We all want to be able to get back out into the mountains again on a personal level and for us it has the added dimension of being our livelihoods. We are pretty keen to get back to work when it is safe for us, our clients and our local communities.
Yesterday Boris updated the Nation and told us that unlimited exercise and travel will be allowed again from Wednesday in England and this is perhaps the start of a process that will see us getting back to work.
The situation is very different in Wales and Scotland. In both cases the stay at home message continues but people are now allowed to exercise more than once per day while retaining the strict limits on travel. On Sunday night, the Counsel- General for Wales stated “…it was not the case that people could drive to other destinations in Wales. Our regulations do not permit people to get in their cars and drive to destinations in Wales, and that includes people getting in their cars in England..”
My last piece of work was on the 11th March in Scotland and my income has stopped. Here is the timeline since then:
20th March – UK Government shut all schools, pubs and restaurants and encouraged people to stay at home
21/22 March – Snowdonia saw its busiest weekend in living memory. Car parks overflowed, traffic was busier than a bank holiday weekend and footpaths were crowded. Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams have a busy weekend responding to a number of incidents.
23 March – The government imposed a lockdown on the whole population, banning all “non-essential” travel and contact with people outside one’s home (including family and partners), and shutting almost all businesses, venues, facilities, amenities and places of worship. People were told to keep apart in public. Police were given power to enforce the lockdown, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave the government emergency powers not used since the Second World War.
The Welsh Government produces its own lockdown rules for Wales. “Unnecessary and unjustifiable journeys” are prohibited to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading further and imposing additional burdens on health services.
The main points affecting our industry are:
During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living or remain away from that place without reasonable excuse.
A reasonable excuse includes: “to take exercise, no more than once a day”. (This differs from England, Scotland & Ireland where the limit of once per day is not set).
The form of exercise is not specified in the regulations, but in practice this is constrained by other restrictions that have been imposed. The relevant restrictions are the closure of indoor leisure facilities such as swimming pools, closure of certain footpaths and land in the countryside and the overarching prohibition (which derives from regulation 8) on unnecessary travel.
As one of the purposes of the restrictions is to reduce pressure on the NHS, there is an expectation also that the reasonable excuse to exercise does not include activities that involve a significant degree of risk (for example swimming or other exercise at sea, or in lakes, rivers or other waterways). Exercise, therefore, should be done locally and generally be limited to walking, running and cycling.
BMC release statement including: Dave Turnbull, BMC CEO, said: “We never thought we’d be asking the outdoor community not to go climbing or hill walking, but that’s our current advice. It’s time to put it on hold.”
25 March – The Snowdonia National Park Authority & Gwynedd Council close the busiest mountains (Snowdon and the Glyderau) with the help of emergency Welsh Government Legislation.
April – The mountains of the UK & Ireland remain largely untouched. On the 18th April two people traverse Crib Goch without being caught but vigilantes dish out their own punishment on a car that is assumed to belong to them.
10th May – Boris tells people they can have unlimited exercise and drive to facilitate that. He fails to mention that Wales and Scotland remain in lockdown.
The Welsh Government have said that ending lockdown will be done in phases and has set out a framework of 7 key questions to consider before relaxing restrictions:
Would easing a restriction have a negative effect on containing the virus?
Does a particular measure pose a low risk of further infection?
How can it be monitored and enforced?
Can it be reversed quickly if it creates unintended consequences?
Does it have a positive economic benefit?
Does it have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing?
Does it have a positive impact on equality?
When looking at our ability to work as Mountaineering Instructors we need to consider our work within this framework. We need to consider which elements of the lockdown would need to be eased to facilitate this and for us these are:
- The opening of the mountains
- The ability to undertake our work safely with social distancing measures in place
- The freedom for our clients to travel to mountain areas
- The opening of accommodation facilities for our clients to stay in
- The Opening of the mountains where access has been lost
There is a good case that the mountains could be reopened and meet the requirements of the framework.
The mountains provide an excellent opportunity for local people to exercise with good social distancing. We would need the ability to exercise for a whole day to make this possible. This could be done in a way that meets the requirements of the framework and has a positive impact on peoples wellbeing. If local people wanted to engage an instructor to manage risk then this would bring small economic benefits.
