This week, the BMC welcomed John Griffiths AM, Minister for Culture & Sport for the Welsh Government, to the prime climbing and walking venue of South Stack on Anglesey. The aim of the visit was for us to highlight the benefits of extending and simplifying access laws to the coast and countryside throughout Wales
The BMC’s Open Wales campaign which got underway in January is calling on the Welsh Government to extend and simplify access to the coast and countryside for responsible recreation.
The Welsh Government announced a review of access legislation in Wales and the Minister for Culture and Sport is meeting a range of interested bodies as part of the evidence gathering. It is the BMC’s view that the review should take the opportunity to increase and improve countryside and coastal access opportunities.
The visit, on Thursday 20th February, to Gogarth, was jointly hosted by both the BMC and the RSPB, giving the Minister the opportunity to see at first hand the problems with existing legislation and the potential benefits of a new approach. While the RSPB, which manages much of the land, is happy to allow climbing on these sea cliffs, access is not secured through law and neighbouring landowners are not so obliging.
As well as being shown the areas where good co-operation and access takes place, the Minister was shown examples of areas where access to the coast is prohibited, where the Wales Coastal Path is forced to divert inland onto a busy public road.
Elfyn Jones, BMC access officer for Wales, said “We welcome this opportunity to show the Minister a practical example of how access rights could be simplified and extended to the benefit of Welsh residents and visitors whilst respecting the rights of landowners and conservation interests. Responsible recreation and conservation have been proven to go hand in hand.”
The BMC would like to see:
permanent access to sea cliffs, similar to the right of access to crags currently enjoyed on open access land under CROW;
reduced occupier’s liability across the board for all recreational pursuits; and
access to more land on which there are physical features of interest to climbers where access poses no threat to conservation or the privacy of local residents.
The dramatic sea cliffs at South Stack and Gogarth Bay near Holyhead provide some of the most adventurous and challenging sea cliff climbing in the world and attract thousands of climbers each year to experience their delights. Thousands of walkers also enjoy the incredible cliff top walks and open spaces along the coastal corridor. Climbing first started here in the early 1960s and it has since become internationally renowned as one of the greatest adventure climbing venues in the UK.
Many of the cliffs and surrounding hinterlands are important conservation sites, managed as a nature reserve by the RSPB. This includes nationally important sites for nesting sea birds including razorbills, guillemots, puffins and rare protected species such as chough and peregrine falcons. The venue is an exemplar to demonstrate how climbing and conservation can co-exist, with well-developed agreements between the conservation body and the BMC. Well respected and widely publicised agreements mean climbers voluntarily avoid climbing on parts of the cliffs when nesting birds are present.
The BMC has 5000 members in Wales but these proposals will affect our entire membership of 76,000. Millions enjoy the beauty and unique qualities that the Welsh coastline and countryside offer. A recent survey found that 60% of the adult population in Wales would like to visit the outdoors more often and an estimated £632m was spent on some 28 million walking and hill walking trips to the Welsh countryside and coast in 2009. The benefits of improved and increased access opportunities are obvious to all – including a healthier Wales as well as increasing the already considerable economic benefits from visiting climbers and walkers.
The BMC will have the opportunity to comment on specific proposals once the Welsh Government green paper is published.
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What’s climbing at Gogarth like? Watch our short film, exclusive to BMC TV: