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 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? 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? The latest club huts update and 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.