to build shelters or dens. Wild No management implications in terms of play provision.
An increase in the number of visitors and time spent may alter the use zoning, increasing frequency of tree inspection.
The land manager brings brash from a felling site to provide material for people to build dens or shelters. Nature Ensure the correct tree inspection regime is in place for the level of use.
Regularly check area and remove hazardous constructions.
Take reasonable steps to remove sharp stumps and reduce trip hazards.
The land manger constructs a framework for walls and a pitched roof to encourage building of a den or shelter. Materials are provided to cover the roof and fill the walls. Formal Proper design and installation of the structure.
Inspection on completion of installation by competent person.
Ongoing recorded inspection of the structural integrity of the piece.
Trip hazards removed from the play area.

Play statements

It is useful to document the benefits and risks that are associated with each type of play activity. The examples that follow show how this can be done. You will see the familiar risk assessment table containing a statement of key risks and their level; the people who are at risk; and risk controls in place.

However, in addition, there is a benefit of risk statement. This, importantly, documents the consideration of alternative risk control options and sets the decision made in the context of the benefits that are derived from maintaining the identified risk.

Note that the play statement also contains information about the competences, knowledge and experience of the people making the judgement.

Links to further information

  • The Forestry Commission provides a practical guide on nature play that offers fun, simple and cost effective examples of play ideas from easily sourced materials.
  • A good example of how the Forestry Commission has put these ideas into practice is at the Westonbirt Old Arboretum Play Trail:, which is featured as a case study on this website.
  • London Play has published a guide to the safe siting, installation and use of children’s rope swings in trees. Tree_swings.pdf

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Forestry Commission Operational Guidance

The Forestry Commission (FC) produce guidance booklets for their staff. However, they make them publicly available for reference and because some of the advice they contain may help others create their own guidance.

Available guidance topics

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Ticks and Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection you might get after being bitten by hard-bodied (Ixodid) ticks that are infected by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. These ticks pass the bacterium to humans as they feed on your blood. Most cases of Lyme disease are treated successfully with antibiotics. But, if left untreated, it can infect the heart, joints and nervous system.

How common is it?

The disease is rare in the UK. Public Health England (PHE) records between 950 and 1050 cases annually in England and Wales (2011 to 2013). Using the Office for National Statistics population estimate for England and Wales (56,568,000 for 2012) this represents around 1.8 cases for every 100,000 of the population. However, not all cases of Lyme disease are confirmed by laboratory testing and the overall number of Lyme disease cases in England and Wales is likely to be between 2,000 and 3,000 a year. Incidence of Lyme disease acquired in England and Wales remains low compared to some other European countries or in North America.

Health Protection Scotland recorded between 228 and 308 cases annually (207 to 2011). Using the Office for National Statistics population estimate for Scotland (5,295,403 for 2011) this represents around 4.3 cases for every 100,000 of the population.

Where do you catch it?

The disease is usually found in people who have visited areas where ticks are present. The ticks are commonly found in woods, heaths, moorland and also in suburban parkland. They favour long grass, bracken and heavy undergrowth and require a temperate humid environment. They are less frequently found in coniferous forests and at altitudes above 650 metres.

Areas inhabited by deer are particularly suitable habitats for ticks. They are also found on birds (including grouse and pheasants), small mammals (such as mice and voles), hares, squirrels, foxes, sheep, cattle, horses and dogs. The ticks can wait in vegetation for a passing host. Not every tick infested area has a high risk of Lyme disease and not all ticks carry the bacteria.

People have caught the disease in holiday and outdoor activity destinations such as the New Forest, Exmoor, the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and Islands, North York Moors, Thetford Forest, and the South Downs. Anywhere that Ixodid ticks are present is a potential risk area. They are known to be in suburban areas like Richmond Park.

At least 50% of infections acquired in the UK are known to have been acquired in southern counties of England. Quite a number of the cases (perhaps 15% to 20%) have been acquired abroad.

How do you catch it?

Peak times of the year for tick bites are late spring, early summer and autumn.

Ticks are very small (about the size of a poppy seed) and can easily be overlooked. Most ticks are not infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Even if a tick is infected, it may not spread the bacteria in the first few hours of its feed, so there is a low risk of infection if a tick is removed quickly.

A tick bite usually looks like a lump with a small scab on the skin surface at the site of the bite. Most people with Lyme disease then develop a reddish skin rash in a ring shape, and this may be the only sign of infection. The rash spreads out from the site of a bite after 3 to 30 days. Other common symptoms with early Lyme disease include tiredness, headache, joint pains, and flu-like symptoms.

Without treatment, these symptoms may last for weeks or even longer. Rarely, there are serious complications, and in some cases, these can occur several years later.

Early detection and treatment with antibiotics helps to relieve the symptoms and shorten the illness. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the indicators, so that treatment can be given early. People showing symptoms should advise their doctor that they have been in an area where ticks might be found.

Risk control measures

The principal control is to make visitors more aware of the possibility of Lyme disease and of ways to avoid it. This typically includes:

  • education to generate awareness of the disease
  • advice on ways to reduce the likelihood of tick bites
  • information on how to remove ticks from the skin
  • information on how to recognise symptoms of the disease

If you manage a site where you know infected ticks may be present, you should consider whether it is necessary to alert visitors. Some park managers place warning notices and/or provide leaflets at entry points or car parks. Where access is uncontrolled, it might be possible to provide information to known user groups.

Public Health England has published Ticks and your health | Information about tick bite risks and prevention

They also provide advice for doctors Lyme disease: guidance, data and analysis

You can see a useful video on youtube: about the risk from ticks.

An example of a leaflet issued by the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and used by the British Mountaineering Council can be viewed here. ASAONBtickleaflet.pdf

Further Research

Forest Research together with the Universities of Oxford and Surrey have researched lyme disease, publishing a Policy and Practice Note in March 2011. It can be viewed here. RELUpolicy.pdf

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External Pedestrian Path Surfaces

Slips and trips account for fifty percent of all reported injuries to members of the public. People with impairment through age or disability are particularly prone to this type of accident. The elderly are also more likely to suffer serious injury than younger people.

Careful selection, construction and maintenance of path surfaces can have a significant impact on the number of falls that visitors and staff may experience. When choosing the most appropriate surface take account of how the path will be used, and also consider its setting, environment and the landscape.

When deciding what type of path surface and level of control is appropriate it may also be helpful to zone the areas of path in accordance with the VSCG risk control matrix. Paths provided for the public in “urban” zones, generally need to be able to be used safely by all people from the very young to the very old, some of whom may have limited hazard perception, various mobility or sensory impairments and unsuitable footwear. When selecting path surfaces in a more rural setting, it can be assumed that visitors will have a moderate level of fitness, and be better equipped. In wild or rugged terrain formal path surfacing may not be necessary.

