The BMC has a broad remit as the representative body for climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers in England and Wales. Here’s a snapshot of our work for walkers over the years and a look ahead at what the future might hold.
Firstly some background – what has the BMC done for hill walkers?
Supporting hill walkers’ freedoms. Throughout the year the BMC supports many local campaigns to protect the hill and mountain landscape from inappropriate developments including quarrying, fencing, vehicle tracks and renewable energy proposals. Our access team also post numerous articles and position statements on the BMC website; examples from 2019 include responses to a bizarre proposal to allow people to ‘book a wild camping spot’ in a remote area for a fee, and a suggestion in Snowdonia that people should ‘stay away’ from the mountains due to the winter conditions. In both cases the BMC’s response was influential in addressing the situation.
Response to government consultation. BMC staff and volunteers routinely monitor government consultation requests and respond where relevant e.g. evidence on the importance of forest recreation in England (DEFRA and the Independent Forestry Panel); the Glover review of National Parks & AONBs (DEFRA); consultation on the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit (DEFRA), and; the Welsh Government’s consultation on ‘Brexit and our land’ outlining plans for new agricultural policies recognising the value of public access.
Mend our Mountains. The two campaigns have now raised a total of £810k to support 21 footpath repair projects across England, Scotland and Wales. This has been a major effort involving two full-time staff members, the ACT trustees and a dedicated team of volunteers. Projects benefiting from MoM funding are widespread and include Ben Vane, the Great Ridge (Mam Tor), the Neuadd path (Brecon Beacons), Scafell Pike and the Lepe Loop (New Forest).
Hills 2 Oceans – litter & plastics campaign. Launched in March 2019 the BMC has now given out over 600 litter pickers and 4,000 reusable bags. The event calendar is looking busy, and this continues to increase as new clean ups are being arranged. The campaign is being run from the BMC office by Cath Flitcroft and the access team. The BMC is now a Community Partner with Surfers Against Sewage for the 2019 autumn clean series.
Conferences & publications. Examples of relevant BMC conferences include: ‘Challenge events in the uplands: managing the way ahead’, Penrith, Oct 2014; ‘Upland Path Conference: mending our ways’, Penrith, Nov 2016; ‘Climate Change’ debate, Sheffield, 2016; Hill Walking Symposium, Peak District, Nov 2018. Key publications include: ‘New Hill Walkers’, the ‘Green Guide to the Uplands’, and the ‘BMC Landscape Charter – Energy & Infrastructure and Minerals & Quarrying’.
BMC Hill Walking Working Group. The group was set up in January 2015 to promote hill walking within the organisation, organise activities & events, support local volunteers and develop an organisational strategy for hill walking. Whilst the profile of hill walking within the BMC has increased over this period, work on Mend our Mountains has dominated staff workload in 2018-19 and financial challenges have impacted the full implementation of the strategy. The BMC Board remains committed to extending support for hill walking activities in the future.
Political influence. The BMC has published several access manifesto documents over the years to influence government manifestos and policy in both England and Wales. In 2007 the BMC was instrumental in forming the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Mountaineering and we continue to provide the secretariat from the BMC office. This cross-party group of MPs and Peers provides access to the corridors of power and practical support on legislative and funding issues. The APPG’s ‘annual day in the hills’ is an opportunity for the BMC and stakeholders (National Park Authorities, Mountain Rescue etc.) to raise local and national issues in an informal setting.
National Parks. The BMC retains strong relationships with all key National Park Authorities. Alongside key partners the BMC campaigned successfully to ensure the core purpose of National Parks in Wales is retained, that is, “to protect and conserve the natural landscape while promoting the quiet enjoyment of these special places”. The Welsh government had wanted to change this and turn Welsh National Parks into “core economic hubs”. A collaboration of conservation and access groups (including the BMC) persuaded the Minister to reject the recommendations and retain the core purpose and values of National Parks in Wales.
Access legislation in Wales. The BMC has campaigned hard in recent years to persuade the Welsh Government to introduce new regulations to allow free access to the coast and cliffs of Wales, giving walkers and climbers the same rights as they have currently have under CROW Act. Some of the other changes being introduced include relaxing restrictions on wild swimming in natural lakes and rivers. As part of the same consultation, Welsh Government had intended to change the fundamental purpose and objectives of National Parks in Wales.
