Mowingword in South Pembrokeshire provides some superb sea-cliff climbing with a wide range of grades but until this year was subject to an annual seasonal restriction. As a result of a review by the Countryside Council for Wales, the National Trust and the BMC, all climbing restrictions on Mowingword have been permanently removed.
Mowingword is home to some well-known Pembroke classics - including Heart of Darkness, Diedre Sud, Chimes of Freedom and All at Sea, giving a wide range of grades from Severe to E6. However until this July, access for climbers has been restricted to the late summer and autumn months only, due to the historical prescence of nesting sea-birds.
The south and west faces of Mowingword used to be important nesting areas for Gulliemots and Razorbills, with colonies of several hunderd birds recorded here in the past. Being part of the Stackpole National Nature Reserve (and also a Site of Special Scientific interest), the cliffs are monitored annually by staff from the National Trust and the Countryside Council for Wales and it has been apparent that the Auk population has failed to nest on these particular faces in the last few years. The reasons behind the lack of succesful nesting by auks, at this historically important nesting site is not clearly understood, but could be down to a number of reasons, including access to the nesting ledges by rats, the possible failure of the birds to recover from the Sea Empress oil disaster of 12 years ago or simply that the birds no longer find the location attractive to nest!
Local climbers and activists (including BMC Access Rep Steve Quinton and guidebook writer and prolific new router, Paul Donnithorne) had noted the lack of birds on the cliffs and asked the BMC to raise the need for a continued annual restriction on these cliffs and in mid July a meeting was held to review the restrictions. At this meeting, both the CCW Conservation Officer and the National Trust Warden agreed that the annual restrictions on climbing were no longer neccessary and while its sad to see fewer of these magnificent birds nesting on the Pembrokeshire coast, it's also gratifying that conservation bodies are flexible and realistic when it comes to climbing restrictions.
Should the birds start to re-colonise these faces, then the arrangements for notifying climbers of this and of any new or re-imposed restrictions on the Pembroke cliffs, are well tested and by now well understood by most climbers. Any changes would be posted on the notice boards on the approach paths and marked on the cliff tops by the prescence of the red painted "upturned flowerpots, and of course also on the BMC Regional Access Database.
Climbers may well still see the occassional nesting bird (especially Herring gull and Fulmar) on some ledges and are asked to avoid any routes that they believe any birds might be nesting on and also to avoid entering or hanging around under the large dank chimmney immediately left of Fools Rush In, as Choughs have ben known to nest here in the past.
The BMC is really grateful for the work done by local climbers and to the positive approach taken towards climbing by the conservation bodies at Pembrokeshire - helped in no small part by the respect and compliance of the existing arrangements by climbers along this very special coastline. At the nearby Stackpole Head the annual seasonal restrctions remain, and hundreds of nesting auks breed succesfully here each year and provide an amazing sight during the nesting season.
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