Risk assessment

Research has shown that a combination of factors contributes to pedestrian slip accidents:

  • Path material – The slip resistance in both wet and dry conditions and surface roughness need to be considered along with durability, wear and maintenance requirements as well as cost and appearance.
  • Contamination – For example algae or excrement from horses or pigeons can greatly increase the slip risk. Where it can not be easily prevented or controlled, contamination needs to be taken into account when selecting the surface material.
  • Environment – Lighting, noise, visual distractions, slopes and changes in level and the consequences of falls should also be taken into account. Significant gradients need greater slip resistance; ramps need to be obvious, for example by using a contrasting colour to that of the landings.
  • Use – The amount of control over the way in which the path will be used and by whom should also be considered. If people are carrying large bags or other objects then their chances of falling are increased. The elderly also have a much greater risk of slipping.
  • Behaviour – Looking for signs, and using mobile phones or running can lead to hazards not being seen.
  • Footwear – Good fitting flat shoes/boots with a well designed tread pattern minimise the risk of slipping. However in many cases people using paths may not have appropriate footwear.

Options for control

When considering the options available to improve control of slip and trip hazards, as with all risk assessments, possible improvements should be subject to a careful cost benefit analysis. This will help you to decide what would be reasonably practicable, given the costs involved and the amount of risk reduction that would be achieved. Cost considerations should not just be financial. You should also take into account impacts on the natural or historic environment. The following matrix provides a guide as to what may be considered reasonable in a range of environments.

Wild Terrain No identifiable paths No information No maintenance
Rugged Terrain Paths in place, but not constructed or surfaced No information Inspection after major incidents such as storms to identify and rectify major hazards
Rural Terrain Paths constructed, but may be uneven and steep with some slip and trip hazards. only major hazards controlled Routes identified, and advice given regarding safe use of paths Occasional inspection and maintenance
Urban Terrain Where possible path surfaces to be even, and firm with good slip resistance Information to be provided on easily accessible routes and those areas where access is more challenging Frequent inspection, and maintenance

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
High visitor numbers at the castle ensure that the paths are treated as urban terrain.

Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland
Mount Stewart gardens have been added to the list of potential World Heritage Sites. The surfaces are an integral part of Lady Londonderry’s garden design. Therefore they would not be changed. Alternative pedestrian routes would be created if necessary.

Some factors can not easily be controlled. Risk controls need to focus on those elements which can easily be controlled. Areas over which path providers can have some influence are:

  • Slip resistance and roughness – All accessible path surfaces should be compact, firm, stable, and obstacle free. Surfaces should also be slip-resistant (i.e. have a Slip Resistance Value between 35 and 45) in wet and dry conditions and should not be made of reflective material. Suitable materials include concrete, bitumen macadam, stone, timber, brick/paving and grass. Sand, loose gravel, woodchips and cobbles should not be used.

Uneven surfaces, can cause problems, the maximum deviation of the footway surface under a 1 metre straight edge should not exceed 3mm. Dished channels (for drainage) should not be incorporated within pedestrian routes.

Linlithgow Palace, Scotland
The surfacing of the courtyard is of little historic significance. Therefore it has been replaced with modern materials, including mesh over the drain gulley, to create safer access.

Where contamination can not be avoided, profiled surfaces should be used, or aggregate mixed into the final adhesive layer to form a rough surface. It is important that the slip resistance of surfaces is even. Patches as small as 75 square millimetres with different slip characteristics are enough to allow a slip.

Crossfall on footpaths may be necessary to provide good drainage, but if too great, can make it difficult for wheelchair users. Any crossfall should, where possible, be between 1 and 2 in 100. Variable crossfall, affects the steering of wheelchair users and can also cause problems for people with walking difficulties.

The characteristics of different surfaces are discussed later.

  • Warning Information – Many accidents are caused by unexpected changes in the walking surface. People do not often consciously recognise changes, so using signs or other forms of warning that make changes more easily recognisable can reduce the number of falls. For example it is possible for most people to safely walk on icy or slippery surfaces if the hazard is perceived and the pedestrian alters his or her behaviour accordingly. Information can also be provided at the start of paths and trails highlighting dangers and advising walkers of precautions they may wish to consider.
  • Gradients and steps – Where reasonably practicable, especially in urban terrain, level access should be provided, but often the natural landscape has gradients. Sloping surfaces also drain better.

Slopes greater than 1 in 20 are regarded as ramps, and should be of a colour contrasting with that of the landings, of a material with good slip resistance and, where practicable, fitted with a handrail if they are used by the less able. As ramps can become dangerous when exposed to wet and other adverse weather conditions steps should also be provided as an alternative where possible.

Peveril Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire
The edges of the steps have been painted to make the change more obvious to people walking down the path.

  • Lighting – Most paths will be outside and rely on natural light, but where paths connect with indoor areas or are used after dark care should be taken to ensure that there are no sudden contrasts between brightly lit areas or bright sunlight and dimply lit, shaded or unlit areas.

Types of surface

This section gives examples of formal types of path surface that may be used in a variety of settings.

  • 1. Clay and Brick Paving

This has good slip resistance in both wet and dry conditions. However, gaps between paving slabs can cause problems for people using sticks and crutches, visually impaired cane users and wheelchair users. Joints between flags and pavers should not be less than 2mm and not more than 5mm wide.

On pedestrian-only footways, flags can be laid with wider joints (6-10mm) filled with compacted mortar. When small paving bricks (paviours) are used, care should be taken to ensure that they are evenly laid; unevenness can cause problems for wheelchair users and some visually impaired cane users.

Studley Royal, Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

Cobblestones can be uneven and become slippery when wet. (Handrails may be necessary.) New cobbled surfaces are unlikely to be appropriate.

All sealed surface paths including paving, concrete and asphaltic/bitumous surfaces mentioned below require either a camber or cross-fall for drainage purposes. These should not exceed 2.5 per cent (1 in 40) and should not be less than 1 per cent.

  • 2. Stone Paving

Stone is a natural material and so can have variable properties. Surface finish has a significant effect on the slipperiness. Course textured or riven slabs should be used externally to give satisfactory slip resistance when wet. However the riven undulating surfaces are often relatively smooth, and so can be slippery. Gaps between stone flags or setts should be as described above for clay and brick paving.

The old, original flagstones shown opposite have been re-laid to create a level surface.

  • 3. Concrete

Concrete surfaces are slippery when wet unless a textured finish is applied or a slip resistant aggregate is used. Contaminants may be absorbed into the surface, and in damp shady conditions algae will quickly form which will make the surface slippery.

The original concrete bridge, shown opposite, is in
Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland.
The raised horizontal bars provide grip when the bridge is wet, but may,themselves, present a trip hazard.

  • 4. Asphaltic and Bitumous surfaces
    These provide a seamless path that is hard, durable, easily maintained and not inherently slippery. The surface roughens over time, but can become slippery if contaminated with oil and other petroleum products.

