In advance of the March BMC area meetings, access and conservation officer for Wales, Elfyn Jones provides an update on recent work and developments in Wales.
Welsh Government Access Reform Programme
This is a major piece of work by Welsh Government that may fundamentally affect access to the coast and countryside of Wales, hopefully for the better!
Among many aspects of public life, since devolution most of the issues that affect both citizens and visitors to Wales are now fully devolved to the Welsh Government and are very different to the situation in England. Matters such as access to the countryside, National Parks, transport, health, agriculture, education, tourism and many other significant areas of public life (including some taxation matters) and legislation are now fully devolved to the Welsh Assembly (soon to be called the Welsh Parliament) and are very different to laws made by Westminster and not the responsibility of the UK government.
In 2019, following a long and extensive public consultation (with nearly 17,000 responses, the most responses ever received to any Welsh Government consultation), Welsh Government announced the setting up of a Welsh Access Reform Programme. The consultation looked at ways of improving the way access to the coast and countryside to Wales is managed and how the legal processes surrounding access could be simplified and improved.
As part of this consultation, the BMC campaigned to have “open access” extended to include the sea cliffs and coastal slopes of Wales (for instance, currently there is no right of access to climb on sea cliffs in Wales, even when the top of the cliff is mapped as open access under the CROW Act, the act goes on to state and specifically excludes sea-cliffs and coastal slopes from being mapped as open access!).
Former Welsh environment minister John Griffiths visits Ynys Lawd (South Stack) Anglesey with the BMC. Photo: Ray Wood.
The Reform Programme is in three parts:
Part 1 looks at simple reforms that can be carried out relatively quickly and is more about simplifying existing legislation, mainly relating to archaic technical processes surrounding public rights of way, such as the need to advertise any diversions or changes to public rights of way in the London Gazette, removing the requirement to have to record any “lost” or previously unrecorded rights of way before the 2026 deadline and possibly more controversial (but sensible) to make it a legal requirement that dogs are to be on a short lead at all times when “in the vicinity” of livestock.
Part 2 is looking at improvements to access that require more debate and discussions and are more radical.
These are grouped into three separate specialist areas, and so-called “Expert Groups” have been set up to look at these issues and all are made up of selected individuals from recreation groups, access specialists, landowners and farming unions.
Group 1 is looking both at removing some of the restrictions on what activities can be carried out on open access land as well as crucially for BMC and its members, extending open access to the sea cliffs of Wales. At present swimming in lakes and rivers is technically unlawful (trespass), paragliding or hang gliding is similarly unlawful, and so on. Controversially here, there is a proposal to consider allowing cyclists and horse riders to use land mapped as open access land. This group will also look at allowing non-motorised access for boating (kayaking) to water bodies on open access land. BMC is part of this expert group, represented by Elfyn Jones and this involves not only attending a considerable number of workshops and seminars but also representing the wider outdoor community and reporting back to those groups and making sure that the outdoor community views are heard.
Group 2 is looking at changes to the rights of way network, which among other issues are looking at creating a new category of “Public Cycle Paths”, which are existing public footpaths, but which could be used by cyclists. They are also looking at making it easier to legally create, vary and temporarily divert public rights of ways to suit local circumstances.
Group 3 is looking at how these changes can be publicised, to see if the Countryside Code needs to be updated, how the public and landowners can be made aware of these rights and any new codes of behaviour and practices that will need to be introduced.
The various groups are meeting throughout 2020 and will feed into to a report to be compiled by the end of the year that will go to the Minister. She will then direct her staff and lawyers at Welsh Government to re-write existing legislation and, if needed create new legislation and produce a “white paper” to go before the Welsh Parliament for debate, scrutiny and to enact new legislation in June 2021.
Part 3 is looking specifically at access to open water and is currently looking at negotiated or voluntary access opportunities, with the caveat that if reasonable and acceptable access for users is not agreed, then Government would look at separate new legislation to enable this.