Scotland. The BMC has been a long standing contributor to hill and mountain access and conservation work in Scotland. Since 2005 the BMC has granted just under £150k to Mountaineering Scotland to support staff and project costs across a range of landscape and conservation initiatives, most recently to assist with the submission of detailed responses to planning applications for hill track construction in relation to new hydropower schemes.
Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA). The BMC worked with MPs and Peers to lay down amendments to the access clauses of the MCAA, which received Royal Assent in November 2009. Since then, we have worked with Natural England, the body responsible for the new rights, to ensure users get the best possible access to the coast including an England coast path which should be complete by 2020. The BMC also supported the development of the Wales Coast Path, officially opened in 2012.
BMC Access & Conservation Trust (ACT). ACT was set up in 2001 and has since contributed around £200k to fund site based conservation work, path repair schemes, winter ground conditions monitoring sites and good practice literature such as the BMC ‘Green Guide to the Uplands’. In 2016 ACT established a major fund raising initiative – Mend our Mountains – which has gone on to become the biggest single campaign ever run by the BMC).
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW). Work on the CROW Act dominated the lives of BMC’s access & conservation staff and volunteers from 1998-2000. Alongside the Ramblers’ Association the BMC had a key influence in the campaign to secure statutory access by foot to open country (mountain, moor, heath and down land) across England and Wales in the face of strong opposition from land owning interests. Securing access under the CROW Act was an immense organisational effort and is the arguably single most important thing the BMC has ever done for hill walkers.
British Upland Footpath Trust (BUFT). The BMC and partners set up BUFT in the early-1990s in response to concerns about footpath build quality and consistency. BUFT operated from the BMC office for 10+ years, ran an annual footpath awards scheme, held conferences for footpath professionals and produced key publications (e.g. Mending our Ways, 1998) encouraging environmentally sensitive footpath design. BUFT had a UK-wide remit and its’ legacy is higher standards and professionalism of path work, greater involvement of user groups in design and construction and increased awareness of the need to protect our mountains from visitor pressure.
In June 2019, Carey Davies, the BMC’s first Hill Walking Development Officer, moved on to become editor of TGO magazine after six years in the job. The first four years were fully funded by Sport England (to help promote opportunities for hill walking) and since then the BMC funded the post. Financial challenges related to a substantial (c.£250k) budget deficit in 2019 means direct replacement of the role is not possible at this time.
Over the last five years a Hill Walking Strategy has been produced, several relevant conferences held, regional hill walking reps recruited, group walks integrated into AGM weekends and BMC media (online and Summit magazine) has struck a much improved balance of climbing / hill walking content. Throughout 2018-19 the high profile Mend our Mountains campaign dominated the workload (c.90%+) of the Development Officer (at the expense of all other work) and at the same time Sport England advised us that (despite earlier indications) it was not in fact prepared to fund the Hill Walking Strategy which amongst other things called for the creation of two additional staff posts. Until such time as the BMC’s finances allow for the recruitment of a replacement – existing staff will cover key aspects of hill walking work including the final stages of Mend our Mountains, creative writing for the website and the 2019 access conference. From September some additional staff resource will be available in the form of a Partnerships Manager – a Sport England role aimed at promoting opportunities for people to experience hill walking and climbing.
The profile of hill walking in the BMC’s organisational structure and media has come a long way over this period led by a combination of the Hill Walking Working Group (chaired by Peter Judd, and Brian Smith before him) and the Development Officer. The recently appointed chair of the BMC Board of Directors – Gareth Pierce – is a keen hill walker (and long standing member of Clwb Mynydda Cymru) and several other BMC directors including Matthew Bradbury, Huw Jones, Roger Fanner and Amanda Parshall share a strong interest. In addition BMC President Lynn Robinson completed the two-week long Scottish coast-to-coast TGO Challenge walk earlier this year and is a committed enthusiast.
A key theme in the BMC’s 2015-19 Strategic Plan was for the BMC to become the ‘natural home for hill walkers’. This has been an ambitious objective and a big ask with the available resources but for the adventurous hill and mountain walker the organisation has done much over the years, and remains firmly committed to the cause. The precise way ahead beyond 2019 is still a work in progress. A new strategic plan is in preparation and goes out to consultation in advance of the September Area meetings; all BMC members are encouraged to get involved and have their say. The BMC’s role as a hill and mountain access, conservation and environmental advocate will feature strongly, bolstered by the increased media profile and public awareness of the environmental impact of climate change, and the sheer numbers of hill walkers visiting some of our most iconic mountain landscapes.
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