When will I be able to go climbing and hill walking again?

Posted by Elfyn Jones on 04/05/2020
When will the hills reopen? Photo: Shutterstock

As Covid 19 restrictions show no end, many of us are wondering when we can get back to normality, and the freedom to take part in hill walking and climbing outside. Elfyn Jones from the BMC access team takes a look at the situation – and what the BMC is doing about it.

For climbers and hill-walkers, there is no doubt that the current restrictions have a very real impact on our social, physical and mental health. The outdoor environment provides a real sense of freedom, so being told by governments of the UK that we cannot even leave our homes, unless for very specific reasons, seems totally at odds with our values and freedoms.

What’s the situation now?

The regulations, that are significantly different in both content and in their enforcement, are different in various parts of the UK. Getting a true interpretation of these and what they mean for our activities is difficult and complicated.

The BMC’s advice, as in previous articles, remains unchanged. It is based on both professional independent legal opinion and on real-life examples of the enforcement of the regulations by police forces.

BMC staff have had to respond to several requests directly from police forces asking us to inform and remind climbers and hill walkers that travelling to go climbing or hill-walking is not, in their opinion, regarded as one of the “reasonable excuses” to leave the home, and that police forces do not want to be spending time issuing warnings or fixed penalty fines to climbers and hill-walkers.

WATCH: Access and Conservation Officer Rob Dyer, live responding to access questions [29/04/2020]

We know that everyone’s situation is different. Some people are fortunate to live within walking or cycling distance to a bouldering, a climbing venue  or a nearby hill and feel that the regulations may not be as relevant to them. However, the regulations appear to be a blunt instrument aimed at keeping everyone in their homes unless for specified reasons, that includes for exercise (and in Wales, this is only once a day and “low risk”, however that is defined). Without tests cases at a court, it is impossible to define all the possible activities that could be regarded as legitimate “exercise” and the regulations do not try to define this.

The legal opinions the BMC has seen, and the guidance issued by the various governments and actions taken by the police, seem to strongly indicate that “exercise”, with a few regional exceptions, is effectively limited to low-level walking, cycling and running close to home.

What is the BMC doing to get climbing and hill-walking restarted?

It is clear that easing the restrictions will not happen overnight. In all probability, there will be a gradual easing rather than a sudden end. This could be very different in different parts of the UK and for various activities and different groups of society. Welsh and Scottish Government have already published plans and key indicators that must be met before any easing of the lockdown can be considered.

Through discussions with other recreation and government bodies, conversations are focussing on what the ‘new normal’ will look like. Getting fully back to normal, as things were pre-Covid-19 is likely to take some time, but the BMC alongside many other organisations is considering ways that some aspects of our recreational activities can resume in the meantime. Key to this thinking through ways to minimise risk of transmission through our activities, alongside many other variables set by government that are not yet clear and may change through a phasing process.

READ: Can I drive to go walking or climbing?

The BMC has set up a Covid workgroup to advise and support the officers and staff. This is made up of legal experts, local access reps, board members, a medical/immunology expert, and other key volunteers. This group is meeting weekly and are consulted daily.

BMC staff are attending weekly and, in some cases, daily meetings with other recreational bodies and in particular with governments, National Parks and statutory bodies such as Natural England, DEFRA and in Wales, Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government.

WATCH: BMC CEO Dave Turnbull, updates members on hillwalking and climbing access [22/04/2020]

We are working closely with other sporting bodies, the Outdoor Industries Associations, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, The Outdoor Alliance for Wales, The Welsh Sports Association, etc to name but a few. The main focus of our work at the moment is to ensure climbing and hillwalking are considered alongside the many other recreational activities being discussed. It’s more vital than ever that the representative bodies of all these activities work together to lobby and put pressure on the various governments of the UK to ensure our activities can be returned to in a safe way as soon as the situation allows.

