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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 09:50 GMT
Mountaineers seek halt on ashes
Scattering ashes affects the mountain soil

Mountaineers have warned of changes to the soil on Scottish summits because of an increase in people scattering the ashes of loved ones.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked bereaved relatives to avoid the most popular sites and even to bury ashes rather than scatter them.

However, it said scattering ashes may be environmentally better than erecting permanent memorials on remote summits.

Soil changes have had a significant effect on mountain plants, it added.

Last September, the MCS launched a debate about the many and varied permanent markers to the dead that appear to have been proliferating in wilderness places.

Now it has published rules about what it thinks should be done.

Phosphate enrichment

One section of the advice said that more mountaineers were requesting in their wills that they would like their ashes scattered on the summit of their favourite mountain when they die.

The MCS said on a number of very popular mountain summits used repeatedly for the scattering of ashes, plant growth had been stimulated by phosphate enrichment caused by scattering ashes.

It has recommended that when considering a chosen spot for the disposal of your ashes, people should avoid iconic mountain tops, by opting instead for a corrie, a certain point along a ridge or beside a particular tree on the lower slopes of a mountain.

The instant you put that down on the ground you are getting luxuriant growth of vegetation
Professor Des Thompson
Scottish Natural Heritage

The mountaineering group also said the chemical effect on the ecology of the surrounding area was reduced if ashes were buried rather than scattered.

Professor Des Thompson, principal uplands adviser to Scottish Natural Heritage, said it was crucial to understand the sort of soil found on mountain tops.

He said: "They are acidic, they are impoverished. They have very small amounts of minerals such as calcium. They are very wet. And in an environment such as that the ash is providing a beanfeast for the plants.

"The key nutrients for plants are nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium. Ash is full of phosphorus and calcium and other nutrients.

"The instant you put that down on the ground you are getting luxuriant growth of vegetation."

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