Climbing activities often take place in areas of outstanding beauty and great landscape value. As most cliffs in Britain are on private land access is given only at the consent of the owner, and one of the most important areas of the BMC's work is in Access and Conservation. Following the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW Act), there is now a statutory right of access to some crags, moors and mountains for all outdoor users.
Many popular climbing venues are important sites for wildlife such as nesting birds and rare floral species, and restrictions used to protect sensitive wildlife can prevent climbing. Many sea-cliffs have a range of restrictions during the nesting season from February to July. Numbering over 100 each year and negotiated between the BMC and other conservation bodies they are listed on
our Regional Access Database -www.thebmc.co.uk/outdoor/rad/rad.asp. It is vital that these restrictions are respected, otherwise access which the BMC has carefully secured, could be lost forever.
All upland plants grow in very harsh environmental conditions, cliff vegetation especially so. Flowers growing in thin cracks with a minimum of soil and few nutrients are easy to destroy. It may appear a small loss to remove a few plants, but if other climbers are doing the same then whole cliffs can get stripped of vegetation. Other potential environmental impacts of climbing include footpath erosion, rock abrasion, and damage to trees from abseil ropes.
As a general rule, rocks that are good for climbing are not usually good for plants, and vice versa. Plants of conservation interest typically like damp, nutrient rich, friable rocks with plenty of loose flakes and pockets. Most traditional venues are therefore not botanically rich, but where they are and where there is a conflict between climbing and conservation interests, agreements are generally worked out.
We all have an equal responsibility to preserve our finite climbing resources and need to tread lightly, making sure we leave the crags and boulders we love so dearly as we would like to find them.
Hawks Stones, Yorkshire
Situated on private land, the owner famously banned access in the late 1960s. For many years the BMC was involved in negotiations, but the situation became exacerbated through errant climbers ignoring the restrictions. Due to the implementation of the CRoW Act, this crag has now been defined as situated on Open Access Land, giving climbers and walkers almost unlimited access to the open moorland, main cliff and surrounding boulders.
Due to the historical difficulties with access, the close proximity of the landowner's house, and for the sake of future relations, the BMC has agreed to implement a number of concessions designed to conserve the surrounding habitat and maintain biodiversity at the crag. No dogs are allowed due to the presence of rare-breed sheep and ground nesting birds; a clearly defined access route has been created; no human waste please - the moor is a catchment area for the house's water supply; due to tree planting, keep to the land directly below the crag; keep all noise to a minimum.
It is undoubtedly wonderful news that the CRoW Act will provide access to previously restricted areas, but the vegetation and wildlife at venues like Hawks Stones have been undisturbed for over thirty years. The renewed access demonstrates that even though we now have a legal right to enjoy new areas, with it comes a moral duty to respect the welfare of the people and wildlife living there permanently.
With many climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers visiting our cliffs and mountains, it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that the natural character of the countryside is protected. In order to preserve the access we enjoy today for future generations of outdoor users, it is vital to maintain good relations with farmers, landowners and local residents.
access & conservation trust
The Access & Conservation Trust -
www.accesstrust.org.uk - funds projects that aid access and conserve the landscape. Its work relies on donations and the help of its partners and supporters, so please support the trust and enable this vital work to continue.
Right: Climbing at Tremadog, N Wales. Land bought by the BMC to secure access for climbers
Photo - Dave Turnbull
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