Climbers jeopardize access in Cheddar

Posted by Rob Dyer on 26/04/2012
Climbing in Cheddar Gorge. Photo: www.cheddargorge.co.uk

We are now well into the summer climbing season in the Cheddar Gorge and as many climbers will know, some areas and routes are restricted during the summer season due to public safety concerns. With the Gorge walls being so steep and close to the road, the landowners - Cheddar Caves & Gorge, have been concerned for some time about loose rock and dropped climbing equipment hurting members of the public or cars on the road below.

Before the conception of the Cheddar Gorge Climbing Restoration Project in 2005, climbing access in the gorge was far more limited than it is today. Thanks to the efforts of Martin Crocker in collaboration with the landowners and supported by the BMC and others, many of the more popular routes were cleaned of loose rock, making them safer and allowing these routes to be climbed for a longer period of the year.

These routes can now be climbed outside of peak visitor times during the summer. During peak times, access to all crags other than those on National Trust land is restricted. During the winter, all routes (including non-restored ones, with a few notable exceptions) are unrestricted. The Cheddar Gorge Access Calendar - a full and easy to read summary of the dates and routes restrictions apply to is produced by the BMC each year in a downloadable and printable format.

Unfortunately, there have already been a considerable number of people climbing outside of the agreement this year which is causing concern from Hugh Cornwell, director of Cheddar Caves & Gorge. It should be noted that there is no right of access to climb on the South side crags and if climbers continue to climb outside of the access agreement, they risk losing access to this fantastic resource for everyone. Hugh recently commented:

“Frankly these climbers are taking a liberty  – the Agreement has been in force for long enough for word to have got round the climbing community, the details are posted each year on the BMC website and ours and there are plenty of copies of Martin’s ‘Cheddar Gorge Climbs’ available to purchase.

These guys all claim that they didn’t know about the regulations, but they did know. So it was just a ‘try on’. But what is totally unacceptable is for my staff in general, and Nigel Elliott in particular, who have helped the BMC to re-establish climbing in Cheddar Gorge and who maintain it by their rock safety work each year, to be verbally ‘beasted’ by climbers who know that they are in the wrong.

I should be grateful if you would publish, to your whole membership, what a dis-service such people do to the reputation of the whole Climbing community and its relationships with landowners, whose goodwill is essential for climbers to have access to many climbing sites in England and Wales. As you will be only too well aware, not all sites are ‘Open Access’ under CRoW and few sites present the general public with the potential dangers, that uncontrolled climbing in Cheddar Gorge does.”

It seems like a good time to remind climbers of the Cheddar Gorge Climbers Code of Conduct and make a plea to everyone using the Gorge to abide by this and the access agreement. This is nothing new and is a relatively small price to pay for access to incredible crags in such a stunning location. Cheddar Caves and Gorge are more than happy for climbing to continue here as long as long as the code of conduct and access agreement are followed, but if a few climbers continue to ignore them, access for everyone is unfortunately at risk. Please do your bit and make sure access to Cheddar Gorge is maintained for the foreseeable future.


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1) Anonymous User
26/04/2012
I am really sorry to hear that anyone is doing this. It is not representative of most Cheddar climbers. I would encourage fellow climbers if they see anyone climbing out of bounds to go and ask them to stop. I've done that before and it has worked out okay.
2) Anonymous User
26/04/2012
Why not call the police on the trespassers instead of just moaning to a Council that may or may not have an influence on mentioned climbers?
3) Anonymous User
27/04/2012
I've posted a link on Facebook to this. Unfortunately a lot of new climbers probably don't have the foresight to review the access database before heading to the Gorge for a trip. It is unfortunate that climbers are breaching the agreement, but I think it it probably through ignorance rather than malicious intent. Would it be possible for the BMC to put a small board up at each of the main areas on the south side, and at the gear shop with the access agreement attached? That would make it a lot clearer for those who haven't thought about such things as access agreements.

Chris Sansum
4) Anonymous User
27/04/2012
Trespass is a civil matter not a criminal offence. Under the CPJOA '94, the police can only get involved with specific forms of trespass, including, but not limited to:
- mass trespass
- trespass by hunt saboteurs
- trespass by squatters
- nuisance caused by trespass (eg raves)

In other words all those "trespassers will be prosecuted" signs that you see are not actually correct. If a loss or a damage can be demonstrated then civil action could be appropriate.

In this case the risk of losing an access agreement is a much greater threat than any criminal sanctions.

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