In advance of the March BMC area meetings, Cymru North Wales Chair Tim Jepson shares his thoughts on the future of the BMC in Wales, international standards, and the challenges of climate change.
The BMC in Wales
I always felt that it was too ambitious to try to achieve an agreed future for the BMC in Wales by the time of the AGM at Plas y Brenin in June, and so it has proved. But I'm not disappointed by the delay, this is such a momentous decision to take that it can't be rushed and has to go through a proper consultation process with all committees, and all members who have an interest in what the BMC can and should be doing in Wales – that, by the way, is ALL BMC members, wherever they live! The experience of Brexit makes it clear that controversial, complex decisions can't be sensibly made in the absence of clearly presented unambiguous information. I wonder how many BMC members in England recognise that when they come to Wales, their access to the hills is governed by a devolved Senedd in Cardiff, not the parliament they elected to Westminster?
So, having decided that a definitive resolution could not be ready for the AGM in June, the all-Wales group is currently working on establishing an interim 'Wales Committee' which can present options and advice to the BMC board and then oversee completing the process of finding the best, agreed solution for improving the future influence of the BMC in Wales.
READ: BMC Cymru Committee - draft Terms of Reference
So we think we've got problems!
While working recently on UIAA Mountain Leader/Skills training course in the Western Ghats, inland from Mumbai, I was able to reflect on the relatively small scale of the problems we face in North Wales in respect of litter, overcrowding, access, equipment, organised events, erosion, mountain rescue and more! The rapidly expanding middle class in India now have the time, money and motivation to seek outdoor experiences at weekends, as a relief from their long hours of work behind a computer screen. This has led to the instant growth of a large commercial adventure sector and the emergence of trekking, camping, abseiling and zip-lining opportunities, both in the hills and in adventure parks, the scale of which make 'Zip World' look like a children's playground. But with limited national tradition in this area, and no standardised training/accreditation systems to guide operators, things are beginning to spiral out of control with piles of litter at popular campsites, huge groups queuing for massive abseils down loose cliffs and 'valley-crossings' (zip-lines) of up to a kilometre in length using locally-sewn, untested harnesses, and home-made bolt anchors. Accidents have occurred, but there are no helicopters and few people who can carry out a rescue. One of the objectives behind the UIAA training course was to advise on 'international standards' for such activities. I hope our incredulity got the message across, but I was left feeling both lucky that our problems in North Wales are less acute than in India, and determined that we mustn't let our situation deteriorate any further.
Climbate (sic) Change
This winter has been pretty grim in North Wales in respect of weather and conditions. Occasional snow on the hills has provided some nice days of winter walking and scrambling, but warm, wet, windy storms have prevented any build-up significant snow and ice. What little sun we have seen hasn't been sufficient to dry out the rock for more than very brief periods, even on the coast, and consequently the climbing walls have been doing good business! If lack of snow and wet rock have become the norm for a North Wales winter, and these are the consequence of human-influenced climate change, then there is an irony that walkers and climbers are now motivated by a lack of activity opportunities locally to jump on a plane and fly to Norway, Switzerland, Greece, Spain or Morocco in search of snow and/or sun … often multiple times per winter. Since Christmas, I've been to India and the Pyrenees, but I don't feel good about it, and I worry about where it is all going to end if we don't accept a degree of personal responsibility by flying less (while staying longer?) or supporting initiatives like Extinction Rebellion!
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