Walking on Wool: Sustainable Footpaths Made with Welsh Wool

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The ‘Made with Wool’ project is working to identify barriers to business development within the wool supply chain and to raise the value of Welsh wool. As part of their efforts, they have been commissioning small scoping studies on a variety of topics, one of the initiatives that was bought to them by Anglesey County Council is the use of sheep wool in the construction of footpaths. Co-funded through LEADER and the ‘Made with Wool’ project, wool paths are currently being trialled in locations across the Isle of Anglesey in the hope that it will offer more sustainable options in path construction while also introducing new uses and demand for Welsh wool.

In the construction of wool paths, sheep wool is used as a base to cross wet areas and to repair paths in a natural and sustainable way. The process involves laying the fleeces as an eco-friendly substitute to the synthetic membrane normally used as a foundation for walking paths. The wool used was sourced locally from Betws y Coed using British Wool’s traceability scheme , through this scheme the farmers will receive a premium price for their wool.

Following weeks of consulting and information gathering from groups in Brecon, the Lake District and the Isle of Skye that have successfully constructed wool walking paths, the project team worked with volunteers from the community and Cwlwm Seiriol to build trial paths near Aberlleiniog Castle and Rhos Llaniestyn in Llanddona. The Aberlleiniog site is of national archaeological significance, therefore permission was obtained from CADW to trial the wool along paths that measured 74 meters in total length. The team removed the topsoil under the supervision of members of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust and trees that were infected with ash dieback were felled and used to create the edging for the path. Welsh cob horses were used to move the felled trees into place in order to minimize the disturbance to the land that would be caused by the use of heavy machinery. The untreated fleeces were laid flat in layers to cover the full width of the path at a ratio of around 4 fleeces per meter, before being covered with approximately 75mm of gravel.

Permission was also obtained from Natural Resources Wales to build wool paths in Rhos Llaniestyn, Llanddona. The path is in three parts and has a total length of 35 meters with an average width of 0.6 meters. Due to its boggy nature a deeper foundation was required, and a machine was used to excavate the foundation, delicate areas were dug by hand to minimize the impact on the surrounding area. In the slightly dryer areas of the path the fleeces were laid flat in layers, boggy and wet areas were given a deeper foundation using rolled fleeces at the base with a minimum of two fleeces laid flat over them to help control moisture and reduce the amount of stone needed. Care was taken to ensure that the fleeces were packed tightly together to give a firm bed for the gravel to be spread on. Gravel was laid on top to compress the wool and offer a stable walkway surface while also ensuring the height of the path was above the surrounding vegetation.

“It’s fantastic to be able to work alongside Anglesey County Council, LEADER and our fantastic volunteers to deliver these wool paths that will hopefully be of use to the local community for years to come. By purchasing wool through the British Wool Traceability Scheme we are ensuring provenance and that the farmers receive a premium price for their wool. Trials like these are integral to discover ways of using wool to improve our lived environment and minimise our impact while also raising the price of wool for farmers. We will be putting together a ‘how to’ document on constructing these wool paths in the hope that other groups or individuals can use the information to construct their own paths.”

Elen Parry, Made with wool Project Manager.

Three bales of wool were used in the construction of the paths, that have now been completed, around 700 fleeces in total. The paths will be revisited towards the end of summer to check for any settlement and topped up where needed, they will also be monitored and reviewed based on how they perform in comparison to the plastic equivalent and whether they have any effects on the ecological surroundings. The use of sheep wool in footpaths is an ancient technique, historically it was widely used to repair well-used paths across the country, however, it remains relatively unused in contemporary construction. This trial will hopefully serve as a great initiative to raise awareness and promote the use of sustainable and natural alternatives to plastics in the construction of footpaths while introducing wider uses and demand for Welsh wool.

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