Possibly the best sea-cliffs in Wales, with miles of adventurous limestone, but access for climbing along the south coast of Pembrokeshire is also complex with important shared conservation and military land use. Read on for a review of 2021 and details of 2022 access arrangements.
Review of 2021
With limited overseas travel throughout last year, it proved to be an exceptionally busy year along the Pembrokeshire coast in 2021.
It was heartening to hear that despite increased number of climbers, there were no reported incidents of recreational climbers infringing the agreed climbing restrictions along Range East, Mowingword Stackpole or Lydstep areas. People counters installed by the National Park at the main car parks showed it was the busiest year ever since 2006, when the counters were installed.
On the downside there was an increase in the amount of unauthorised overnight camping in vehicles and even in tents on National Park and MoD car parks. Not only is this unauthorised but on the land mentioned, this also a criminal offence as MoD bylaws are in force.
Concerns have also been raised by the National Trust about an increase in commercial coasteering groups, who are venturing onto areas containing protected species and a further meeting is planned to discuss how best to manage those issues.
In terms of nesting birds, the iconic and protected chough had a successful season, with three pairs producing 8 chicks along Range East and a similar success story for the pair nesting at Mother Carey’s Kitchen. The auk population, both razorbills and guillemots also appeared to have a successful season, but the actual numbers have yet to be produced. Unfortunately, and sadly, the kittiwake population has all but disappeared from the south Pembrokeshire coast. From a high of several hundred birds nesting at Stack Rocks less than 10 years ago, only one pair attempted to nest here in 2021. This disastrous decline seems to follow a UK and possibly global trend, and is unconnected to recreational pressure, but likely to be linked to warming seas and climate change affecting sand-eels which is their primary food source.
Range West 2021
As it is a live firing range with real and dangerous ordnance (that’s bombs, rockets and bullets to us non-military types!) in daily use, recreational access to Range West is severely limited – only those attending formal safety briefings and who can demonstrate that they are familiar with the dangers, can enter Range West and only then for the purposes of climbing, surfing (on one beach only) and fishing. As climbers we have negotiated this access with the MoD and the National Park. Other recreational users, such as ramblers, bird watchers, or photographers do not have this privilege or right. In 2021, the National Park and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation set up an on-line briefing module, to allow climbers to avoid having to travel to attend a face to face, in-person safety briefings. This proved very popular with over 467 people attending the on-line briefings and over 850 individual climber visits to Range West, the most ever to visit this special and unique area.
Unfortunately, a significant number of climbers also turned up, claiming to have watched and understood the safety briefing, but when questioned by Range staff when registering to enter, were hopelessly unaware of the dangers or conservation issues found here, that are clearly mentioned in the video briefing. There were also several infringements of the agreed climbing restrictions, with some climbers claiming to be unaware of the seasonal climbing restrictions to protect nesting birds and were seen climbing within restricted areas. Some climbers also were reported to have somehow driven cars onto Range West and almost incredulously, at least two separate groups were found camping within the live firing impact areas, spotted literally minutes before live firing was about to commence. Not only is this obviously lethal but it’s also extremely costly for the MoD who then have to suspend all training activities across the whole range (involving boats, helicopters, fast jets, tanks and ground personnel), costing many tens of thousands of pounds.
Unlike most private land, as this is a live military range, the camp Commandant and Range Safety Officer can be held accountable and be criminally responsible for the safety all personnel on the Range, including recreational visitors.
Range West 2022 Arrangements
Sadly, due to the issues mentioned above, the MoD did not feel that they could continue with the on-line briefing for 2022 and anyone wanting to access Range West for climbing in 2022 and they have informed the BMC that all visitors to Range West will have to attend one of the in-person safety briefing session.
These will be held, as in previous years, at Merrion Camp, Castlemartin Firing Range, Pembroke. Park in the layby the large Chieftain tanks by the front gate and aim to arrive about 5 minutes early to allow time to get through security gates.
Currently, at the time of writing in January 2022, all of Wales is under Alert Level 2 Covid restrictions and numbers who can meet indoors are limited to 30 and all people attending must wear a suitable face covering when indoors. It’s hoped that these limits will be eased before the main Easter briefings.
Range West Briefings 2022
Thursday 20th January 2022 – 18.00
Thursday 17th February 2022 – 18.00
Saturday 12th March 2022 – 09.00
Friday 15th April 2022 – 09.00 (Good Friday Bank Holiday)
Saturday 28th May 2022 – 09.00
Thursday 16th June 2022 – 18.00
Saturday 16th July 2022 – 09.00
WATCH: Respect The Rock - climbing on the ranges at Pembroke on BMC TV