We are currently preparing a recovery plan, looking in detail at what practical measures can be taken to allow climbing and hill-walking. We are modelling different scenarios, depending on how the easing of lockdown will look like, taking into account social distancing issues, hygiene control, climbing with members of the same household, the travel to and from mountains and climbing locations, different climbing styles, how to avoid crowds at crags, honeypot summits or car parks and, of course, the very real issue the ability of rescue services to respond to accidents.

In Wales, we have already had some small success (in conjunction with Ramblers Wales) and supported by the Outdoor Alliance for Wales, written to and had a positive response from the Deputy Minister regarding the illegal closures of rights of way. As a direct result of this letter, the Minister has reminded local authorities and National Parks that the path network as a whole, should remain open for local exercise.

READ: What is the BMC Access Team doing right now?

Closures should only be where there is a risk of large gatherings or a high risk of transmission. We are very pleased to see that local authorities are now actively removing obstructions and responding to complaints of closures or illegal obstructions. We are also actively discussing and lobbying National Parks to identify specific areas where the closed areas can be modified, and the extent of closed areas reduced.

A key message that is coming from all recreational bodies is that, currently, all recreational users are very much in the public spotlight and that all of us in, carrying out our activities are highly visible ambassadors for our activity.

The overall behaviour of hillwalkers and climbers in refraining from their activities and in adhering to guidance is critical to the negotiations and lobbying that is underway to reopen the countryside. So far in many area climbers and hillwalkers have been commended by National Park Authorities and large landowning organisations like the National Trust for doing a great job in exercising restraint and we want to thank the hill walking and climbing community for this. It will certainly stand us in good stead when discussing re-opening and the likelihood of our community following good practice advice and will help get us back to a situation as close to normal as possible in a safe and responsible manner. This is what we are working on and is fully the highest priority for the access team and indeed all of the BMC at this time.


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 June here and for the general return to climbing here

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

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? All you need to know

⛰️ Which BMC events are cancelled? Take a look at our calendar 

✈️ I've got a travel insurance question Get your answers

🛒 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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19
04/05/2020
Climbing is now allowed in Switzerland and mountain huts are reopening next week. I hope the BMC is looking at how this is being done while still maintaining social distancing.
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
I think the risk of outdoor activities catching or spreading disease is incredibly low, especially hillwalking, and especially done solo at off peak hours and locations. The depression and decrease in general health I am beginning to suffer from after years of missing out on life by being a carer is something I'm not going to tolerate much longer. It would only lead to suicide and I would therefore find ways and take the risk of fines etc. The whole situation is quite ludicrous, with stores and workplaces open, and even macdonalds will be open soon. I protected my own health and the NHS by saving my own health and not being a burden to anyone after years and years of neglect of too much responsibility at too young an age. I wish people would be sensible and understand the impact this lockdown is having. I won't be able to cope much longer. My job and coping methods all removed from me overnight along with hope.
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
I go to great pains when out in the hills to not be within sight of other people, let alone two metres! I understood the need to prevent unessential travel when there were so many unknowns about this situation, but now that our brilliant emergency services appear not to be so overwhelmed, the idea that I cannot drive a short way to go for a solo hike and camp seems more absurd by the day.

As another poster mentioned, the impact of this restriction on mental and physical health is extremely severe. The restorative and healing effect of being in the beautiful wilderness is widely known and without any sign of reasonable concessions or easing being made I am rapidly losing hope for the future. It’s insane to be restricted to ever more crowded local parks when our vast wilderness is right there, unutilised. The rules we now live under are arbitrary and draconian, and it astounds me how readily people have accepted them.

I just hope the work BMC and others will lead swiftly to some restrictions being lifted, because the sheer human misery caused by the current state of affairs will not be understood for years to come.
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
Seems nuts that the council owned mountain bike trail local to me is open as normal and yet there is no plan to start allowing climbing at equally local (and non-honeypot) sport climbing and bouldering spots.... For the record I haven't gone climbing, keeping myself occupied cycling on some pleasantly empty country roads starting right from my front door. Others are not in such a fortunate position...when will they be able to escape their crowded local parks?
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
It is easy to justify, “but it’s just me and I’m careful/competent/young/experienced/etc.” However try asking the question, would it be ok if everyone (or everyone who would like to) did this (walking/climbing/driving to the crag/paddling a river/scrambling/etc).
The current restrictions do feel like a blunt instrument, but for the safety of all it seems we need to put aside our personal needs and desires, for a while longer, to support the greater good.
05/05/2020
Growing evidence that it's much safer to exercise outdoors. Time to put even more pressure on the governments to let us back into the hills and put their efforts into what actually works: testing and contact tracing.