  • 5. Aggregate

Whin dust is a commonly used surfacing. It is cheap, can be applied manually and provides an informal surface which can be used in many different areas. It is not suited to heavy use and is subject to surface water erosion and therefore requires a good drainage system. It is suitable for wheelchair use only if it is well compacted and maintained.

The best aggregate paths comprise layers, or grades, of angular, interlocking stone laid in a path tray. Building a path in several layers of differing grades of aggregate will significantly increase the path durability, firmness and stability, compared to using ungraded material in one, single layer.

binding – Top layer stops movement of loose surface material and provides a good walking surface.
surfacing – Forms a durable firm surface layer over the path base.
base – Provides strength to the construction and a solid base for the path walking surface.
sub-base – The load bearing foundation, required for deep construction over wet or rough ground.

Each construction layer should contain a range of stone sizes. This ensures that the aggregate interlocks when compacted, to form a strong and solid layer without any gaps which may weaken the construction.
The construction layers are compacted to form a free draining camber, or cross-fall, for surface water to run off either one or both path sides, depending on the site. Drainage features should be incorporated in the path to prevent erosion, or possible destruction, of the path surface.

Huddersfield Canal Towpath
Limestone aggregate provides an appropriate surface for walkers and cyclists.

Aggregate paths are generally used on gradients below 8°. Higher gradients should be avoided as the aggregate will be more susceptible to migration down the path, from the pressure of feet, water flow, and gravity. The extent of migration also depends on the nature of the surface binding material. For instance granite derived aggregate does not bind well and will be mobile on gradients greater than 5°. On steeper slopes aggregate may be used if anchor bars are incorporated in the construction, particularly if the binding material is good.

Over wet and peaty areas the aggregate path may need to be floated on a geotextile base.

Different types of aggregate have different properties, and the best aggregate needs to be carefully selected considering all factors. For example, in environmentally sensitive areas grit stone may be most suitable as it is neutral and does not affect the acidity or alkalinity of the land. It does, however, take longer to solidify into a firm path surface.

A simple aggregate path, as shown opposite, can be useful. Here it was introduced in response to desire lines creating slippery tracks over grass leading from a car park.

  • 6. Grass

Grass can be slippery when wet; but for paths with little or no gradient, and where light levels are sufficient, and trampling pressure is fairly low, grass makes an attractive path surface, which should be durable on free draining soil.

Grass on wet ground rapidly gets cut up by trampling and quickly becomes muddy. Once grass is established, regular mowing will encourage the development of a close turf. The mown width should be at least 1.8 metres to spread the trampling pressure and allow mowing by mini-tractor or other vehicle.

Grazing by rabbits or deer, together with the trampling of walkers, may be sufficient to maintain a short grass sward. However, this needs regular checking, because once the grass becomes too tall for comfortable walking, trampling will be limited to the centre of the path, which will then be reduced to bare earth and mud.

Reinforced turf made from specially selected grass grown on a geo-membrane laid over a prepared bedding layer and sub-base provides a strong stable surface that is suitable for most low traffic applications. This system ensures 100 per cent grass coverage, but the usual maintenance, such as feeding and mowing, will need to be undertaken on a regular basis.

In some locations, paths or tracks of crushed stone or gravel will eventually vegetate over naturally with a mixture of grasses, which helps bind the surface together.

  • 7. Cellular Paving

Made of pre cast concrete or plastic, cellular paving is a cheap and unobtrusive way of providing a grass surface. The grass jointing is essential to the structural integrity of such systems. Where grass growth is absent or poor, the individual blocks have a lowered resistance to differential movement when trafficked. This can result in sub-base pumping via the gaps between the individual units.

Firm edge restraint is essential as any rooting through to the sub-base will be tenuous at best and the units will spread under load. Castellated or studded systems can be difficult for pedestrians as the soil fill within the units settles or is washed from the surface, leaving a protruding ‘stud’ which presents a significant trip hazard.

Moulded plastic systems are only really suitable for occasional use. The relatively thin depth of these systems and their inherent flexibility can result in ‘trampolining’, where the units ‘bounce’ when trafficked. This can turn the surface into a quagmire in busy areas.

The trade-off for a higher ratio of grass cover is a reduction in tolerance to wear and loading. They should not be used on gradients where slip resistance is essential. However they can be used with gravels to stabilise a gravelled area, making it much more user-friendly to both pedestrians and vehicular traffic, as well as reducing scatter and drift, problems.

  • 8. Timber Decking

On boardwalks with timber decking, boards should be laid at right angles to the direction of pedestrian flow. For boardwalks used by disabled people there should be a maximum gap between boards of 12mm. A larger gap of up to 25 or 30mm can be used on those installed in more remote and inaccessible locations.

Free drainage is important, otherwise frost and algae growth can make timber decking slippery in wet conditions. This can be reduced by regular applications of water based wood preservative and good ventilation around the boards. However slip resistant strips may still be necessary, especially where they are used on a gradient. Strips should be placed so that every footfall lands on at least one strip. A non-slip surface can also be provided by epoxy tar sprays spread with grit.

Grooving the decking boards prior to installation can improve grip. Galvanised rabbit netting or plastic mesh can also be stapled to the boards to improve the level of grip. However care should be exercised in the use of this technique. Over time, holes often develop and therefore regular inspection and maintenance is essential to avoid creating trip hazards. Mesh can also sometimes make the boardwalk more slippery when wet and be dangerous in icy conditions.


  • 9. Gratings

Gratings made of steel, stainless steel, aluminium or GRP should use anti slip grit based coating. Covers and gratings can cause problems and may be mistaken by blind people as a tactile surface. It is recommended that the maximum size of openings should be 13mm and if openings are elongated they should be placed at right angles to the predominant direction of travel. It is also recommended that the spaces should not be more than 150mm long. Wherever possible gully covers and drainage slots should be positioned as far as possible from main pedestrian flows. Inspection chamber covers and service inspection chambers should be flush with the surface.

Sykehouse Lock, New Junction Canal, West Yorkshire

Grating used to cover lock operating equipment.


Poorly maintained surfaces can greatly increase the risks of slips and trips. Uneven wear may change the slip resistance characteristics of a surface over time. Surfaces need to be well drained and maintained in a good state of repair. Leaves mud and algae growth need to be regularly removed, and effective procedures to deal with snow and ice introduced.

Legislation and guidance

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – Requires that safe access and egress be maintained to places of work, and that a safe working environment be provided so far as is reasonably practicable. Also requires employers to conduct their undertaking so as not to expose visitors to risks to their health or safety, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Require employers to assess and control risks to their staff and others who could be affected by their activities such as visitors.

Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 – Require workplaces to have suitable traffic routes, well drained, free of obstructions and contamination, no holes, slopes, unevenness or slipperiness that presents a hazard.

Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007 – Require designers to consider the hazards during construction, use and maintenance of any path or surface they are making or altering.

Building Regulations (England and Wales) – Require that reasonable access be provided, level access where possible, undulations not exceeding 3mm over a 1 metre stretch (for formless materials) – different materials must have similar frictional characteristics. Building Regulations do not however apply retrospectively to existing structures, and will not apply to countryside paths.

References and further reading

Access in the Countryside, Inclusive Mobility: A Guide to Best Practice on Access to. Pedestrian and Transport Infrastructure, DfT 2002

Easy Access to Historic Landscapes, English Heritage

Woodlands, BTCV Handbook

Footpaths, BTCV Handbook

Upland Path work Construction Standards for Scotland, SNH

Lowland path construction – A guide to good practice, Paths for All

Countryside for all Good Practice Guide, Fieldfare Trust

Safer Surfaces to Walk On, CIRIA !Note this is a large(22MB) file!

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Tree safety management

Tree management is a major part of the work of VSCG members. For example, the Forestry Commission manages around 850,000 hectares of woodland, and it is estimated that there are about 6 million trees on the National Trust’s 250,000 hectares of land.

This guidance aims to provide a summary of the key elements that would form part of an organisation’s strategy for tree safety management. For more detailed guidance on specific points, you may need to consult the references listed at the end.

Trees are highly valued for their individual beauty, as an intrinsic and key element of the natural and historic landscape and for the wildlife they support. Decaying trees create valuable habitats.

We are committed to managing safety in ways that do not compromise conservation, heritage, recreation and landscape objectives, whilst encouraging public access. It is essential that risks from trees be considered in the context of these guiding principles.

What is the risk?

On average, each year 5 or 6 people in the UK are killed by trees. So the risk of being struck and killed by a falling tree or branch, or by driving into one, is extremely low.

The risk from a tree falling in a public space is even lower. Up to 3 people on average are killed each year by trees in public spaces, but as almost the entire population of the UK is exposed, the risk is about one in 20 million. The risk, per tree, of causing fatality is of the order of one in 150 million for all trees in Britain or one in 10 million for those trees in, or adjacent to areas of high public use. (Source: Health and Safety Executive [HSE].)

The average risk is firmly in the “broadly acceptable” region of the tolerability of risk triangle published in HSE’s Reducing Risks, Protecting People. (You can read the HSE document by clicking this link: RRPP.pdf)

However, the public may not perceive this low level of overall risk, particularly following an incident. Media coverage is often disproportionately extensive because of the comparative rarity of deaths involving trees. Also, the term “broadly acceptable” is a general guide and not a definitive statement of what is reasonably practicable in law.

Your responsibilities

You have a duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that people are not exposed to risk. This duty is established in criminal law under the Health and Safety at Work Act, and in civil law under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts.

The Health and Safety Executive has published advice to their inspectors and local authority enforcement officers as to the expected standards for management of the risk from falling trees. You can read it by clicking this link: HSESIM.pdf. VSCG members were consulted about the content of this advice. The Health and Safety Executive have published a revised version on their website.

The VSCG also consulted the HSE during the course of writing the guidance given here.

We give a detailed example of how the Forestry Commission carries out tree safety management.

When an organisation owns a sizeable area of land and manages a large number of trees it is impracticable to carry out detailed inspections of individual trees. The example shows how an organisation must focus its resources on areas of high visitor usage and trees that pose the highest levels of risk.

Please note that procedures for tree safety management are often set within the context of a policy for conservation and management of forest, woodland and trees, and within a wider framework of visitor safety management. Most organisations have arrangements for staff training that set their procedures for tree safety management within the wider context. Also, the value of experience in making judgements about tree hazards and solutions cannot be underestimated.

You will need to tailor your approach to suit the nature of your own land holding and the resources that you have. Nevertheless, there are a number of common elements that you should consider.

Elements of tree safety management

1. Tree safety management should be part of a comprehensive visitor safety plan for your site.

2. You should have clear written policy and procedures that identify who is responsible for doing what.

3. You must have a system to ensure that your policy and procedures are properly applied and monitored.

4. Focus resources on areas of greatest risk to people and property – zoning in accordance with different levels of public use is a common approach.

Often it is not reasonably practicable to inspect and record every tree. To help prioritise inspections it is helpful to map areas with respect to the level of public access to trees.

You can establish zones of high, medium and low use. High use zones would typically include areas next to railways and busy roads; heavily used car parks, picnic areas, gardens and playgrounds; in fact any areas where large numbers of people congregate. Don’t forget special events.

High-use zones should be inspected as your first priority. The species, health and location of trees will have a bearing on the levels of risk. This, in turn, will help determine whether any risk controls are necessary. Unless a specialist is helping with the initial inspection, you should consider whether you need help from an arboricultural specialist to diagnose problems with individual trees, advise on appropriate remedial work and work out when further inspection is necessary.

Trees in high use zones are typically inspected once a year. It might not be practical or necessary to record every individual tree. Maps of groups of trees inspected may be helpful. However, you might need to record an individual inspection if a particular tree presents a high risk. For example, if you decide to retain a tree with structural faults in a high use zone it would need an individual record. This would include the risk control measures that you have taken, and would almost certainly include regular, ongoing monitoring.

Zones of medium use will have fewer visitors and are likely to be inspected less frequently (maybe every three or even five years).

Low use zones typically have restricted access or few visitors. They may be remote or well away from paths. These zones may have no formal inspection procedure.

You should record the rationale for the designation of usage zones, and you should have a system in place to review their status to assess whether levels of use have increased or other changes have happened to take the area into a higher or lower use category.

The examples show the different ways organisations have used zoning principles to meet their own requirements. The National Trust, for example has five categories of usage zone to facilitate more precise targeting of resources. For the Royal Parks, it is possible that the smaller, heavily used central London parks such as St James’s and Green Park would be designated high use in their entirety.

One of our case studies also gives an example of how the RSPB have used zoning when managing trees at “Challon Hall Wood”:Tree_safety_inspection_example,_Challan_Hall_Oct_04.pdf.

5. Skills and knowledge are necessary for Zone Assignment and Risk Assessment.

You need someone who has a full understanding of your site and visitor characteristics and behaviour. You also need someone (not necessarily the same person) who is competent to assess the trees and their defects. The site manager should be able to establish the use zone, but it is likely that someone with specialist knowledge of trees will be needed to identify and evaluate defects and help assess the level of risk.

The level of risk is based on patterns of visitor activity and the nature and location of the trees. Inspections should consider the magnitude of the hazard and assess the likelihood of tree failure. Factors to consider include:

  • size of tree (small trees are usually less likely to fail and are a lesser hazard)
  • species
  • type, position and severity of any defects
  • nature of location (exposure to wind, depth of soil etc.)

6. You must have a system that encourages staff to report defects in trees, possible damage, accidents and near misses.

Causes might include the aftermath of severe weather, vehicle impact, and work in the vicinity, such as service utilities digging trenches.

7. You must have a procedure to act on such reports, including recording future inspections and/or remedial actions.

The nature of the response will be related to the use zone. Trees with serious defects in high use zones are almost certain to create a high level of risk and need urgent action.

