Can I drive to go walking or climbing?

Posted by Catherine Flitcroft on 21/04/2020
Can you travel to Wast Water to walk?

News reports last week suggested that it might be possible to drive to go climbing or hill walking. The BMC access team investigate.

New guidance from the College of Policing, which was widely reported last week, seemed to suggest that it was possible to drive for a short time in order to exercise for a longer time. With no definition of what this exercise means, does this now mean that driving for 20 mins (for example) to go bouldering (for instance) is lawful? We think this is not necessarily the case.

This new guidance does not change the regulations: it appears to only apply to England and is aimed at advising police forces on how police officers should be enforcing the law on the ground.  Ultimately, it will be down to police officers and the courts on what they deem to be a ‘reasonable excuse to not be at home’, as stated in the regulations. As with any new laws, until tested at a court, and case law is established, the nuances of interpretation are unclear.

Read the latest guidance from government

Exercise locally, from your front door

The best advice is simply to follow the regulations and exercise locally, from your front door. If you live in a tower block and your nearest green space to exercise is a few miles away then this could be deemed ‘reasonable’, but this would ultimately be down to the police and courts to interpret. 

This new information from the College of Policing doesn’t give us the lawful right to drive to the crag or nearest mountain to climb or walk. This could be defined as unreasonable. The guidance also states we are allowed to partake in one form of exercise once a day so if you walk to the crag, the walking part could effectively be interpreted as your daily exercise.

Is Wales different?

The situation in Wales, where different and more stringent legislation is in place, remains unchanged: most upland areas and popular honeypot areas are closed. It is illegal under the regulations to enter these closed areas.  Police forces in Wales (and also in popular upland and tourist areas of England) were actively messaging over the weekend that it’s not OK to travel from your home to such areas for the purpose of exercise. There are reports of people being issued with fixed penalty fines and being instructed to return to their home addresses.  The regulations in Wales also more clearly stipulate that we can only leave our houses for exercise once a day.

North Wales Police is reminding people that north Wales is currently closed to visitors. Deputy Chief Constable Richard Debicki said: “Our tourist attractions, mountains, pubs, restaurants, caravan, holiday parks and campsites are all closed. Please only travel if your journey is absolutely essential. This means either shopping for food or medicine and for traveling to and from work if you cannot work from home.”

The BMC access team does, however, believe that the extent and reasons given for some of the closures in Wales and especially in the upland National Parks of Wales are disproportionate, are not within the purpose of the regulations and are too extensive. They are severely limiting the opportunities for exercise for the local residents of some communities and BMC is actively lobbying the authorities to review the details of these closures.

REWATCH: Live Access Q&A with BMC CEO

Wednesday 22nd April, Dave Turnbull answered your access questions live.

We’re all in this together

We all want to go climbing and walking in this fantastic spring weather. However, the current advice of the BMC access team is to follow and support the government regulations in order to beat this pandemic.  All other national sporting and representative bodies are also asking their members to respect the guidance and to stop their sport for a short time. 

Another consideration is what happens if it goes wrong. Accidents can happen and the impact this would have on our emergency services at the moment would be immense.  The surrounding negative publicity could also impact future access.

The advice from the RNLI, Coast Guard and Mountain Rescue is simple: stay local and do not go climbing or mountaineering.  Some BMC staff, who are also members of Mountain Rescue teams, have been put at risk recently by those not following guidance. 

The BMC access team is currently working hard for all climbers and hill walkers. We are pushing behind the scenes to emphasise the impact that lockdown is having on our health and wellbeing, and the sooner we can get back into the hills and to our crags the better.

To date, people have been exceptionally respectful of the guidance and this will no doubt put us in a strong position as a community when negotiating access once more.

