UPDATE - Ravensdale: Natural England impose precautionary seasonal climbing ban

Posted by Rob Dyer on 22/03/2018
Peregrine falcon - credit: shutterstock

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.

On March 15th, Natural England responded to our article and requested that we include a statement outlining their position in this case. Their full response can be read here.

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.

READ: More about the recent work of ACT

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1) Anonymous User
11/03/2018
I fully endorse Natural England’s decision, I am appalled and disheartened that as BMC Access Ranger you are discrediting this decision. There are plenty of other crags to climb on before or during the breeding season, so it’s not much to ask, we need to work with nature not against it, and give peregrines and other cliff nesting birds the best opportunity to find undisturbed sites to nest.
12/03/2018
This is an incredibly disappointing article. Natural England want Pergrines to have the best possible chance of finding a suitable nest site and ask if climbers can stay away from what is a pleasant but not exactly major crag so this can happen. The national body representing climbers basically says we don’t agree we should have to so crack on folks and ignore the perfectly reasonable request. Pergrines are persecuted throughout the country, the White Peak is one of the very few areas they stand a chance of not being shot, poisoned or the chicks killed on the nest. Surely we as climbers can be responsible enough to go and climb elsewhere for a while.

I’m staggered that this is written by someone whose job includes the word conservation in his title and I’m equally disappointed that the BMC’s policy is one of least restriction to climbers, maybe it should changed to most beneficial to nature and how we can help it survive. If Natural England read this and let’s face it they probably will I wouldn’t be in least bit surprised if they banned climbing full stop. We get access to the crag via a concessionary path, it’s not over CROW land so it would become another place we would lose access to, this time though not over the mindless stupidity of the few but the National body thinking it knows better. I really think you should remove this selfish article now.
3) Anonymous User
14/03/2018
Completely agree with and endorse the comments left so far. The tone of the article could easily be taken as a not so subtle wink to ignore a decision the author doesn't like - which is pretty irresponsible coming from an organisation that claims to care about environmental issues. How exactly are climbers being 'punished'? Ravensdale's a great crag, but there are loads of others too without any restrictions which we can go and play on through spring and early summer. All that is being asked for here is a temporary early season suspension of climbing in order to encourage birds to nest - possibly even in places where they haven't before. There's most of the summer, autumn (and, at Ravensdale) often sunny bits of winter left to flail about on polished limestone! Get a bit of perspective, there's more to life than climbing.
Colin Wells
4) Anonymous User
14/03/2018
I also fully support Natural England’s decision to implement a short term ban whilst these rare and majestic birds prospect for a new nest site. The militant tone of the above article is a disgrace and makes me question my membership.
5) Anonymous User
14/03/2018
Disappointing to read this in a BMC newsletter, especially as the article almost implies that as it is (in his selfish opinion) "a bad decision" it might be ignored by readers. Give the birds the best chance for goodness' sake and stay away - it's only a seasonal restriction after all.
14/03/2018
I feel a bit uncomfortable about what's been written here. I read this as the BMC giving carte blanche to us, to ignore Natural England's request, which as davepembs says is just going to wind them up so they put a permanent ban on climbing at Ravensdale. When you've put this article alongside two others about Peregrines been killed and what climbers can do to help them it makes it seem as if on one hand you're saying, yes lets stop gamekeepers killing the birds and see what we can do to help but then on the other hand if it gets in the way of my day out however, then I'm not interested anymore. Bit odd really, can't we just go along with the request and show people that we really do care and are actually willing to do our bit to help?
7) Anonymous
15/03/2018
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
8) Anonymous User
17/03/2018
This is not just about Ravensdale, if Natural England ban a crag with no birds on, and the BMC supports that ban, it sets a precedent for other landowners (private, government, NGO alike) to ban climbing because Peregrines, Raven, Chough etc MIGHT turn up to breed. If that becomes the norm climbers would soon notice the impact of these restrictions across the uk. This article is saying ban climbing as soon as the birds show up. Seems reasonable.
9) Anonymous User
20/03/2018
This is one of my favourite local routes, which I’ve been enjoying for over 20 years. I remember not that long ago that the crag used to get closed to allow birds to ‘prospect’ (ravens or kestrels can’t remember which) for nest sites and this was supported by the BMC. Why is this any different? It’s not as if there’s not plenty other climbs in the area which are open for climbing at this time of year! You aren’t representing my interests or opinions Rob.
06/04/2018
Policing of all kinds in the UK relies upon the consent of the population, never more so than in nature conservation which successive governments have chronically starved of funds. I urge Natural England to re-negotiate with the BMC to reach an agreement with which both parties are happy. Blanket bans are an incitement for those on the fringes of our sport to revert to the bad behaviour of the past. Agreeing a restriction on the whole crag until nest sites are selected, then agreeing an evidence-based ban on specific routes which might affect the actual nest would be an acceptable compromise to most. More importantly, it would build, rather than destroy the good will which turns climbers into unpaid wardens of both birds and rare plants.
11) dashby
08/04/2018
I walked down to the Ravensdale hamlet on Saturday 7th April and spent some time with a pair of binoculars studying the cliff. There are certainly at least one pair of ravens there and a lot of other corvids. I didn't see any perigrines or other raptors, but that doesn't mean to say they aren't there. Crows and raptors don't make good neighbours, so maybe the perigrines have moved to a quieter spot like Hidden Quarry at Stoney. I saw a pair there, presumably nesting, on Thursday 5th April. They were at the back of the quarry complex, so climbing at Sit Down Buttress should be unaffected.
12) Anonymous User
03/08/2018
I waswalking down there a week ago and saw a Peak National Park ranger and he said that there had been a couple of chicks reared.

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