Time to climb outside again?
- Tuesday 12th May 2020
Lockdown stays for now but the UK Government have lifted exercise and travel restrictions from tomorrow in England in what is seen as a controversial move as they introduce the first measures in a transition back to 'normal'. So is climbing outside back on the cards?
The Prime Minister, in a televised address to the nation last Sunday, outlined the first tentative steps of the Government’s road map to ease the country back to normal. After seven weeks of lockdown “unlimited outdoor exercise” would be allowed and travel restrictions would be lifted too – this from Wednesday (May 13th) onwards. Likewise, we would be able to meet – albeit one at a time, outside and within social distancing limits – family members and friends from different households for the first time since lockdown. The PM went on to list a series of further changes related to workers etc. and outlined the rest of the Government’s road map.
No sooner than the PM completed his address to the nation, the comments and the fur started flying. “There are more questions than answers” said Sir Keir Starmer – the leader of the Opposition. He was not alone thinking that the Government’s announcement was muddled and lacked clarity. Not least as it split the four home nations into two groups as well; the relaxations announced by the PM only applied in England. The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland devolved governments had already rejected lifting lockdown measures believing that it was too early and that the threat from the virus was still too high.
Some climbers went on-line immediately saying that they saw the Government’s announcement as the green light to start climbing: “BoJo has called the lime” was the message on one social media climbing channel. Whilst some were, therefore, reaching metaphorically for their climbing shoes and chalk bags and planning to hit the crags on Wednesday when the restricted were lifted others weren’t quite so eager and promoted a more cautious approach. The ink was barely dry on the pages of the BMC’s Covid-19 Recovery Plan for Climbing and Hill Walking (click here for that) – what would they make of the Government’s 'unlimited outdoor exercise' and de-restricted travel plan?
Echoing the voices of concern that many in their areas had, the heads of various national parks and tourist boards went public with their concerns stating their belief that it was too early to introduce relaxations such as the Government had done. Police forces in these areas echoed the sentiments warning that drivers would be subject to spot checks and long-distance travellers could be turned back. Mountain Rescue teams have likewise voiced their concerns that a dramatic return to the hills could well see an escalation in call-outs which would in turn increase risks of transmission to team members and others in the local community.
Against that backdrop, the BMCs access team have spent the last two days assessing the situation and deliberating whether the Government’s 'unlimited outdoor exercise' translates as 'good to get back climbing' or whether it is – despite the Government’s statement – still time for restraint.
In a statement just issued on their website, the BMCs confirm that, although not explicitly mentioned, they believe climbing outside is now permitted in England under the Government’s latest updates either alone, with other members or your household and with one other person from outside your household providing you maintain social distancing guidelines. However, the BMC recommend staying local, choosing objectives that minimise the risk of accidents and injury, avoiding busy venues and having backup plans, avoiding crags with known bird nesting or access issues and that mountain rescues services will be very limited.
The BMCs key advice is that you should be:
- Cautious in your actions
- Respectful of local communities
- Extremely vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus
The full advice, posted by BMC Access and Conservation Officer Rob Dyer, is lengthy and underlines the fragility of remote communities and the importance of climbers to take responsibility for their own actions and to be aware of the local environment into which they are travelling and that restrictions might still be in place in that area.
For the sake of clarity, we reproduce the entire statement below:
The BMC Statement
As lockdown evolves, access to the outdoors is now changing. However, this is still different depending on which country you live in. 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 and Coastguard Rescue Helicopters 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.
- 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 meters 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.
The government guidance on local exercise in Wales is also changing and BMC and other recreational bodies are working very closely on this with Welsh Government; this is a live issue and a further update will appear shortly.
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? Listen live to BMC CEO go Live on Facebook Wednesday 13th at 12.30 pm