Ravensdale - a fantastic trad limestone crag in the Peak District - has once again fallen victim to precautionary restrictions imposed by Natural England this year. It is a disappointing development after a number of years of established restrictions, following the BMC's standard principles for agreeing climbing restrictions working well.
The BMC agrees climbing restrictions at crags across England and Wales during the spring and early summer to protect rare crag nesting birds and Ravensdale is no different. There has been a raven restriction at the crag for a number of years now and in 2017 a pair of peregrines arrived at the crag necessitating an additional restriction. Continuing this year on the same basis would seem the obvious course of action, agreeing an appropriate restriction once the peregrines have settled on a nest location. The BMC does not support precautionary restrictions and we want to be clear that we do not agree with this one, but are publicising the landowner’s wishes here and on RAD.
Voluntary restrictions only work if they bring climbers along with them and in order to do this they need to be reasonable and proportional. Any restriction supported by the BMC must follow our basic principles of following the least restrictive option and being evidence based - ie the birds are actually nesting on the crag. The situation at Ravensdale fails to meet both of these criteria as restricting the whole crag without knowing the location of a nest, or if the birds will nest there at all is certainly not following the least restrictive option.
These developments follow a very successful 2017 breeding season where peregrines nested on the crag for the first time, alongside the longer established resident ravens. Both pairs fledged 3 young which is an excellent result anywhere. It also demonstrates that the restriction agreed between the BMC and Natural England in 2017, which followed the principles described above, restricting only the area needed rather than the whole crag worked well.
The current decision is very much against the well-established and successful voluntary system we use nationally, with restrictions agreed with a wide variety of partner organisations such as National Park Authorities, National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and of course Natural England. It sends a message to climbers that if they follow agreed restrictions and no disturbance is caused, that they will then be subjected to more extensive restrictions. This is even more disappointing given it is being forced through by a governmental body charged with representing not only conservation interests but balancing recreation/access against them. Were this form of restriction to be applied across the board, where is the incentive for climbers to continue following restrictions? The reality is physical policing on the ground 24/7 is far from desirable and virtually impossible given current resources, so we are reliant on climber goodwill and peer pressure to ensure restrictions are adhered to.
We are questioned on the need for various restrictions and we work hard to educate the community as a whole about why they are needed. In turn, the majority of climbers stay away from restricted areas, often volunteer information on new nest sites and play an important role in keeping an eye out for raptor persecution. It is a symbiotic relationship that works well, but only if climbers feel restrictions agreed on their behalf by the BMC are fair, measured and follow the principles we advocate.
Peregrines and ravens have made a good return to the Peak overall in recent decades with recreation having no negative impact on their population. The lack of recreational disturbance is due in large part to good partnership working between the BMC and conservation bodies and the resulting well thought out voluntary restrictions which have been shown to be effective here and elsewhere. There has been a notable decline of peregrine and other raptors in the Dark Peak, but Ravensdale sits outside of this area and the issues in the Dark Peak are the result of persecution and poor upland management rather than disturbance by climbers or other recreational users.
In contrast to Ravensdale, no so long ago RSPB experts were pushing for severe restrictions to climbing access at Stanage otherwise ring ouzels would be lost. Fortunately that view did not prevail and the least restrictive option was followed instead, which not only succeeded in bucking the national trend of decline, but also engaged climbers as part of a solution is much more effective for their constant presence on site. This has taken the form of identifying nest sites, monitoring the nests, helping to set out restrictions and notably climbers now feel an affinity with the species and often act as advocates for the birds to other users. This may be a different species, but the issues are similar for both and it is a good example (one of many) of climbers and conservation organisations working together towards a common goal.
We sincerely hope that Natural England will reconsider their current stance which punishes climbers for following a set of restrictions shown to work last year, by implementing a precautionary restriction instead - before the birds have settled on a nest site and an assessment can be made of how extensive an appropriate restriction would be.
The Access and Conservation Trust
The BMC's charity – the BMC Access & Conservation Trust – promotes sustainable access to cliffs, mountains and open countryside by facilitating education and conservation projects across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
By educating climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers to enjoy outdoor recreation while minimising their impact on the landscape, conserving the UK’s upland resources, and campaigning for improved access rights, ACT enables future generations to continue to enjoy outdoor activities and the physical, mental and social benefits they bring to individual lives and society in general.
WATCH: the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign film