Can I start climbing and hill walking again?

Posted by Rob Dyer on 12/05/2020
Is it time to climb and hill walk?

As lockdown evolves, access to the outdoors is now changing. However, crucially this is still different in England, Wales and Scotland. Our key message to climbers and hill walkers is to be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and extremely vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus.

Covid-19 is a serious disease, and preventing infection and transmission of the virus is still essential. The easing of lockdown depends on a strong collective sense of social responsibility, so if you’re heading outside please ensure your actions don’t have a negative impact or unintended consequences on others.

We’ve put together two sets of advice: general advice which applies wherever you are and whatever you do, and more detailed advice for the different situations in England and Wales. Advice on access in Scotland can be found here

Social distancing and hygiene

  • Stay at home if you are showing symptoms of C-19 or self-isolating.
     
  • Maintain social distancing of at least 2m from anyone outside of your household.
     
  • Be cautious of touching surfaces and shared equipment. Be committed to hand hygiene.

Climbing and hill walking

  • Scale back your ambitions: be cautious, choose objectives within your technical and physical limits to minimise the risk of accidents and injury.
     
  • Avoid very popular areas: seek out less frequented venues, be flexible and have backup plans to avoid overcrowding.
     
  • Check the BMC Regional Access Database: avoid crags with known nesting birds or access issues.
     
  • Where possible, stay local. Whilst this is not part of the government’s guidance, staying local will reduce the load on national parks and rural communities whilst they are sensitive to increased visitor numbers.

Respect

  • Be sensitive to your impact on rural communities and landowners: give houses, farm buildings, vehicles and people a wide berth. Help foster good relationships with local communities for the future. Inconsiderate actions will be damaging for all of us.
     
  • Be aware that some car parks may not be open due to staff shortages. Check if it’s feasible to access your planned destination before setting off.
     
  • Take care not to disturb wildlife which may have moved into unexpected areas during lockdown: cliff-nesting birds are likely to be on new crags due to the lack of visitors. Report new sightings to access@thebmc.co.uk and back off if birds are showing signs of disturbance.
     
  • Be self-reliant, both when climbing and walking and during any travel. Local businesses are likely to remain closed.

Safety, risk and the rescue services

Mountain Rescue and Coastguard services are operating at a severely reduced capacity due to C-19 and response times are likely to be significantly delayed. The need for rescue teams to wear appropriate PPE and adhere to strict new medical protocols will severely impair their ability to provide the usual high standard of care to casualties.

Be aware that air ambulances are operating a significantly reduced service at present. Any call-outs will be subject to specific risk assessments and rescue may not be available, even for serious incidents.

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency have clarified their position: "Her Majesty’s Coastguard continues to operate normally right across the UK. This includes our search and rescue helicopter service, which continues to be sent in emergency situations, whenever needed. However, HM Coastguard asks everyone to check the Government guidelines and remember that, regardless of their level of experience, walkers of all abilities can still be caught out by the unexpected. Remember your choices might put people, including yourself and frontline responders, at risk. Take extra care in these extraordinary times."

For climbers and hill walkers, the bottom line advice from Mountain Rescue England & Wales is that, depending on the circumstance and location, rescue services may not be available. You are encouraged to stay well within your personal limits of ability and competence.

Read the latest update from Mountain Rescue England & Wales

England – specific guidance

For climbers and hill walkers in England only, the new guidance contains two key points which will come into effect on 13 May:

  • Whilst not being explicit, it appears that all outdoor activities and sports (including all types of climbing and walking) will be permitted alone, with others in your household or with one other person at a time from outside your household keeping two metres apart at all times.
     
  • Travel is unrestricted, but importantly different regulations in Wales and Scotland do not allow travel across these borders.

This may be good news for climbers and walkers but it comes with a strong onus for people to take personal responsibility for social distancing and risk management whilst in the countryside. The immediate lifting of travel restrictions also creates significant challenges for landowners and rural communities who have had very little time to prepare for visitors.

The government guidance is clear that, ‘people may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there.’ Whilst this gives anyone in England the right to travel any distance to the outdoors it should be noted that popular National Parks and the coastal areas will be very busy and that social distancing may be difficult.

The BMC advises people to check for any specific local advice by visiting relative websites, such as national parks, National Trust, RSPB, Forestry Commission and local authorities, before setting off from home.

Sport England have confirmed that trainers/coaches, can work with clients outdoors but instructors cannot take out families. You can meet with different clients in a single day as long as it’s only via 1-2-1 sessions and you are maintaining social distancing.

Our interpretation of the guidance is that it does not appear to allow for overnight stays, and accommodation such as campsites and bunkhouses will not be available for some time, so people should plan for day trips only.

This advice is based solely upon the revised government guidance as published on 11 May 2020. At the time of writing the government has not published the updated regulations which provide the legal framework for the restrictions so there is some potential that the guidance and the law will not be exactly the same. We will continue to review and update this guidance as things evolve.

Wales – specific guidance

The situation and legislation in Wales is very different to England. The Welsh Government and police forces have made it very clear that travel from England to Wales for the purpose of exercise is against the regulations and that they will take a hard line against anyone attempting to do so.

Vaughn Gething, the Welsh Minister for Health stated that, ‘people are not allowed to drive from England into Wales for exercise or leisure as the two countries move to different lockdown rules’, he added that, ‘…there are permissible reasons to leave the home, including exercise, rather than leisure and that is quite a significant difference’.

In Wales key upland sites, major footpaths and beauty spots (including many parts of Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast) remain legally closed and are being actively patrolled by park rangers and police.

Read the latest BMC advice on Wales.

What’s next?

As the situation develops, the BMC will adapt our guidance. At this point our key message is to be:

  • Cautious in your actions
  • Respectful of local communities
  • Extremely vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus

We’ll continue to provide the best advice we can as the crisis develops and ask the outdoor community to be respectful of others as we navigate our way back to some form of normality.

Need further clarity? Watch BMC CEO Dave Turnbull live on Wednesday 13th at 12.30pm

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ BMC Facebook Live 

BMC CEO Dave Turnbull returns for another live update to explain what the new exercise regulations mean for the return to climbing and hill walking. Tune in and set the reminder for clarification and direct advice from us:


More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

๐ŸŒณ 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 June here and for the general return to climbing here

๐ŸŒณ What's the situation in Wales? Read the full June update here

๐Ÿ˜ท When and how will the walls reopen?  Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

๐Ÿš— What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

๐Ÿ“œ Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

๐Ÿก Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? All you need to know

โ›ฐ๏ธ Which BMC events are cancelled? Take a look at our calendar 

โœˆ๏ธ I've got a travel insurance question Get your answers

๐Ÿ›’ Is the BMC shop open? Nope - it is now closed

We hope you stay safe during this unwanted adventure and let's come together as a community to help and support each other.


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