Remember, that you can still exercise from your front door


More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for July here and for the general return to climbing here

🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full July update here

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  In England it's July 25th Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

✈️ 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


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Anonymous User
21/04/2020
According to ROSPA (https://www.rospa.com/Home-Safety/Advice/General/Facts-and-Figures) most accidents happen at home (more than 6,000 deaths caused by accidents at home each year). During lockdown many who would otherwise be climbing or hill-walking are catching up on the DIY jobs they've been putting off. Overall this puts far more strain on the NHS than allowing locals back into the mountains, and given car number plate recognition technology it would be a simple matter for police to distinguish between visitors and tourists.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
1 - Of course it is physically "possible to drive for a short time in order to exercise". I think you mean permitted or allowed to drive etc.
2 - Note that guidance also states "exercise ... alone or with members of your household".
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
This is a really disappointing article that is not helpful at a time when so many people are struggling with the mental health impacts of being locked in their houses.

The police and crown prosecution service have released charging guidelines based on a legal/public interest assessment of prosecuting breaches of the regs. They clearly think driving to exercise is likely to be a reasonable excuse if the driving is only a small part of the overall activity.

That doesn't mean you can or should go climbing - you've already published an article on that. For the majority of people in this country that don't live near somewhere green they can walk/cycle/run easily, it is not about going climbing. It's about getting out into a proper green space at all. In those circumstances it is clearly reasonable drive a short distance to a place where you can. For people that have been locked in their flats/houses for weeks a slight change of scene can also have a marked impact on their mental well being - that would also be a reasonable excuse.

The BMC is supposed to be an organisation that is meant to encourage people to go outdoors, partly to improve their well-being. You are severely undermining that reputation by over-interpreting the regulations and advising people to not take up the limited freedoms they are currently able to enjoy.

You should be focusing on providing guidance that allows people to enjoy the outdoors in as safe a way as possible. For most people your article will mean not enjoying the outdoors at all. Going climbing and mountaineering is off limits because we don't want to overstretch rescue services. Going for a walk a 20 minute drive from your house should not be.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Since when has the BMC been qualified to give legal advice? The article mistakenly, and very cautiously, offers one interpretation of the advice. As a qualified lawyer, one could spend the day arguing g about whether walking and then climbing constitutes one form of exercise or two (or three).
Surely just read the actual rules, interpret them sensibly for your circumstances and physical ability and be cautious. And, as another post observes, don’t get involved in the far more dangerous activity of diy!
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Once again the BMC fails to accurately understand the recent emergency legislation brought into law on 26th March 2020 and the differences between England and Wales and therefore misrepresents to its membership the facts.

The only difference between the English and Welsh legislation is in terms of exercise is that in Wales the legislation is specific that you can only once a day. In England there is no defined limit on the number of times a day you can take exercise.

There is also nothing in the legislation for either country to prevent anyone travelling to take exercise.

I was personally stopped by the Welsh Police travelling c30 miles to walk up Arenig Fawr . I explained what I was doing and where I was going quoting and showed them the legislation. They advised I was entitled to use the offers word to do what I was doing.

Last Sunday I walked to the top of the Berwyn's Police were not stopping anyone on the A5 and yet again the mountains were deserted allowing social distancing rules to be adhered to with ease.

It is important that the BMC provides accurate comment and also pushes back on the National Park Authority in regard to the extent of footpath closures in North Wales which are excessive .

I have myself written to NPA a critical letter their arrogant non response was "your comments have been noted" , so much for being accountable to tax payers who fund the NPA !

The BMC also need to push back on comments by senior Welsh Police officers that North Wales is closed , it is not closed , certain footpaths are closed.

I urge the BMC to be much more robust in defending your members interests.

When this is over members will look back at the performance of the BMC and rightly ask themselves did our representative body represent us us or not ?

I would argue , and I believe many others will to , that the BMC have done members a disservice by not accurately representing the law as opposed to what Police and HMG might like the law to be and not pushing back on Central Government , the NPA and the Police.


Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Hi,

I've asked the National Police Chief to clarify this in relation to Wales. This is because law and justice is not a devolved responsibility. The law on enforcement of this regulation is England and Wales. I will be raising the extent of the closure in Wales because the regulations state clearly:
(a)to be liable to large numbers of people congregating or being in close proximity to each other, or
(b)the use of which otherwise poses a high risk to the incidence or spread of infection in its area with the coronavirus.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Exercise is not limited to once a day:

article
"The guidance also states we should be partaking in one form of exercise once a day so if you walk to the crag, the walking part could effectively be interpreted as your daily exercise."

Neither the guidance https://5essexcourt.co.uk/images/uploads/articles/Coronavirus_-_A_Guide_for_Police_Forces_in_England_.pdf
nor the law - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made
restrict exercise in England as a reasonable excuse (for not being at home).
The Prime Minister may have said 'once per day' , but his law didnt:

regulation 6.2.b : "to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;"

the Police Guidance states:
"79. The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on the evening of 23 March 2020 also referred
to only “one form of exercise a day”. A restriction on taking exercise “no more than once a
day” has found its way into the Regulations applicable in Wales (see regulation 8(2)(b) of the
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020). However, there is
no such restriction in the Regulations applicable in England. It follows that police forces in
England do not have the power under regulation 6 to restrict people from exercising more
than once per day – the only relevant consideration is whether repeated exercise on the same
day can be considered a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home.
80. Moreover, regulation 6 does not impose any express limitation on the distance that an
individual can travel away from home. So, for example, there is no requirement that physical
exercise must be carried out in the immediate vicinity of the home. Again, the only relevant
consideration is whether the person engaged in physical exercise has a “reasonable excuse”
for leaving the place where they are living."

So please stop repeating the incorrect stance that exercise should be once a day.

Matthew
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Neither the regulations nor the College of Policing (CoP) guidance state that we should be partaking in exercise. Instead, they state that it is permitted to leave home in order to take part in exercise. And they do not state that only one form of exercise is possible each day. The CoP guidance states that it is reasonable to drive to the countryside and walk (where far more time is spent walking than driving).

Only the most popular mountain areas in North Wales are closed. these areas are detailed on the Snowdonia National Park website.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
The relevant English regulations simply refer to being able leave the house to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household (reg 6(2)(b) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. The same wording is contained in the Scottish version of those regulations. There is no other limitation in those regulations and daily changing government or local police force views on what is and isn't reasonable is not the law. Only the courts can decide what is reasonable in any circumstance based on these regulations? I have not looked at the Wales regulations.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
Hhmm. What does the B in BMC stand for? Advice is given for England and Wales, but what about Scotland? what about Northern Irelznd?
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
I am old enough now to remember 2 foot and mouth outbreaks which sealed off all agricultural land which included all hills and mountains. This of course didn’t affect townies only rural populations and the outdoor fraternity. So this makes 3 times the countryside has been off limits to outdoor people. That’s about once every 2o years. That’s still too often. The last outbreak in 2001 saw Snowdonia closed down, it was only then that it was realised how important the area was for tourism and every effort was made to reopen it as soon as possible. Perhaps common sense will soon prevail with the current draconian lockdown and see the countryside open. It’s so healthy for heavens sake.
Anonymous User
21/04/2020
I actually now meet and struggle to avoid many more people locally than I would driving to mountain areas to enjoy miles of nothingness. The Mountains are now my life and I miss them terribly, they help me cope with the grief of the many tragedies that have occurred in my life. Pre lockdown I had been quite keen to explore, and anxiously catch up on many years now lost. It has also taken years to carefully build up my hill fitness, which I do not want to lose. The Mountains are the only joy I have left in life, and are much more than just exercise for me. I hope a sensible agreement can be reached to allow travel and access to them once more.
Anonymous User
22/04/2020
The actual government guidance says: “14. Can I drive to a national park or other green space to walk?
We advise you to stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily.
You can still go to the park for outdoor exercise once a day but only by yourself or within your household, not in groups.
We ask you to keep 2 metres apart from others outside your household at all times when outdoors.”
The law says that a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home includes “to take exercise alone or with other members of the household”.
So it seems reasonable to assume that taking exercise locally is not going to get anyone into trouble irrespective of what that exercise is - walking and climbing are both arguably classed as ‘exercise’.
Different rules apply in Wales, Scotland and NI.
The BMC’s view seems rather an overreaction for the actual English rules.
Do people have a ‘responsibility’ to behave more cautiously than the rules or guidance as the BMC seems to be suggesting to ‘protect the NHS’? As another post observes, far more accidents happen at home...
Anonymous User
22/04/2020
I too am very disappointed at the BMC’s failure to provide a correct interpretation of the law and any meaningful guidance. As an organisation who is supposed to represent its members, we need you to lead the national debate about exercise and access to the outdoors, give us accurate advice and influence public opinion. One of your Facebook posts says Germany and Sweden have guidance and they haven’t stopped climbing. If this is right? If so why haven’t we got it? And where were the BMC when walkers were being followed by drones at Curbar? Like many of the people who have commented below I miss the mountains, even though I can see them from my house. It seems as if the BMC have just caved in and taken the easy way out by saying, “Don’t go!”. You are a representative body - please get out there and represent us!
Anonymous User
23/04/2020

