Wales has different regulations to England in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequently, the rules on travel, exercise and where we can go and who we can climb with, are quite different to those on the English side of the border. The regulations and guidance in Wales were changed on Monday June 1st. Read on to see the current situation.
The key new message from Welsh Government is to “Stay Local”.
Previously the message had been “Stay at Home” and not to meet with anyone from outside your own household. Exercise was allowed under the previous regulations but had to be local to the place where you were living, and ideally undertaken directly from your own home. The message regarding travel to exercise was confusing, with some police forces enforcing a strict rule that you could only exercise directly from your home while others seemed to be more tolerant and allowing ‘local’ travel to exercise. However, as of Monday June 1st, that has changed.
Much of Wales, away from the main population centred in south-east Wales, is still seeing an increase in new virus cases and it’s thought that due to its more rural population, the virus wave is slower in reaching many of these places and the ‘R’ value remains close to 1, with the remoter and more westerly areas reaching peak infections. It is only now that the main NHS services and hospitals in north-west and southwest Wales are seeing increased Covid admissions and pressures are starting to increase on the services in these areas.
Can I go climbing or hillwalking in Wales?
The new Section 8 of the Regulations now state that “No person may leave the area local to where they are living or remain away from that area”. The Welsh Government Guidance that accompanies the Regulations clarifies this, stating that as long as you stay local to the place where you live, you can now carry out any form of outdoor activity. This means that all forms of rock climbing and hill-walking are now permitted. The latest scientific evidence strongly suggests that being outdoors gives a much lower risk of transmission of the virus than being indoors. The guidance now specifically states that there are no longer legal restrictions on the type of outdoor activity you can undertake within your local area.
Can I travel to or within Wales to go climbing or hill-walking?
The regulations state that outdoor activity must be local to the place where you are living. The guidance strongly suggests that, as a rule of thumb, this should be no further than five miles from your home and that as a rule you should still try to drive as little as possible. Driving from England to Wales, or for significant distances within Wales, is still prohibited and Welsh police forces will continue to actively enforce this regulation. The guidance issued by Welsh Government goes on to state that you should not leave your local area to do anything that you could reasonably be expected to do locally. The guidance also states that it is not permissible to drive outside of your local area even if your chosen form of exercise is not possible within your local area. This suggests that if you have to drive outside of your local area to your nearest or even to your preferred climbing venue, then that is not permitted.
What is local?
The Regulations state that that you must stay local but defining local in this context is difficult. The guidance and frequently asked questions issued by Welsh Government state that for most people anything within about five miles of home is local. However, the guidance also states that for people living in remoter rural areas, essential services such as shops and medical facilities, may be spread over a wider geographical area and in that case, you can travel further to do the same sort of things you could do within five miles elsewhere. Elsewhere in the guidance, it suggests that any travel beyond ten miles would be considered unreasonable. If your exercise (usually in this context, this will only really be relevant to walking, running or cycling) starts and finishes directly from your front door, then there is no limit on the distance you can cover while undertaking that form of exercise. Welsh Government also state, “As a general rule, therefore, you should still try to drive as little as possible. If you can meet all of your household’s needs within walking distance it is still preferable to do so.’
It remains to be seen how Welsh Police Forces will enforce this regulation and how they will define local.
Where can I go climbing or hill-walking?
As mentioned above, this should be within five miles of the place you are living. However, many parts of the Welsh countryside and popular beauty spots remain closed. In Snowdonia, the main Snowdon massif (including both sides of the Llanberis Pass), the Glyderau mountains (inc. Cwm Idwal and Tryfan), Cader Idris and the Aran mountains remain legally closed. Much of the open access land in the Brecon Beacons, including Pen y Fan, Black Mountains and the Waterfall Country are similarly closed, while most of the Pembrokeshire Coast is also closed. Areas within Denbighshire Council, such as Loggerheads Country Park (Devils’ Gorge and Pothole Quarry) and Moel Fammau are also closed. It is a criminal offence under Section 9 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Wales Regulations 2020 to enter those closed areas.
In addition, many car parks are closed and facilities such as cafes, toilets, shops, and all forms of tourist accommodation, etc. are also still closed. You need to plan ahead to ensure that your chosen venue is open and available. Staying overnight away from your home is prohibited.
In some areas, local residents are still highly concerned at the possibility of the virus being spread by visitors and recreational visitors may not be welcome.
Also remember to check the BMC RAD for seasonal closures due to nesting birds.
Who can I climb or walk with?
The regulations now state that as of June 1st, people from one household will be permitted to meet outdoors with people form one other household at a time, provided they stay local. There is no limit on the number of people you can meet with as long as they are all from the same household. However strict social distancing laws continue in Wales and it is illegal to be closer than 2m to people from outside of your household, which can be a challenge to adhere to when rock climbing as a pair or even when bouldering. If a climbing area or bouldering venue becomes busy, then the police may regard this as a gathering and this is then illegal. So, avoid busy or popular areas and move on to other areas or venues if there are already people at your chosen venue.
Can Clubs start organising meets or use their huts?
The new regulations only allow you to meet people from one other household in the outdoors and the guidance limits the travel to within five miles of the place you are living. Gatherings of people from more than two seperate households are not permitted and overnight stays away from your home, such as in huts or even holiday corrages are not allowed, so club meets and the use of climbing huts, campsites and bunkhouses are still not allowed. However members of a club from two different households can now meet up outdoors, within the 5 mile distance and while maintianing the social distancing rules.
Safety and Rescue
Both Mountain Rescue and the Coastguard have issued very strong warnings that the service they can provide is vastly reduced and that response times to incidents will be much slower. The medical support normally available to help with serious accidents (including helicopter support) is considerably reduced and very likely to not be available. The BMC supports the advice given by these agencies that participants need to be even more aware than usual of the risks associated with their activities, to be even more aware than usual of the difficult locations where climbing and hill-walking takes place, and the additional risks and threats to the health of the rescue services (who are often volunteers). Everyone, no matter how competent or experienced, need to consider that now is not the time be pushing your standard but rather it’s the time to stay well within your limits and to be AdventureSmart and to plan ahead.
Welsh Government will carry out a review of the Regulations on or before June 18th. It’s expected that the next review will look at opening some non-essential retail shops and possibly even limited opening of some cafes and hospitality providers. It is also likely that the legal closures of countryside areas will also see a substantial review at that time.
In light of these new regulations and guidance, limiting travel to 5 miles, the BMC is questioning if all the existing closures continue to be required and are asking the various National Park and Local Authorities to review these closed areas as a matter of urgency to allow local people greater freedoms to exercise.
Welsh Government has also produced a useful Frequently Asked Questions guide to the new Regulations.
More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19
🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for July here and for the general return to climbing here
🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full July update here
😷 When and how will the walls reopen? In England it's July 25th Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here
✈️ Can I now travel abroad again? Get the latest answers to going abroad with travel restrictions now easing
🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Yes - we officially reopened at the start of July!
🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? The latest club huts update and all you need to know
📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO
🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on
We hope you stay safe during this unwanted adventure and let's come together as a community to help and support each other.