Whitehouses bouldering crag, a small but high quality gritstone venue in Yorkshire, has been irreparably damaged and a no climbing sign has been installed.
Reports surfaced over the weekend of damage to a once high-quality bouldering crag, Whitehouses, as photos from Dan Turner of Highball Productions showed holds hammered off and the installation of a 'no climbing' sign. Why did this destruction occur and who is responsible? Rob Dyer, BMC access and conservation officer, investigates.
Why destroy Whitehouses Crag?
In the past, access to the crag has been threatened by a few ill-behaved visiting climbers. Good practice messages have been publicised through local and online forums, Yorkshire Local Area Meetings, and on the BMC Regional Access Database (RAD), but it's likely that continued poor etiquette has resulted in this hugely unfortunate incident and loss of this venue. Although we haven’t identified who did this and their exact reasons for it, given the previous access problems it is likely that a local person became frustrated with climbers misbehaving and taken matters into their own hands.
Whitehouses crag is located on privately owned land and, with no legal right of public access, climbers relied upon the goodwill of the landowner in using the crag up until now. The tenant farmer has in the past complained about bad parking blocking his gate, confrontation with climbers and lantern sessions causing disturbance at night. It is highly likely that poor climber behaviour like this has triggered the incident and it serves as a cautionary tale for climbers everywhere – behave responsibly or access can be lost.
Dan Turner, local climber and owner of Highball Productions, says: “I think it’s a great shame we lost such a valuable crag for our local climbing community. Unfortunately, a variety of incidents led to this conclusion, however, as a community, we have to realise that we are very privileged to have access to lots of fantastic crags both on private and public land.
“As our sport develops and grows, I believe we have to be more mindful and respectful of our impact. It’s often the case, but sometimes it takes a severe incident like this to change our attitudes – hopefully we can learn from our mistakes.”
Local BMC access rep Mick Johnson had been trying to identify the landowner and tenant farmer for some time to smooth over previous problems and a huge debt of gratitude is owed by all Yorkshire grit climbers for his tireless voluntary behind-the-scenes work here and on many other Yorkshire Gritstone access issues. It might not be in the public eye, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on quietly in the background and the reality is that this is where most progress is usually made.
Andy Syme, BMC Yorkshire area chair, says: “The vital work of access volunteers often goes unnoticed until something goes wrong, but their constant commitment to maintaining access to the many first-class boulders and crags in Yorkshire, many on private land, is something we're all incredibly grateful for.
“With no 'right' to access crags on private land, climbers need to work with the owners and ensure we don't do anything that could result in access being banned. If challenged whilst on private land please comply with the request (however unreasonable you think it is), or apologise and leave, and report it to the BMC access team so they can negotiate a solution. It's far better to lose access to a project or area temporarily than permanently (e.g. Eagle Tor), or irrevocably (as in this case).”
The BMC’s access volunteers are the lifeblood of our access work and without their local knowledge and ears to the ground, the BMC’s access work wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective or wide ranging. If you are interested in volunteering in your local area, we can always use more keen and knowledgeable locals to help spread the load on our existing volunteers – get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
How to avoid this happening again
This is not a problem confined to this crag alone – across the country silly mistakes (like poor parking) by an increasing number of climbers is slowly eroding the good relationships we have established with landowners and local communities, which we rely upon for continued access to many crags. Whitehouses is no beginner’s crag with all but a couple of problems f7a and above, so new climbers fresh out of the wall (often cited on internet forums as the cause of behavioural problems at crags), are unlikely to be the culprits. Given that a small minority of experienced climbers, who should know better, can forget or ignore some of the most basic rules of good crag behaviour, it is worth revisiting the ones that apply at any crag:
Bad parking costs crags: this one’s very simple - anywhere you park should not obstruct traffic or block gates/driveways/passing places. Inconsiderate parking can badly disrupt local people’s daily activities and/or traffic and is a sure-fire way to get local communities uniting against climbers.
Chalk: over chalking is a frequently cited complaint from non-climbers – it can stand out as a stark and jarring focus on an otherwise natural landscape. Tick marks are particularly noticeable but any excess chalk should be cleaned off at the end of a session as a matter of course.
Noise: shouting, swearing and loud music at crags might not seem a big deal to you, but to other people it can been very antisocial, especially in the countryside where people go for peace and quiet. Dial back the victory screams and frustrated swearing when you come off and don’t play music at the crag.
Toileting: don’t poo under or near the crag – other climbers won’t thank you for it. In fact try to avoid pooing outside full stop – go before you go. If caught short be very careful where you choose to make your emergency deposit - especially avoid houses, gardens, car parks, paths or anywhere else where people regularly congregate. Cover your poo in a cat hole wherever possible, don’t leave toilet paper to blow around and make sure you are well out of view of passers-by.
Litter: taking your litter home with you should be obvious – leave the crag as you found it or ideally in a better state by picking up any litter left by others too.
Of course there a loads of others too, but these are the problems that crop up time and time again at crags across the country and if not addressed could cause the next access ban. Don’t forget to check RAD for any crag specific access info too.
What has happened at Whitehouses is a great shame – some top quality lines have been lost but let’s see this as an opportunity to collectively deal with poor climber behaviour in a positive way. Commit to improving your behaviour personally and politely challenging others whose actions could cause access problems. In many ways we’re at a tipping point and if we don’t take care of this ourselves, further access losses are inevitable.
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