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/4/24/21233226/coronavirus-runners-cyclists-airborne-infectious-dose
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
It would be amazing if the BMC could support genuinely evidenced based and logical restrictions only and challenge those that are irrational and illogical. The current restrictions are an unbalanced knee jerk reaction based on propagating fear throughout the general population. All of this is exceptionally poor for people’s mental health. We will he paying the price for this politically driven panic for many years to come. Speak to anyone actually involved in the NHS and understand that the reality of the virus is really nasty if you’re in a vulnerable group but not if you’re not. And the probability of transmitting it outdoors is lower than minimal.
Also, as the article really helpfully points out, a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home has not been tested in court - so there is no definitive legal guidance, only what politicians and the police (under political pressures) have said their view is. Sounds like a police state to me
Anonymous User
05/05/2020
The police guidelines changed in mid April. It is now expressly permitted to
1. drive to the countryside for walking where far more time is spent walking than driving.
2. stop to eat lunch while on a long walk.
As a long walk is allowed this potentially means longer journeys are possible. How far can you drive for a 10 hour walk? However the police in the Lakes are still taking a hard line and turning people back from outside the county. They do publicise this to discourage others but recent reports have emphasised they have turned back people planning short walks so there might be leeway - or not!
In the Lakes people did seem to observe advice at first but there are some people on the fells - particularly the lower hills. This is the position around Keswick but it presumably holds good for other areas. The objection to going on the hills seems to be not putting the rescue teams at risk because the risk of catching/transmitting the virus on the fells seems very small and it is good healthy exercise. However surely a better way of addressing this is the teams simply saying they are not going to attend call outs. Mountaineers assess risk all the time and the lack of rescue teams wouldn't make a great deal of difference to most. This is not to to denigrate the teams in any way as they do a great job, however if we are prevented from doing the activity we love to keep the teams safe this is going to lead to resentment and ill will which is not in anyone's interest.
Anonymous User
06/05/2020
So kind of you to commend us for not using what we are already free to use. So generous of you to remind us our good behaviour will be rewarded with future access to what is ours. This is all coming from a body that enshrines the right that people are free to take personal risks according to their judgement.
Anonymous User
06/05/2020
It's about time that the BMC revised their statement as it is perfectly legal to drive to a local climbing venue and to climb either on your own or with members of your household.
Climbing is as much a form of exercise as walking, running or cycling - or for that matter football.
The BMC official statement should reflect the law.
The BMC could make a recommendation to advise not to go climbing but I struggle to see why they believe this is the case.
Anonymous User
06/05/2020
The BMC needs to be active in supporting access to the mountains and not be re spuriously rehashing guidance from HMG , the Police , etc

Guidance is NOT the law , the law is quite clear :

For the avoidance of doubt :

Exercising on access land is NOT breaking the law

Driving to take exercise is NOT breaking the law

Using any footpath that has not been formally and clearly marked closed by National Parks is NOT breaking the law

If challenged by the Police , I have been , carry with you the regulations and politely remind the Police of what the law is and is not. You will find they quickly back down.

If necessary remind the Police that the CPS are now reviewing every single fine issued as there are concerns with regard to wrongful convictions.

The BMC management needs to be far more robust in its challenging of unreasonably closure of footpaths in the National Parks and must stop repeating spurious guidance.

Why have you not taken legal action to defend your members rights in relation to footpath closures in the National Park ?

The weakness of the BMC in defending the interests of the community is damning and is very reminiscent of the foot and mouth crisis 20 years ago.