8. You should have a system in place to call upon specialist arboricultural skills when necessary.

The Arboricultural Association publishes a list of registered consultants.
The Institute of Chartered Foresters also maintains a list of consultants.
The Association of Irish Forestry Consultants maintains a list of professional foresters at “: http://www.aifc.ie/”

9. You must keep records of your risk assessments and tree inspections.

You must have a system for periodic, proactive checks, keeping a short record of when an area, zone, or occasionally an individual tree has been inspected.

These should include details of any defects found and actions taken. Records should be retained for at least seven years.

10. Where necessary, introduce risk control measures.

Hazardous trees in high use zones demand urgent attention as a priority. When considering ways to reduce the risk, take account of the need to:

  • retain important trees in the landscape
  • conserve habitats, including those provided by old and decaying trees
  • promote public access

Possible risk control measures include:

  • Frequent monitoring of important trees in high use areas that show signs of possible failure.
  • Preventing or reducing public exposure to the hazard. This could be by closures, path diversions, information or signage. Consider relocating car parks, playgrounds or picnic areas. Temporary closures may be appropriate where practicable in gale force winds.
  • Eliminating the hazard by pruning or felling.

Remember to keep a record of your actions.

11. Look at trees on neighbouring land that could impact on visitors to your site.

Keep a record of the actions you have taken to notify adjacent landowners of your concern and the actions you have taken to protect visitors on your land.

12. You must have a system encouraging staff to report defects in trees, accidents and near misses or other concerns. You must have a procedure to act on such reports.

Training Courses

VSCG members run in-house courses for their own staff. Basic training, typically for a day, is designed to enable participants to carry out basic tree surveys. Staff must be aware of their limitations and know when and how to get further advice. Course elements include:

  • designating usage/risk zones
  • frequency and level of inspections
  • recognition of hazardous trees
  • risk control – evaluation of options and planning actions
  • knowing when and how to get further advice
  • record keeping
  • wildlife and habitat considerations

You will also need staff who are competent and trained in procedures for:

  • emergencies and accidents
  • managing the site in the event of forecast high winds
  • engaging tree contractors

The training should include practical exercises outside, to ensure that the theory is understood and can be competently applied.

The Arboricultural Association runs training courses accredited by Lantra. (Lantra is an employment-led organisation, licensed by the government to represent the skills, business development and training needs of the environmental and land-based industries.)

There is a one-day basic tree survey and inspection course for non-arboriculturists, such as park rangers; and a three-day training programme, with exam-based assessment, designed for more experienced professionals.

Tree surgeons and contractors

The Arboricultural Association maintains a list of contractors who have been examined for safe working practices and technical competence consistent with British Standard 3998: Recommendations for Tree Work, 1989.

The work undertaken includes advice on maintenance requirements, planting, tree pruning, cable bracing, pest and disease control and the felling of trees in difficult positions.

Proposed British Standard Recommendations for tree safety inspection

In June 2008 the BSI proposed a new standard for tree safety management. The VSCG does not believe that the draft standard is necessary or helpful. Our reasons are set out here: VSCG_response_to_proposed_BSI_Standard_for_Tree_Safety_Inspections_July08.doc

The Risk & Regulation Advisory Council (charged by the Prime Minister with encouraging balanced and sensible decisions about risk) also questioned the need for a new standard. The Council’s press release, which can be viewed here,RRAC_press_release_June_2008.pdf ,contains an important statement form Geoffrey Podger, the HSE’s Chief Executive, that outlines the HSE’s expectations with respect to inspection of trees in public areas.

Links to further information

Civil law judgements

‘Common sense risk management of trees. Guidance on trees and public safety in the UK for owners, managers and advisers.’ This detailed advice from the National Tree Safety Group is available as a PDF to download below.

Veteran Trees. A Guide to Risk and Responsibility, English Nature: EnglishNatureVetTreesRiskGuide.pdf

Towards Reasonable Tree Risk Decision-Making. Neville Fay: NFayPaper.pdf

There are additional downloadable files associated with this article

Contact us directly about this guidance

Managing risk from drops

This paper considers options for controlling the risks arising from unprotected drops. These may be natural hazards, such as cliffs; or man-made hazards, like drops from battlements, fortifications and other historic structures. Hazard means anything that can cause harm. Risk is the likelihood, high or low, that somebody will be harmed by the hazard.

Cliffs at Rhossilli, Gower

We follow the VSCG guiding principles. These stress the importance of considering, first and foremost, risk control measures that do not restrict public access or conflict with heritage and conservation objectives. In consequence it is neither desirable nor practicable for all drops to be eliminated or fenced.

York city walls

Society accepts the existence of unprotected drops in public places. Traditionally people have been free to walk alongside unfenced quaysides, lock sides, city walls and cliff tops.

Cliffs at Rhossilli, Gower

The very nature of our countryside means that eliminating the hazard is unlikely to be practicable. For example, we would not wish to remove dramatic cliffs and crags from the landscape, nor deny access to them.

The Cobb at Lyme Regis

Similarly heritage and conservation considerations usually mean it is unreasonable to remove the hazard of drops from historic buildings. It is usually not permissible (or desirable) to alter scheduled monuments and listed buildings by erecting barriers or fences.

In consequence, although we believe that our recommendations are consistent with the principles of prevention established by health and safety legislation (S.I. 1999 No. 3242 The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Schedule 1), it is often inappropriate to eliminate the drops or deny public access. The final choice of risk controls therefore reflects the difference between managing risk for people using the countryside for sport and recreation of their own free will, and the duties of an employer to his employees in the workplace.

Risk assessment

1. First, identify the hazards.

We are focussing on the natural hazards of unprotected drops (such as cliff edges) and the man-made hazards of unprotected drops (such as found at fortifications and other historic structures).

Look for other contributing hazards such as:

  • Worn steps and stairs, uneven paths.
  • The condition of the edge. Is it solid, slippery, crumbling, or shelving?
  • Are there any trip hazards near the edge that could lead to a fall?
  • Parts of the path or steps that are narrow, especially where there could be pushing.
  • The effect of weather conditions such as high wind, poor visibility and icy surfaces.

2. Consider who might be harmed and how.

You need to know a lot about your visitors to judge who could be harmed. How many? Their age and experience. What activities take place? Where and when? Are visitors able to gain access when it’s dark? Is there any supervision?

3. Evaluate the risk.

Consider how likely it is that the hazard would cause harm.

Think how visitor behaviour affects the risk:

  • How close is the drop to visitor car parks and paths?
  • Is the drop obvious?
  • Are there any attractions, like viewpoints, that might draw people (especially children) to the edge?
  • Are there places where there could be pressure from crowds of people?

Consider the severity of the likely consequence:

  • How far will someone fall?
  • What is the nature of the landing ground?
  • How easy is it to effect rescue or bring in emergency services?

Slips, trips and falls are the most common accidents. Falls from height will almost always result in serious injury unless the landing is very soft or the height not great.