It’s a complex and challenging programme with no certainty that Assembly Members will actually agree to the changes. There is cross-party support for most of the programme but there is no doubt that many parties (especially as there are Welsh Parliament elections due in 2021) that any changes will be highly political. BMC is working with other recreational bodies to ensure that there is effective lobbying to get political support for these changes. Along with many other recreational bodies we have supported and been involved with the setting up of the “Welsh Outdoor Alliance” of recreational groups; the aim of which is to give a strongly joined-up political voice and presence to outdoor recreational groups, to ensure that, while as representative of individual outdoor interests, we may differ regarding certain aspects of the new proposals, that as an “outdoor sector” we speak in unison on these matters and provide a collegiate lobbying response to Welsh politicians.
The minutes of the steering group and ongoing discussions can be seen on the Welsh Government website: https://gov.wales/access-to-the-countryside
Site based access news
Pembrokeshire Range West: 2020 Briefing Information
Range West, Pembroke. Photo: Steve Quinton.
All climbers wanting to climb at Range West on the Castlemartin army range in Pembrokeshire must attend an annual safety briefing.
This is because the venue is still a very active live firing range and there is a real danger of stepping on unexploded bombs or similar!
The Range West briefing dates for 2020 are listed below; the evening ones are all on Thursdays and the morning ones all on Saturdays, except for the Bank holiday/Good Friday one:
Thursday 5 March at 18.00
Saturday 7 March at 10.00
Thursday 9 April at 18.00
Friday 10 April at 10.00 (Good Friday)
Thursday 21 May at 18.00
Saturday 23 May at 10.00
(Bank holiday weekend and BMC Pembroke Climbing Festival)
Saturday 1 August at 10.00
This is an additional briefing specially requested by BMC to enable climbers to make use of the non-firing period throughout August.
As always, all the briefings are at Castlemartin Army Camp. Please turn up a few minutes early to allow time to pass through the security gate, etc.
In addition, the non-firing days for 2020 are April 4th to April 19th and there is no firing at all on any days in August, which always means access to everyone to climb on Range East and for briefed climbers only, to Range West for the whole of the Easter shutdown and for all of August.
READ: Pembroke: Range West dates 2020
Craig y Forwyn, Llanddulas
Craig y Forwyn.
A few changes here. There are new owners for the land holding Pentre Du, that includes the right-hand side of the crag. This is the section from the stile (start of the route Purple Haze) eastwards to the end of the crag (Sangfroid Area). BMC have met with the new owners and while they have concerns about climbing and historic behaviour by climbers, they are currently not minded to refuse access. The new owners of Pentre Du are sympathetic towards climbing and access but any bad behaviour, or any climbing related access issues will lead to this access being withdrawn. If there are no issues, BMC is very hopeful of a more secure long-term agreement here. In the meantime, it appears that the owners of the central (Mojo/Great Wall area) have now succeeded in obtaining permission to redevelop the caravan park and it’s hoped will now be amenable to reopen negotiations about access to this section of the crag.
Snowdonia Transport and Parking Consultation
Ticketed cars at Pen y Gwryd.
Everyone is aware of the worsening parking and transport issues around Wyddfa and Ogwen during peak times. The National Park have employed consultants to look into the issues and to recommend solutions. The consultants are holding a series of workshops and stakeholder engagements events with user groups and others. By the time of the BMC area meetings the first major stakeholder event will have been held and we will know more about the process. Some may remember the ill-fated (and possibly before its time?) suggestions that came out of a similar study over 20 years ago, called The Green Key. This recommended closing all car parks in the central part of Snowdonia and encouraging users to park at selected gateway hubs on the edge of the park and use electric buses to access the main areas of Ogwen and Llanberis Pass. This was overwhelmingly rejected as being unworkable at the time and the ideas were dropped. Initial discussions with the consultants seem to be pointing to similar ideas being suggested again but with more advanced technology. BMC is involved in the consultation and we hope to report more on this as things progress.
Cefn Coed – Taff Fechan, Merthyr
Following on from the incidents last year, when this crag, which mainly lies within a local nature reserve and a legally protected SSSI was considerably re-developed and during which mature trees, ivy, and other vegetation was cleared without consent and visible evidence of active birds’ nests being destroyed (itself an offence) and probable disturbance of bat roosts, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and South Wales Police decided that there was insufficient evidence and it was unlikely that the actual perpetrators of the offences could be identified to continue with a prosecution.
In the meantime, local climbers have removed much of the fixed equipment from the site, which was part of the agreement and undoubtedly helped with the investigation being dropped.
There is still a strong demand from climbers to gain access to this site, as it’s a quick drying, highly accessible and worthwhile climbing venue but for the time being the owners, the leaseholders and NRW are currently unwilling to consider this due to the past actions by climbers at this site. BMC is still working on this and are in contact with both Merthyr Council (the owners), South and West Wales Wildlife Trust (leaseholders) and NRW to seek a compromise agreement.
It seems that this really useful and accessible sport climbing venue is currently undergoing substantial groundworks by the housing developers. This is a really sad state of affairs as initially they had been very positive about allowing climbing at this venue and even discussed how this could become a positive feature of the housing development, they even got as far as discussing either granting a licence or even a lease to the BMC for this crag. BMC sent various documents and draft licenses and leases to the company but had no response and despite repeated emails and phone calls to the company and the site manager, there was no further contact. In early February the BMC finally managed to obtain a response form the company and it seems the original Asset Manager that we met with left the company very quickly and hadn’t left any notes or record of our meeting. It transpires that the land that includes the crag is sub-let to another developer who have already obtained planning permission and consents to develop further housing immediately below the crag. Unfortunately, this means that access for climbing is highly unlikely and in fact the rock face may end up being substantially landscaped to ensure safety of the housing development directly below the cliff. We are hoping to have a site meeting with the developers to try one more time to see if anything can be salvaged but it isn’t looking positive at the moment.
Pandy Quarry (Pantymwyn) update
Still waiting on a date for a site meeting with the landowner to discuss access issues, but they mainly relate to liability concerns which we are confident can be overcome.
BMC Climbing Festivals 2020
Dates for the diary! There will be two BMC climbing festival in Wales in 2020:
The first will be the Pembroke/Penfro Climbing Festival on the Sping Bank Holiday weekend of May 22nd until 25th. As always held at the Bosherston Campsite, close to St Govans.
The other will be the Gower Climbing Festival on August 21st to 23rd.
Further details, including workshops, talks, events, etc. will be published on the various websites, including the BMC and Facebook pages.
Tremadog Spring Clean and Bwlch y Moch tree work
Another diary date! Saturday March 28th. If you climb and care for this place, then come along and help out at the Tremadog spring clean day. The intention is to clear paths, remove some fallen trees and branches and re-open the path to the base of Meshach following the controlled rock-fall last year. Over the winter there has been some storm damage to trees and other trees have been removed and reduced by specialist tree surgeons. Following the winter storms, trees have fallen, and path damage has also occurred at Craig Pant Ifan. Bring tools (hand tools only please, we will have fully qualified and competent contractor on hand with any necessary power tools), gloves, good footwear and lots of enthusiasm. BMC, in combination with Gareth and Jo at the newly reopened café and car park will provide refreshments. (Note…this is not a Tremfest type event but rather a work day to clear the crag and carry out essential maintenance work).
READ: Tremadog Spring Clean: volunteers needed
DOWNLOAD: the shiny new BMC RAD app
Get all the info on crags with the newly updated RAD (Regional Access Database) app from the BMC! Available now for Android and iOS, it's free and comes with a host of new features like navigation and parking, weather and tidal updates, and of course information on restrictions or notes on access advice. Get it here now!
RAD is community led and your comments help keep it up to date so don’t be afraid to add any relevant information after a crag visit which might be useful for other visitors – anything from conditions on the crag, favourite routes or reports of rockfall/other recent changes to the crag are all useful for other climbers visiting.