- The ability to undertake our work safely with social distancing measures in place
Some activities are better suited than others to working with social distancing. Low ratios would mean social distancing is easier to achieve ie 1 instructor with two clients.
Hillwalking would be an ideal activity. Single Pitch climbing could also be possible with preparation and planning.
More details on risk assessing activities is being undertaken by the AMI with partner organisations such as MTUKI & BMG.
- The freedom for our clients to travel to the mountains
At the moment it is hard to see how this can be achieved and meet the requirements of the first 4 questions of the framework. I think that Contact Tracing could be the closest we get to a short term solution.
The whole of the tourism industry in the UK & Ireland is in the same situation as us on this point and it will require us to be a part of the bigger picture. This is unlikely to change until we have a working solution for the whole of society which could be Contact Tracing, a cure or a vaccine.
- The opening of accommodation facilities for our clients to stay in.
As point three.
In addition we need to consider the local community in which we work.
Fewer than one in five of the British public believe the time is right to consider reopening schools, restaurants, pubs and stadiums. The findings, in a new poll for the Observer, suggest Boris Johnson will struggle to convince people to return their lives to normal if he tries to ease the lockdown soon. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/02/fearful-britons-oppose-lifting-lockdown-schools-pubs-restaurants-opinium-poll
The villages around the mountains are full of signs asking visitors to stay at home and the timeline above shows the vigilante element that exists.
We live and work in rural communities who do not have the health resources of the bigger cities and we do not want to bring additional risk to those communities.
We could work safely with social distancing. There are some activities that we provide that are more suitable than others.
AMI are clear that we may have to adopt ‘new normals’ in terms of how we use venues and interact with clients. This will follow as government guidelines evolve.
The main bulk of our income relies on visitors to the area. For us to work in a way that is economically meaningful we need the outdoor tourism industry to re-start in the mountains and climbing regions across the UK and Ireland. This can only happen when measures have been put in place by Government that allow this to happen safely.
Risk & Rescue
“As one of the purposes of the restrictions is to reduce pressure on the NHS, there is an expectation also that the reasonable excuse to exercise does not include activities that involve a significant degree of risk (for example swimming or other exercise at sea, or in lakes, rivers or other waterways). Exercise, therefore, should be done locally and generally be limited to walking, running and cycling.” Source: https://gov.wales/leaving-home-exercise-guidance
As professional instructors we are very good at assessing and managing risk in the mountains. It forms the basis of our experience and our qualifications. We are able to add value to peoples experience in the great outdoors by providing them with skills that allow them to stay safe and appreciate the environment that they are in. This has never been more important than in the current situation and it would be important that instructors reflected this in their daily risk assessments.
Mountain Rescue Teams have remained on call throughout the period.
Health benefits of climbing and hill walking
The health and well being benefits of the great outdoors are numerous. As well as the physical benefits, there are many mental health and social benefits.
Physical health: Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of exercising, and an effective way of managing weight. Regular brisk walking will improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation, as well as lower blood pressure. Source: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/health-benefits-of-climbing-and-hill-walking
Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers. Source: https://www.walkingforhealth.org.uk/get-walking/walking-works
Mental health and well being: Walking may be more powerful than we realise. It helps us cope at work by helping de-stress amongst nature, it ‘heals’ our brains, helps us concentrate, makes us more creative and can help treat depression. Source: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/six-surprising-scientific-facts-about-walking
Obstacles to be overcome
Access that has been lost needs to be re-instated – this includes officially closed rights of way and access land and parking areas across the UK.
Our industry needs to address the practical steps of how we work with social distancing including how we deal with an injury/emergency scenario in the form of training guidance. The AMI are going to produce technical advice for its members and I am involved in this process.
Restrictions on travel and exercise need to be lifted by the Welsh Government.
Government guidelines need to be adhered to at all times
Our Current Policy
At the moment I am taking each lockdown period at a time. Yesterday I emailed everyone who is booked on courses with us for the next three weeks as the lockdown in Wales has been extended to the end of May. I am offering people the choice of alternative dates or a refund of the full course fee because we are unable to run the course. I am still taking bookings as normal on the basis that if we are unable to run any course we will offer people the choice between a refund and alternative dates.
My diary will be updated when we are able to move forward to allow me to re-program courses that have been cancelled or to reorganise the courses so that we can meet social distancing requirements.