Consider the site location with reference to the VSCG risk control matrix. It is reasonable to expect visitors in remote, wild or mountainous areas to be aware of the hazards around them and have high levels of personal safety skills. There would be few, if any, risk control measures introduced in these extreme environments. At the opposite end of the scale, in a managed urban site, fully accessible to children, it is reasonable for visitors to expect very low levels of risk.

Options for risk control

First consider whether your risk assessment indicates the need for action. The law requires you to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that members of the public are not put at risk. You must be able to demonstrate that your precautions are reasonable in the circumstances. But what determines this?

You should take into account not only the likelihood that someone may be injured, and the seriousness of the injury which may occur, but also the social value of the activity which gives rise to the risk, and the cost of preventative measures. Cost is not simply the money that would be needed for prevention. It is also the cost to society in the loss of amenity, and loss of personal freedom. These factors need to be balanced against each other. A recent case, which went to the House of Lords (Tomlinson v Congleton BC [2004] 1 AC 46), helps to confirm this. In it, Lord Hoffmann said “it will be extremely rare for an occupier of land to be under a duty to prevent people from taking risks which are inherent in the activities they freely choose to undertake upon the land. If people want to climb mountains, go hang-gliding or swim or dive in ponds or lakes, that is their affair.”

It therefore may not be reasonable to introduce risk controls that restrain people’s freedom to enjoy access to open cliff tops or deny a sense of adventure in exploring a ruined castle. It is necessary to take into account the social value of the activities that would have to be prohibited in order to reduce or eliminate the risk. People’s mental and physical wellbeing is enhanced by active recreation in the countryside.

The assessment may show that the level of risk is already as low as is reasonably practicable and therefore no new risk controls need to be introduced.

If further risk reduction is desirable, you may choose a single technique or implement a combination of controls selected from a hierarchy of risk control options. These include hazard elimination or reduction, access restriction, information and education, supervision, and emergency response procedures. As it is frequently impossible to eliminate or fence drops, making sure that visitors are aware of the hazard is often a significant component of risk control.

When evaluating possible controls bear in mind what effects they will have on other activities and conservation. The degree and choice of risk control will vary with the particular nature of the site and its visitor profile. The various control options are described below.

1. Eliminate the hazard

Physically remove the hazard if it is reasonable and practicable. You may, for example, be able to build up the ground level below a walkway and thereby eliminate the drop, or reduce the height of a possible fall.

In many situations, (for example coastal cliffs and castle ramparts), removing the hazard is simply not an option.

2. Minimise risk of exposure to the hazard

You might be able to lessen the risk of falls by establishing clearly marked paths that lead visitors away from unprotected drops. However, there are many public rights of way and coastal paths where this might not be reasonably practicable.

In historic sites it might be possible to deny access to routes alongside drops, without lessening the overall enjoyment of the monument.

3. Physical control measures

Case law suggests that you do not necessarily have to fence natural hazards if the danger is obvious.

Case Law Judgement A natural, physical feature of the land, the dangers of which are plain, does not require to be guarded by protective measures, despite being capable of causing danger to careless persons. It is reasonable to expect the visitor to be aware of sudden drops. “To hold that this embankment constitutes a concealed danger which ought to have been fenced would in my view defy common sense. The logical extension of such a finding would be that every path along an embankment or cliff edge would require to be fenced in order to guard against a fall by a person going too near the edge and losing his footing”
Judgement in John Malarkey Duff v. East Dunbartonshire Council and others, 1999, ScotCS 114

If access rights on your land (in England and Wales) have been created by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, you cannot be sued for injury caused by a natural feature. (For more detailed information on this Act visit www.openaccess.gov.uk.)

When you are thinking about using a physical barrier to minimise risk of contact with a drop, you should take into account the following factors:

  • What is the purpose of the barrier? Is it just to visually mark the hazard or is it designed to physically exclude people? Is an existing fence intended to contain livestock rather than protect people?
  • Is the visual impact of the barrier acceptable?
  • Could dense, prickly planting provide an alternative to fencing?
  • If fencing is not practicable (e.g. due to unstable ground), can hand rails be provided to allow visitors to have something to hold on to?
  • Beware of fencing designs that stop adults but allow toddlers to get through.
  • Would a fence or wall be an invitation to climb or sit on, and thereby create a hazard? (You may need to cap walls to discourage this.)
  • Would it draw people closer to the edge?
  • Would fencing attract people to loiter and engage in anti-social activities?
  • Would it create hidden areas, away from the supervision and presence of responsible adults?
  • You must apply your solution consistently. If you decide to fence one drop, then visitors would reasonably assume that similar hazards elsewhere would also be fenced. This does not necessarily mean that all drops would be treated the same. There may be variations in approach, justified by differences in zoning according to the risk control matrix.

Consider what risk controls are applied on neighbouring property and similar sites elsewhere. It is important that visitors know what to expect.

  • Do you need signing to explain what is and isn’t fenced? For example, you may decide to have barriers only where there could be crowd pressure near drops at view points or pinch spots on a route.
  • Ongoing maintenance responsibilities. You will need to inspect regularly and ensure there are no gaps in fencing or planting that could create hazards. You must keep a record of these inspections and any actions taken as a result.
  • The safety of people who are working near drops on the site, particularly when erecting and maintaining the barriers. (The Work at Height Regulations 2005 may require additional temporary protection to be provided.)
  • Is there a specific statutory requirement to fence? For example the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and Quarries Regulations 1999 specify that a quarry, whether or not it is being worked, which is accessible to the public and which constitutes a danger to them, should have an efficient and properly maintained barrier to prevent people falling into it. Similarly, the entrance or shaft to an abandoned mine, which because of its accessibility constitutes a danger to the public, should be efficiently closed off and the closure properly maintained. (This duty does not extend to mines, other than coal mines, which have not been worked since 1872.)

If you decide that a barrier is necessary, the type that you choose will be influenced by the nature of both the risk and the environment. Consent is required for measures that affect ancient monuments, scheduled for their irreplaceable archaeological or historical value and buildings listed for their outstanding architectural value. Conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest all require special consideration. A detailed analysis of different types of barrier is provided at the end of this paper.

Take care that risk control measures put in place to safeguard one group of visitors do not put other users at risk. For example, barriers erected to keep spectators away from drops at locks on canals and rivers, could create hazards for boaters using the locks.

