Life in lockdown is more behind the scenes than normal, but the important work of the BMC Access Team has continued throughout: communicating with the government to discuss official advice, fighting access bans and illegal closures of paths and preparing for when restrictions are lifted so that we can all get back in the outdoors as quick as possible. Here are the key things the team has been up to:
Talking to Government
Each week the BMC access team has a call with Natural England / DEFRA and NRW in Wales to discuss the official advice on accessing our countryside. The advice around getting outside currently remains the same; stay local and don’t drive, ensure you keep at least two metres away from other people and hand wash/sanitise after touching any shared surfaces, e.g. stiles/gates.
As soon as official advice for the current situation changes and restrictions are relaxed, we will of course work to ensure this includes access to our hills and crags and will let you know as soon as possible.
Fighting for access
A number of landowners have unilaterally informed the BMC that they are indefinitely withdrawing previously agreed access agreements to a few cliffs and bouldering sites, directly as a response to climbers and boulderers travelling to and continuing to climb at these sites during the lockdown period. We are attempting to contact all the landowners individually to respond to their concerns and to update the RAD as needed.
Closures in Wales
Early on during the Covid restrictions, the Welsh Government faced increasing demands from landowners and farming unions to close the whole of the welsh countryside, including closing all open access land, all public rights of way and parkland. There was significant cross party political and popular support for this in Wales. However, in combination with Ramblers Wales, the BMC quickly co-ordinated a response, gathered support from most recreational bodies in Wales, and wrote a strong letter to the Deputy Minister opposing these plans and making the case to keep paths and open access areas open. Thankfully this seems to have worked and to date local people can still access their green spaces and local paths.
Wales National Parks covid closures
Significant swathes of the most popular countryside and upland areas have been closed in Wales. The regulations are significantly more stringent than in England and place a statutory duty on local authorities and National Parks to close areas where large gatherings are likely or where there is significant health risk from the transmission of the virus.
While the BMC understands the reasons behind these closures, put in place to avoid the mass gatherings of people like those seen on the last weekend of March, we believe that some National Parks have overreacted and that some of these closures are disproportionate and unnecessary. We are lobbying hard to get the National Park Authorities to review the extent and scope of these closures, especially where it significantly impacts on the ability of local people to exercise from their front door.
Illegal path closures
We have seen and been sent numerous reports of illegal path closures all over the countryside. While we understand and sympathise with rural residents who are scared and worried for the health of their families, many of whom might be self-isolating for health reasons, we do not agree with illegal closures and have been in contact with numerous local and highways authorities to identify the illegal closures and have the obstructions removed. We will produce an article next week on how members can report and deal with such closures.
Cambrian Mountains new large scale wind farm proposal
We have been told a proposal for a significant and large scale wind farm has been proposed, that will extend virtually up to the summit of Plynlumon. Members in mid Wales are very concerned at the impact of this on a wild and remote upland area. The BMC is supporting members to investigate the impact this will have and what response the BMC should make.
Slate Quarrying UNESCO Project
The whole of the North Wales Slate quarrying areas have been nominated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. This has the potential to increase visitors to these areas could have implications for greater visitor management infrastructure and interpretation of the history of these sites. The BMC has been asked to comment and is involved with looking at how this can be done practically, protecting access for climbing and also to make sure that the history of climbing is also seen as a protected feature of these venues.
Planning a post-C19 campaign
This will be aimed to influence good behaviour when visiting our hills and crags. It is possible that, when restrictions are lifted, hundreds of people will head to the hills, so it’s important that we don’t trash the areas we love and that we respect our natural environment and other visitors as well as land owners. Let’s not risk losing the access rights we had before the pandemic.
Preparing for new issues when access restrictions are lifted
Whilst we have been staying local, it's likely that new cliff nesting and / or ground nesting birds might have moved in. Great news but it may require some new seasonal access restrictions and negotiations with land owners as well as reminders of the importance of keeping dogs on leads during nesting season.
There is already an increase in fly tipping as Local Authorities have been told to prioritise kerbside services while the recycling centres are closed – so there may be some clean up jobs required. If you have any fly tipping reports, please email these to firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve also had reports of vandalism of signs and sites as well as numerous localised fires. The BMC will be working with Moors for the Future
after restrictions are lifted to ensure the wider public understand the dangers and impacts of wild fires, particularly on our moorlands.
Influencing current Government policy
The BMC is still working on improving public access beyond 2020. In February 2020, DEFRA published a policy discussion document setting out the government’s initial thinking on how ‘public money for public goods’ might be supported through a new Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme in England and sets out how farmers, foresters and other land managers could secure financial reward in return for delivering environmental benefits and public goods. The BMC has strongly made the case in our draft response that farmers should be paid for access in each of the three tiers being proposed, and should include payments for improving existing rights of way, granting new access rights, and enhancing public access across the landscape.
More details on our draft response can be found in the article linked above.
BMC Climate Change Project
The BMC in 2020 and beyond is launching a range of ways to highlight and act against climate change and reduce our impact on the environment under the banner, The Climate Project
. This will be an ongoing campaign of changing mindsets and embedding good decisions and choices into everyday activities.
Other BMC Access Team work
Even without there being any climbers on BMC managed crags, essential maintenance and planning work continues. For instance, boundaries have to be maintained and at Tremadog substantial work has been carried out (while strictly adhering to the Covid regulations) to remove several dangerous trees that were suffering from Ash die back and threatening to fall on the highway and adjacent properties. As has been mentioned, fly tipping has seen an increase at many countryside sites and BMC crags are also suffering this blight.
Guidebooks are still being produced, and with people not going out climbing, guidebook writers have been busy and we are responding to numerous guidebook producers to provide updated access and conservation information, including Carneddau, Moelwynion, South Wales Select, North Wales Bouldering, etc.
More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19
🌳 Can I climbing / hillwalking? Here's what you can and can't do in the 2nd English Lockdown (November 2020)
🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full November update here
😷 When and how will the walls reopen? In England they're now closed for the November Lockdown. Read our November Walls article
✈️ 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
As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.
From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.
If you liked what we did, then tell your friends about us: www.thebmc.co.uk/join