Then the BMC championed a work with the government approach policy , this was a mistake we got nothing from it , you are repeating the mistakes of 20 years ago today.

The BMC's role is to defend access to mountains this is your fundamental job.

If the BMC's leadership are too worried about any income you receive from Government being withdrawn or possibly even your personal standing in relation to your your next jobs in a quango to challenge on behalf of your members then step aside now and let people who do have ability and willingness to take on the challenge.

I for one would certainly support a vote of no confidence on the BMC's leadership in terms of your handling of this situation , it has been woeful.










Anonymous User
06/05/2020
For some the outdoors is not only enjoyable, it’s necessary for their mental and physical health. It is ridiculous that I can go and bimble about Homebase or B&Q, where I’m at a much higher risk of catching the virus, but I can’t go to the mountains! I think the time is coming soon where we need to start challenging this ban on mountain based activities.
Anonymous User
06/05/2020
I live in Cumbria, am a volunteer and would have guided groups on walks of varying grades. Apart from the lockdown as currently required by the government reducing travel any accident on the fells which would require either the Mountain Rescue and/or NHS/paramedics would increase the pressure and maybe divert resources by the NHS service as a whole and endanger lives of others. We have one of the highest Covid-19 death rate outside London. A short time away is a small sacrifice to pay.
Anonymous User
07/05/2020
There is clearly a problem with crude and blanket measures by officialdom reducing access to the countryside. In West Yorkshire this includes councils closing country park paths and car parks to access them. Unfortunately they have to be crude; the councils don't have the resources or people to monitor such places. That would cost money and manpower, something councils have been losing dramatically well before Covid-19 came along. That is why all their footpaths teams have been disbanded, teams who might have sensibly managed the present access crisis.
Instead of being able to limit access to 'honeypots' in a measured way, using people, they have had to gate and cordon off all the car parks, including car parks which never attracted crowds 'just to be on the safe side'. In terms of their legal liabilities this makes sense. In terms of sensible use of outdoors by responsible walkers it does not. If they had the resources to manage these places I am sure common sense would have prevailed before it reached the present boiling point and it would have taken the pressure off the poorly informed police forces.
Anonymous User
07/05/2020
Does anyone know where this photo was taken? I’m guessing probably Scotland, but whereabouts?
Anonymous User
08/05/2020
This comment is awaiting moderation, it will be reviewed
Anonymous User
08/05/2020
Whilst I fully recognise that Covid-19 is completely different to Foot & Mouth disease some years ago, I do feel that some of the behaviours of our leaders indicate they have learned nothing from history. In the Foot & Mouth years it was all "tourists should stay out of our hills & mountains" despite the fact that there were few cows in those hills & mountains to catch foot & Mouth. Then all of a sudden those same leaders realised that no tourists meant no income for those areas and it was all "lets build new paths and get as many tourists back as we can - we need them". I can't help feeling that when this is all over, history will repeat itself !!!
I am sure this view will be regarded as very controversial, but having been round the block a few times during my life, I don't have a very high opinion of many of out leaders.
Anonymous User
09/05/2020
If garden centres can reopen then what oh what is the issue with someone going out onto the massive sprawl of the wilderness where you can ever so easily keep your two metres distance. I just don’t get it. The risks of transmission from hill walking are negligible. I know there is the mountain rescue situation and I accept if NHS were overrun that is a very valid argument. But at present it isn’t. Even the Nightingale hospitals in some areas have been suspended. Thing is as well every time you go to a supermarket you take far more risk than on a hill. People don’t really obey the 2 metre rule except queuing outside. Once in store with staff shelf stacking and people moving back and forth it’s impossible to be 2 metres apart at all. So come on let’s get some perspective into this. Most of us go to hills to get away from people so unless we are talking about the really popular hills what is the harm??
Anonymous User
11/05/2020
Does anyone know where this photo was taken? I’m guessing probably Scotland, but whereabouts?
--------------------
Seems to be a view of Tryfan, from SH667609 or thereabouts.

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