4. Inform and educate visitors about the risks

The risk of exposure to harm may be minimised by informing visitors of hazards. Well-designed safety information can:

  • alert visitors to the nature and severity of hazards and risks
  • give visitors the knowledge to decide for themselves the risks to which they are likely to be exposed, and the precautions they should adopt
  • impart information about the nature and extent of risk control measures provided by the owner or manager of the site
  • let visitors know what is expected of them, on the understanding that they share responsibility for their own safety

When you are developing safety information, consider:

  • Who is the audience for the information? Do you need to provide information that is targeted at specific types of visitor, like people new to the site, visitors from urban areas, particular age groups, people pursuing different sports or activities, and so on?
  • How is the information going to reach that audience?
    • 1. Before they come on site. Consider:
      • information on web sites
      • posters or leaflets in Tourist Information Centres
      • recorded telephone information lines
  • 2. On arrival at a ticket office or in a visitor reception area. Consider:
    • verbal warnings
    • information printed on tickets
    • guide books, leaflets, posters and information boards
  • 3. On arrival at a car park or other access point.
    • signs, notices and information boards
  • 4. At the hazard itself.
    • signs, notices and information boards

One of the VSCG guiding principles is to ensure that your visitors know the risks they face. There should be no nasty surprises. But you do not necessarily need to take further action if the dangers are obvious.

Case Law Judgement A man, injured falling from a cliff at High Tor, Matlock, failed to prove that the landowner was negligent in failing to erect notices warning of the danger.
Cotton v Derbyshire Dales District Council, Court of Appeal, 10 June 1994

Case Law Judgement A boy was injured falling from the flat roof of a low building at Darell’s Battery, Landguard Fort, Harwich Harbour. The building was part of a site in the care of English Heritage and accessible to the public. The judge ruled that as the hazard was obvious, there was no breach in the duty of care in leaving it accessible.
Conner v Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission, 15 September 1997, IP506407

Where a drop is severe and unexpected, warning signs (and/or fencing) may be essential at the hazard itself.

Emergency response

You should consider what would happen if people did fall and were injured. How could you ensure the prompt attention of emergency services? What are their access points? How can you get people out?

You should have a written set of procedures that should be familiar to any staff and volunteers working on the site.

In wilder settings where there are minimal site facilities and visitors are left to face significant hazards on their own, emergency response may be an important part of the risk control hierarchy. Visitors need to be informed of the actions necessary to initiate emergency rescue procedures, and you still need to have your own emergency plans in place.

In remote places, particularly in extreme weather conditions, it might not be possible to immediately initiate rescue. In such circumstances, visitors, such as mountaineers, should expect to be wholly responsible for their own safety.

Types of barrier

We discuss the merits of different types of barrier below. It is intended as general guidance and the list is not comprehensive. Local circumstances and, in particular, your risk assessment will help determine the most appropriate solution.

Security fence

Railings at Dover Castle

The ultimate protection would be security style palisade with fluted vertical metal bars, tipped with spikes. A more visually acceptable style may be traditional vertical railings at least 1500mm high with pointed tips. Either of these may be suitable at a perimeter where there is a significant risk of falls, especially of trespassers.

Metal railings

Where aesthetic values are important traditional style railings may be chosen. For most situations a height of 1.1 metres will be necessary, but where existing historic railings are in place a height of 900mm may be acceptable. (Note: for safety reasons on lower fences, if there is a danger of people being impaled, pointed tips should be rounded off.)

Horizontal railings

Carlisle Castle

These will normally be of a plain square metal bar construction with square uprights, or of round bars fixed in flat iron uprights. The use of horizontal rails is questioned sometimes due to the ease of climbing. This risk can be significantly reduced by the top rail being canted inwards, making climbing very difficult. The closeness of the rails should be decided on a risk assessment of the type of visitor at risk – where very small children are likely then the lower rails should not have gaps of more than 100mm.

Wire fences

Dover Castle

These should normally be 1.1 metres high and have wires not more than 100 mm apart. The wires should be strained taut with tensioning devices at regular spacings.

Stainless steel or galvanised cable is a popular choice but may be expensive. Mild steel wire is a cheaper alternative but can look untidy if not kept taut. Barbed wire should not be used where visitors are likely to be near.

Timber fences

These tend to be used as barriers rather than safety fences as they would be easily climbed and usually have horizontal rails with wide spacing. Strained wires can be added between and under rails to close the gaps. Fences of vertical timber palings are an alternative.

Temporary chestnut paling and wire fencing may be appropriate as an interim measure and is often used in association with planted hedges, prior to them becoming established.

Wire mesh

Wire mesh may be decided upon to increase safety of fences and railings. The gauge should be 50mm or less to make it difficult for children to get a toe-hold for climbing.

Clifford’s Tower, York

Mesh can be stapled onto timber rails or made up in sub-frames to be inserted in metal railings.

Simple pole barriers

Pendennis Castle

Where risks at drops are not severe it may be satisfactory to rely on single horizontal poles mounted on posts at waist height. Signage may be needed to emphasise the hazards beyond.


Beeston Castle, Cheshire

Where a wall may once have existed it is often more visually acceptable to rebuild to protect a drop. Conservation inspectors may argue that it is not appropriate to rebuild walls where historic detail is not known, but it is certainly a less visually intrusive means of guarding a sheer drop.

Where openings in walls exist, either as crenulations or former window openings, it is usual to fix bars or sections of railings. Spacing of bars should be as detailed above.

Wall surrounding dangerous mine shaft, North Cornwall Coast

The wall acts as a deterrent, designed to blend more with the natural landscape, but inside the wall is an additional post and wire fence to prevent access to the shaft.


Dense thorny planting is an effective means of deterring people from approaching hazardous areas. This needs to be regularly managed and may need temporary fencing in place until the vegetation is sufficiently dense.

Stone surfaces

Studley Royal

In some cases, uneven stone surfaces can serve as a means of deterring access.

At Studley Royal, for instance, access to a 2.5 metre drop from the roof of a grotto is made difficult by the inlaid stone surface.

Contact us directly about this guidance

Cycling Trails

VSCG Board Member John Ireland (a Safety Health and Environment Manager with the Forestry Commission) has been developing advice on managing risk for mountain biking. Based on experience learned over a number of years John has teamed up with Sport Scotland to make the guidance more widely available.

If you are starting from scratch, there is a complete template to lead you through all the stages of planning, design and construction:

There is advice on grading cross country trails from easy through to severe:

Downhill trails descend on steeper slopes than cross country resulting in higher speed and more extreme technical features.

This datasheet contains design characteristics for Downhill Extreme, Four Cross and Mini 4X Track:

Special facilities can be created for cyclists to develop their skills and techniques:

Mountain bikers frequently set up their own trails. What should you do if you find something like this on your land?

  • There is a good example of the guidance being put into practice in Dalby Forest, which appears as a case study on this website.
  • Worcester County Council’s Countryside Service grappled with the issue of wild trails in Kingsford Forest Park. It was one of the earliest case studies published on our website over twelve years ago!

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Managing the risk from rock falls at coast and countryside

Rockfalls, landslips and mud slides are natural erosion processes that occur frequently throughout the UK’s coast and countryside. Major incidents may be reported in local and national news media, particularly where the incident is dramatic, on a grand scale, or involves injury or a near miss; however, there is no national record of such incidents.

One of the largest rock falls on record was at Beachy Head in 2002.