That article conflicts with what the CPS police guidance ACTUALLY SAYS.

CPS/Police guidance:
''Likely to be Reasonable: Driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving).

Exercise can come in many forms, including walks. Exercise must involve some movement, but it is acceptable for a person to stop for a break in exercise. However, a very short period of ‘exercise’ to excuse a long period of inactivity may mean that the person is not engaged in ‘exercise’ but in fact something else. It is lawful to drive for exercise.''
..

Contrast the CPS guidance, with the BMC's:

BMC
''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.''
..

Is that the BMC's official position? Is it an accidental misrepresentation of the guidance? Is it an opinion piece?
It's impossible to tell - because they write 'The advice' rather than 'The government's advice' or 'The BMC's advice'.

Actually I get the strong impression now that the BMC are terrified of their own members swamping the countryside. This is reflected in them twice refusing to acknowledge in public the official CPS guidance that it's reasonable to drive to go and do exercise. They seem to believe that their role is not to represent climbers/hillwalkers but to control them.

Compare with Surf England's stance: https://www.surfingengland.org/latest-corona-virus-update-22-03-2020/

Communications and leadership from the BMC looks shambolic in comparison. You're role is to represent us, not try to control us. Misrepresenting the guidance does no-one any favours.
Anonymous User
24/04/2020
Really disheartening to see some of the comments on here. Surely the most important thing right now is to try and reduce the impact on health services in whatever way we can? Yes you can pick holes in the law and guidance, but really why? This is the one time where most people are pulling together to do the right thing for a few months, and then you've got a small portion who can't bear to think in a way that is about the greater good rather than individualism.

Re comments on uplands in Wales, the vast majority of local people are really supportive of the closures from what I've heard locally and seen on social media - only the honey pot sites where closed in order to send a strong message to visitors that the mountains were closed. The police, councils, national parks etc are working hard to try and protect people in the area from the disease. The BMC in Wales should be working with these organisations not against them!
Anonymous User
25/04/2020
Does the BMC only comment on England & Wales?

In any case, this is really disappointing, not such a deep dive from an organisation that should be helping to fully inform it’s members, especially in matters as confusing as this one.

Don’t want to sound completely negative so, your instructional videos are excellent!
Anonymous User
29/04/2020
"Really disheartening to see some of the comments on here. Surely the most important thing right now is to try and reduce the impact on health services in whatever way we can? Yes you can pick holes in the law and guidance, but really why? This is the one time where most people are pulling together to do the right thing for a few months, and then you've got a small portion who can't bear to think in a way that is about the greater good rather than individualism."

