By Colin Hunter
A new all-weather cycle path in Tarbert Loch Fyne offers a safe route to school for local youngsters, as well as better access between housing areas in the village. The project benefits Tarbert Academy pupils by incorporating an outdoor classroom, including a wildlife garden and nature study area, on land next to the track.
The 200 metre long traffic-free link, between the local school and the south end of the village, began life as the TAWNI (Tarbert Academy Wildlife & Nature Initiative) Trail, an environmental management project for senior pupils. The new path allows direct access from the Academy in School Road to the sports field at Cil Andreis, and forms a safe, well-surfaced shortcut from Easfield to the new playpark beside the grass football pitch.
Community groups worked with the Academy and Argyll & Bute Council to secure funding for the £95,000 path scheme, which includes the TAWNI Trail’s woodland area, burn, and ecologically sustainable garden.
At the official opening, on 24 February, Argyll & Bute MSP Mike Russell praised the village for working together as a community to achieve success in this and similar projects.
The tarmac path runs from School Road to the village football pavilion, where it connects with the existing all-weather track from Oakhill. In line with current design standards, the new route is ideal for walkers, cyclists, buggies, and wheelchair users, and is wide enough for users to meet and pass easily.
The path replaces an informal muddy shortcut whose steep banking, unstable surface, and burn crossing rendered it almost impassable in anything but the driest weather. Even in summer, it was fit only for surefooted pedestrians.
The new track – car-free, with an open outlook and gentle gradients – offers a safe alternative for users of all ages.
The direct access which the path offers between the Easfield and Oakhill housing developments is expected to reduce vehicle use, particularly short car journeys, in the village, leading to lower carbon emissions and to greater safety for pedestrians near the school gates.
Community demand for improved access was crucial to the success of the entire project.
In early 2010, Tarbert & Skipness Community Trust (TSCT) published the Tarbert Community Plan, which was based on the views of local people – including many connected with the Academy. The plan highlighted the need for a new path, and ultimately this strengthened the case for public funding.
Meanwhile, the school’s Geography teacher Rowena Ranger proposed the Tarbert Academy Wildlife & Nature Initiative (TAWNI) Trail as a project for senior pupils studying Management of Environmental Resources (MER) during the academic year 2010-11. Embracing the project, the students consulted appropriate community groups, and primary pupils who will be major beneficiaries of the scheme throughout their years at the Academy, before carrying out initial surveys and consideration of the ideal route. Community gardener Jim Paterson and environmental consultant and paths designer Neil Donaldson guided and assisted the MER students throughout.
At the time, one senior pupil said: “We learn so much more from doing a job like this, in both the maths-type skills and a variety of literacy skills too”.
It became clear that combining the TAWNI Trail with a high-quality path would maximise benefit for all likely users.
Tarbert Academy, TSCT, and the community trust’s Big Green Tarbert carbon reduction project, all vouched for the project’s potential benefit to the community, and TSCT applied successfully for Awards for All funding for interpretation panels. The panels, describing the natural elements of the TAWNI Trail, will be displayed alongside the new path.
Design and construction costs for the path and the TAWNI Trail were met by Argyll & Bute Council, the Scottish Government, the Argyll & the Islands LEADER Programme, and sustainable transport charity Sustrans.
Tarbert Academy already holds a Green Flag award for demonstrating its commitment to environmental performance and its pupils’ awareness of environmental issues, and the TAWNI Trail is further evidence of the school’s green credentials.
Formally opening the new path and nature trail, Argyll & Bute MSP Mike Russell told a crowd which included schoolchildren, teachers, and community volunteers: “When I see a school with a Green Flag, I know that school, and everybody in it, is focused on environmental improvement. You do a fantastic job working together. The real enthusiasm of the community in Tarbert is great, and the improvements are of the highest quality”.
TSCT former chair and Big Green Tarbert volunteer Ed Tyler explained: “The TAWNI trail is, in effect, an outdoor classroom. But it’s a linear classroom, so it spreads from School Road to the place where they’re going to have the garden, and also down to the playing field. It actually follows the tarmac trail”.
“There are three interpretation boards, and these boards are a permanent reminder to all the pupils – and visitors – that there’s some very good wildlife here”.
“We chose this area specifically because it is a very natural area. There are some interesting plant species there, and also the burn is very interesting; it actually varies in water quality – some parts are better than others – and you can test this by doing what we call a pond dip, or a burn dip, and then we can see what species are present. And if the water quality’s low, you get certain species, and if it’s high you get other species. This is all recorded on the interpretation panels, so that staff and pupils can learn about nature”.
Rev Catriona Hood, Tarbert Academy’s head teacher, commented: “At its most practical level, (the new path) provides a far safer access for our children to go from the school to the sports fields. Before, they would climb down a bank – which they’ve done safely – but it’s even better than that.
“It’s just great for the young people in the community to see what happens when folk work together. It started off over a year ago, with the previous S6, who have now left. It was hard to see it coming together at that point. It’s lovely to see it accumulate and all the effort of various community groups working together – and then we have a path”.
“The Community Plan was very supportive of Tarbert Academy and, likewise, we wanted to support the community as much as we could. It’s a definite improvement, because it’s not just the school which is using it; you’ve got young families, cyclists, and better access to the town, a less steep hill for folk who’re less able to come up the hill. So everybody wins with this one”.
The Academy’s depute head John Welsh said: “There’s going to be an area for a primary garden, and it’s all going to get tidied-up … there’s been a lot of tree-planting happening already. So what looks rough and tough just now is going to become a rather nice piece of woodland”.
Kintyre & the Islands councillor Anne Horn said: “Hopefully, (the option for pupils to walk or cycle to school) will cut down the car travel … during school hours. There was a muddy path, but you couldn’t really walk it. Children could use it, but it certainly wasn’t safe. Now, it’s an established path … and there’s access for all abilities. (It’s) a positive sign of agencies working together for the good of the village”.
Arlene Scott, who lives in Glenfield at the south end of the village, works at the Academy and her son and daughter are pupils. She welcomes the fact that a traffic-free route is now available for them to use.
She says that, until now, she wouldn’t let her daughter walk to school on her own, because the available route included a public road with traffic “and there’s always bins and everything all over the pavement there”.
Arlene feels that the crossing at the School Road end of the new path is a big improvement, and she is comfortable letting her daughter use the new route: “You can see both ways. It’s great. It just gives her a bit more freedom. It’s a shorter route for the kids (and) it’s safer as there’s less (contact) with cars”.
Councillor Donnie MacMillan, Chair of Mid Argyll Kintyre & the Islands Area Committee, said the project was “of tremendous merit to everyone in the community”.
A spokesman for Scotland’s national transport agency Transport Scotland said: “The new Tarbert path will make it easier for the local community to enjoy the very real social and health benefits of walking and cycling around their village. Sustainable transport and active travel are hugely important priorities in which we continue to invest. This will help meet our carbon reduction targets as well as making our roads safer and less congested. Projects such as the Tarbert path also play their part in making Scotland a healthier, fitter, and more active nation”.