Other incidents include:

Landslip at Black Ven, Dorset

Rock fall in progress, Whitby, January 2005

The Holbeck Hall Hotel in Scarborough was destroyed when a large section of cliff collapsed in 1993

Hundreds of tons of rock fell onto a beach at the height of summer 2001 in Sidmouth, Devon

A 160 metre section of the cliffs at St. Margaret’s Bay (about 100,000 tonnes of chalk) collapsed into the sea in February 2001

A train was derailed by falling rocks on the North Antrim Coast in 2002

Most incidents fortunately occur without personal injury, but this is not always the case. Rockfalls are primarily a coastal risk, but could also occur in disused quarries, in river valleys, and in road, rail and canal cuttings. At popular coastal sites, the risk from rockfalls could prove a major risk to public safety. This guidance considers the risk, and suggests practical ways of managing it.

Legal position

The VSCG’s understanding of the legal position is as follows:

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, an employer would have a duty to his own employees (under section 2) and to non-employees (under Section 3). The duty to employees would be relevant if an employee was required to work on or below an unstable cliff face and was subsequently injured by a natural rock fall. The duty to non-employees would apply if a work activity (such as upland footpath repair) caused a rock fall that jeopardised the safety or caused injury to the public. These scenarios are relatively straightforward. However, in the event of a significant natural rock fall at the coast or countryside, the application of Section 3 is more difficult to interpret. Ultimately it would be a matter for the relevant enforcing authority (HSE or local authority) to determine. Relevant factors that they might take into account include:

  • the nature and extent of public use of the area
  • the level of control by the landowner or land manager of public access to the area
  • the way in which the land owner or land manager promoted and encouraged public use
  • the remoteness of the area
  • the history of rock falls
  • the foreseeability of rock failure

Landowner’s civil liability would be reduced on land designated as open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act.

Highway and railway authorities have a statutory obligation to assess the risk of rock falls at roadsides and in railway cuttings.

Potential areas of conflict or difficulty

  • Rock safety measures may conflict with policies on managed coastal retreat, and may interfere with natural geomorphological processes
  • There is potential for conflict with nature conservation interests (wildlife, e.g. birds, bats; flora and vegetation)
  • Risk control measures are obtrusive and often highly visible, and are likely to have an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the site
  • Risk control measures may affect open access or legitimate sporting activities, e.g. climbing
  • There may be difficulties with public perception/local interest/media arising from action or lack of action to manage risk
  • Problems may arise through involvement of other bodies, e.g. highways authority, national trail, coast path authorities, local authorities
  • Physical risk control solutions are often extremely costly

Assessing risk

Assessing the risk will need to take account of the likelihood of a rock fall and its foreseeable consequences. For most managers, this will initially involve a subjective evaluation. In some situations, this may need to be supplemented by expert evaluation based on geological knowledge and formal monitoring techniques.

Likelihood of rock fall A subjective local in-house evaluation will be based on:

  • the history of rock falls at a particular location
  • visual checks for movement, cracking, collapse or slumping
  • weather conditions

Assessment of consequences

This should take account of the nature and extent of use of the site. A crumbling cliff face with a well-used beach at the base clearly presents a greater risk. The remoteness or accessibility of the location is an important factor. Is there a risk of multiple fatalities in a worst case scenario?

Perhaps the most difficult question is – under what circumstances does the site owner or manager have to go beyond a relatively simple subjective evaluation of risk, to a more sophisticated evaluation using expert opinion? It is impossible to give a definitive answer, but the need for expert opinion is more likely to be necessary when:

  • The subjective assessment of risk is high
  • The geology of the site is complex
  • The location of the site and its usage indicates greater management intervention is justified (the VSCG risk control matrix is relevant here)
  • Independent resolution of local conflicting views is needed

Expert assessment would then grade the rock face (i.e. assign a risk rating) by looking at the potential for failure and the usage of the area onto which the rocks would fall. The propensity to fall is determined by the type of rock, and the configuration of joints.

Risks to staff and contractors that will arise during implementation of any physical remedial measures should also be taken into account.

Risk control measures

The range of risk control measures is extremely wide, and includes:

Physical measures:

  • Rock scaling or removal (including blasting) – i.e. using rope access teams to scale the rock face with crow bars – this can be effective for rocks less than 1m3, and gives immediate stability. For a friable rock face it will need to be repeated every 2-3 years, every 5 years for a more stable rock. This type of work is done annually at Cheddar Gorge, for instance.
  • Catch fencing – a deformable barrier that catches the rocks and slows them down as they descend. Computer modelling software can be used to determine the best location and height of the fence.
  • Retaining banks or walls – a stronger barrier may be more in keeping with the landscape, but is not usually as high as catch fencing
  • Rock netting, geogrids, soil mats – these techniques can be the most effective controls, but are also the most obtrusive and expensive. They are common at roadside locations because of the high risks to road users.
  • Inspection, survey, recording and monitoring – this may be appropriate for rock types which may give some warning of further fracture.
  • Rock anchors, bolting, dowels, and soil nails. Bolting and dowels are suitable for securing large pieces of rock and are less visible once done. This is a preferred method for Historic Scotland at Holyrood, Dumbarton and Edinburgh Castle. Wires can also be used but these are more obtrusive.
  • Dentition, buttressing, sprayed reinforcing and other structural engineering work techniques.
  • Measures to do with managing public access, such as: public exclusion, path closures and diversions (supplemented by other methods e.g. Internet, warnings at car parks)

Retaining bank adjacent to road in Cheddar Gorge

Rock netting at Carnewas, Cornwall

Inspection of Castle Rock, Edinburgh by abseiling (Historic Scotland)

Use of rock bolting to protect the only roadway between quay and village on Lundy Island

Work on coastal defences, Scarborough

Spraying reinforced concrete, A55 North Wales

Rock fall in Lord’s Rake, Scafell, Lake District, see separate VSCG case study

National Trust example of cast iron signage

Warning notice, Lord’s Rake (supplemented by other methods e.g. Internet, warnings at car parks)

Companies or organisations undertaking inspection and survey

Where it is decided to take professional guidance in geological assessment, there are many companies with the necessary expertise. Some universities may also operate as consultants in this field. It may be better to approach professional organisations such as the Association of Consulting Engineers www.acenet.co.uk , the Geological Society www.geolsoc.org.uk, or the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists www.ags.org.uk for advice. A clear brief will need to be prepared. Companies should be able to advise on the methods and frequency of inspection.

Companies undertaking rock safety work

The company undertaking initial assessment and survey may also be engaged to carry out any rock safety work. There are some advantages in ensuring some independence between the surveyor and the rock safety contractor, but some of the larger companies will be geared up to providing a complete service and it may be simpler and more cost effective to use a single company. Rock safety work should be supervised by an engineering geologist, and rope access work should be undertaken by a company that is a member of the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) – www.irata.org. Such work is subject to the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Method statements and risk assessments should be provided, with measures to protect the public whilst work is in progress paramount.

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