Who is to say what is the 'greater good', or 'the right thing'? You? Why not me?

I can accept that most people are of the opinion that the actions being taken are morally right, but there does need to be an appreciation that morality is a very personal thing. I for instance find the curtailment of freedoms morally abhorrent - I and many others find it equally distressing that so many people blindly go along with these restrictions, but I don't feel the need to judge your sense of morality, I simply disagree and am happy to leave it at that provided the same is offered in return.

Ultimately free citizens can, and I would say are duty bound to, come to their own judgement about the measures. There is no such thing as absolute morality, each person's individual assessment is based on many competing factors. For me, individualism is at the core of my sense of ethics - I would find it utterly immoral to try to impose my will upon somebody for my own perceived gain. Phrases like 'the greater good' fill me with dread, for they imply the imposition of one particular view of what is 'good'.

Some examples of some of the moral dilemmas involved in dealing with this outbreak, we'll all come to our own conclusions, but I would encourage everybody to consider deeply their own position, and appreciate that not everybody will agree, without being 'selfish' or 'evil'...

What right does an individual have to take risk? As a group of people who take part in risky activities regularly, the balance of this issue ought to be of great concern;

What right do we collectively have to force the individual to behave in a particular way when it is highly detrimental to them in order to possibly benefit another? At one end of the scale removing the liberty of a mass murderer to prevent further killings is uncontroversial, another extreme, enslaving a person would generally be considered evil, but maybe not if 'the greater good' required it? Is it selfish to expect one to lose their livelihood and home for another less fortunate?

Is it right to save lives at all cost? What cost is acceptable? Are lives more valuable if they are lost for one reason or another? Is it right to discard rights gained at the expense of many lives in the past in order to preserve lives now?

We seem to have a large portion who can't bear to consider that other people are acting out of an equally strong sense of right and wrong, but merely come to different conclusions and assign different weight to the issues involved.
Anonymous User
30/04/2020
I agree with those posts critical of the bmc - I think there has been a lamentable failure to promote the needs of members and a failure to critically and constructively question misleading and incorrect guidance. There seems also to be a great deal of confusion as to the purpose of lockdown measures - ie to reduce the transmission of the virus and to minimise pressure on the NHS. In this context there is no point in refraining in any particular activity if to do so will have little or no impact on those things. So we should be asking to what extent climbing or hillwalking (or travelling to do those things) will: a) transmit covid-19 b) lead to extra demand on the NHS.

As regards virus transmission I would think that going to the supermarket (if my experience here in cumbria is typical) is far more likely to lead to transmission than is hillwalking or climbing - there are plenty of people in the shops who simply aren't social distancing but who I can't avoid - but could easily avoid if I was out walking.

As regards demand on services the most recent figures on mountain rescue for England and wales that I have found (2017) showed 1468 deployments. 79% were hillwalking, 8% climbing of any sort. There were 31 fatalities and 773 injuries. Draw your own conclusions. I can't find any data on the current no. of callouts to vehicle breakdowns or traffic accidents but since traffic volumes are down you might expect a reduction in these. In any case it should be the job of BMC to explore these matters and to utilise the findings to inform public debate - not simply passing on inaccurate advice unquestioningly.
Anonymous User
06/05/2020
I'm sorry to have to say I agree with many of the previous comments critical of the BMC. As a member resident in Scotland , and also a member of M.S., I am similarly critical of the rather supine attitude of that organisation too. In my opinion it is is not the job of the BMC or M.S. to make quasi-legal interpretations of government regulations. The regulations plus official guidance have been published, and are there for individuals to interpret. BMC /MS should be lobbying governments to reverse some of the more perverse restrictions on travel and outdoor activity that work counter to the purpose of achieving social distancing, and which may have inadvertently led to many more infections ( deaths) than might have been.

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