Greater access freedoms, richer landscapes, and a more vibrant, engaged and adventurous outdoor community. This is the inspiring vision which emerged after 50 people converged on the Peak District last weekend for the first ever BMC Hill Walking Symposium.
Held under typically gloomy November skies in the Hope Valley, the event was intended to bring more hill walkers into contact with the BMC, recruit volunteers across the organisation and explore key issues affecting the adventurous walking community.
It achieved all that, but what also emerged was something relevant to all outdoor enthusiasts: a vision of a future with expanded access freedoms, a richer natural environment, and a vibrant outdoor community which provides support and encouragement for adventurous ambitions.
Participants have been encouraged to get in involved with the BMC as volunteers at both the grassroots and national levels, while the many ideas and insights generated by the event will be used to shape the BMC’s hill walking strategy.
One of the main themes was the idea of pushing for greater access freedoms, and the possibilities and pitfalls involved in doing so. The highlight was an open forum, in which all 50 participants came together to chew over the idea of looking beyond the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW), the landmark 2000 law which guaranteed open access across most upland terrain in England and Wales.
The idea of drawing inspiration from Scotland’s open access regime was discussed, as was the principle of pushing for more freedoms and greater clarity on things like wild camping within the existing CROW framework in England and Wales.
The debate also touched on the experiences of other recreational outdoor users, such as kayakers and canoeists (while walkers and climbers now enjoy relative freedom in the uplands, just 4% of England’s inland waterways can be enjoyed uncontested).
It was a well-informed, animated and nuanced debate which will be used to guide the BMC’s next steps in this vital area of work.
The BMC’s flagship initiative over the last year has been the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, which is about stopping erosion, protecting valuable habitats and creating sustainable paths for future generations. So far it has raised around £575,000 and counting.
Participants were given an update on this appeal, but were also shown how it has grown from the BMC’s longstanding work around the upland environment: extending and protecting access through work at both the national and local levels, safeguarding the character of mountain landscapes, and funding conservation work through its charity, the Access and Conservation Trust.
This dimension of the BMC’s work benefits all outdoor enthusiasts, but particularly walkers, so it is a central part of the organisation’s hill walking strategy. Workshops were also held on the biggest challenges facing the upland environment, which touched on everything from zipwires, windfarms, and hydro power to rewilding, congestion and climate change. The possible impact of Brexit also loomed large.
Chris Dean from the Moors for the Future partnership also gave an absorbing talk on the organisation’s hugely ambitious work to restore the environmental health of the Peak District moors, rewinding the effects of hundreds of years of industrial pollution.
Adventure and community
Another key theme was the aim of creating a vibrant walking and outdoor community which provides support and encouragement for adventurous ambitions. To this end there were workshops on leading walks, tips and guidance on navigation, and a session on volunteering opportunities within the BMC.
A brief summary of the discussions had at the first BMC Hill Walking Symposium can be downloaded here.
Saturday evening saw an entertaining and inspirational talk from James Forrest, who recently walked all the hills and mountains of Britain and Ireland over the course of a year in record time. He did the latter in one continuous push, wild camping and occasionally ‘going viral’ along the way.
Thankfully, not all the weekend was spent indoors – on Sunday, unfazed by gloom, drizzle and low cloud, events headed out into the Peak District hills on a range of differently-themed walks: Mend Our Mountains-funded repairs around Edale, geology around Castleton, advanced navigation, and Moors for the Future repair work on Bleaklow.
A huge thanks to everyone who came and made the event a success, and an even bigger thanks to the tireless volunteers who gave up their weekend run workshops, give talks, lead walks and provide support to participants.
We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.
From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t do it without you.
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