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Our Month: Mountaineering Scotland in March 2024

Tuesday 2nd April 2024, 11:45am

Welcome to the March monthly round-up from Mountaineering Scotland!

At the end of each month, we take a look back at the work the team has been carrying out on behalf of our members. Read on to hear the latest updates from CEO Stuart Younie, Access & Conservation Officer Davie Black, Senior Mountain Safety Advisor Ross Cadie, ClimbScotland Development Manager Jamie Smith, and Member Services & Communications Manager, Helen Gestwicki.

Throughout February and March, our CEO Stuart Younie has been supporting ongoing discussions with the Management Committee and Trustees of the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut which is jointly owned by the BMC and Mountaineering Scotland and is one of three national huts available to members. Plans to carry some initial renovation work have been paused to enable further investigations to take place and a report to be produced to advise on how best to address the current problems with the building and ensure its long term sustainability. Considerable work has been put in by the volunteers on the management committee but its clear that with a limited budget its essential that any expenditure must be carefully prioritised, and both the Management Committee and Trustees look forward to providing further updates to members as the plans progress.

Along with Member Services and Communications Manager, Helen Gestwicki and Events Officer, Karen McVeigh, Stuart has also been involved in the initial planning of the International Winter Climbing Meet in March 2025. Glenmore Lodge has kindly agreed to accommodate the meet hosts and guests at the beginning and end of the week with hut accommodation donated by the SMC and funding support provided by the BMC and the Alpine Club. Following the success of the event in 2020 we are looking forward to being involved in showcasing the very best of Scottish winter climbing on the international stage and are currently looking at commercial partners who may be interested in supporting the event. 

Stuart and Access & Conservation Officer, Davie Black, met with representatives from Cornerstone who are supporting the delivery of around 70 of the masts proposed by the Shared Rural Network project. It was a constructive and frank discussion focused on the delivery of the masts rather than the policy itself but along with our colleagues at the JMT we made it clear that our concerns lay with the masts being proposed in some of our most remote and scenic landscapes. Following the meeting Cornerstone have agreed to provide is advance sight of planning applications before they are submitted and the location details for the all the masts they are dealing with to allow us to assess the implications of each proposal and identify which masts are in the most sensitive locations.

This month Stuart also took the time to catch up with the other home nations and met with Helen Lawless, the interim CEO with Mountaineering Ireland, to discuss membership fees, the development of performance pathways for competition climbing and member communications with a focus on the redesign of Scottish Mountaineer and launch of Mountain Mattersour new digital communications. The appointment process for the new CEO of Mountaineering Ireland is well underway and we hope it will be confirmed very soon. Stuart also had his first formal meeting with Paul Ratcliffe - the new CEO of the BMC - having already established a positive working relationship with Paul as the voluntary Chair of the BMC Climbing Competitions Performance Group. It was a very positive and open discussion about how both organisations could work more effectively together for the benefit of the sector and our respective memberships.

February and March are also the time for budget setting and Stuart has been working with Office Administrator Fiona Kerr and the senior team to look at the budget for 2024/25, and following discussions with Mountaineering Ireland and the BMC its clear that all of the organisations are facing financial pressures and seeing an impact on membership as people prioritise their household expenditure due cost of living pressures. One of the main priorities for staff and Directors as we enter the next strategic cycle is to ensure we deliver a break-even position and sustain the level of activity we deliver on behalf of our members.  


We were approached by a member looking for advice on a tricky matter. He is a landowner and a new climbing venue has been established fairly recently on his land. That is not the problem – the challenge is that this outcrop is near to where otters lie up; not just in the general vicinity, but hard by the base of the rock slab.

Balancing wildlife conservation legislation with access legislation often results in acceptable mitigation measures, like changing an access route to avoid disturbance, or responsible behaviour in holding to a temporary voluntary restriction on taking access, such as we do with birds nesting on climbing crags. These mitigations are limited in physical extent and duration to achieve the outcome of protecting the specific wildlife in question while it is vulnerable to disturbance.

In this case the lie of the land provides no alternative way in, and the otters’ lifestyle of needing holts and lie-ups is a year-round affair, not restricted to a breeding season. In this case we have to advise climbers of the protection that otters have; that it would be a criminal offence to disturb them or keep them from their resting place; and advise climbing on other venues rather than this one. It’s not just a matter of an individual creating a disturbance as a one-off event, but cumulative disturbances driving the animals away from their resting place.


Sufficient to say the Shared Rural Network 4G digital telecoms mast programme rolls on, and we continue to scrutinise proposals and engage in discussion with the agencies responsible for implementing this UK Government policy. If you are concerned about the installation of telecoms masts in wild and remote areas, well away from where people and business need them, then please let your MP/MSP know of your concern.

Proposals for woodland creation and restoration have continued to appear in the access@mountaineering.scot inbox. Most involve extensive and expensive deer fences. In principle the best result would be for browsing animals to be at a density that allows trees to grow naturally where the conditions are suitable for them. However, some fences may be justified in a defined area where the soil seed bank is depleted, or to allow a new generation of trees to come away while populations of deer or sheep are managed to reduce herbivore impact.

In any case involving extensive fencing we recommend to forestry consultants that they check the Strava global heat-map to get a true idea of where people walk or run or cycle, to better plan their access points and where trees are planted, rather than just rely on the published route to the nearest Munro.

March started with the Snowsport Touring Weekend and much needed return to some winter conditions on the hills. It was great to see how the instructors Emma Holgate and Charlie Burrow crafted a weekend of great skiing and learning about managing club trips. 

Throughout the month, Mountain Safety Advisors Ben Gibson and Kirsty Pallas were out delivering Winter Skills courses in the Cairngorms and in Glencoe respectively. The weather has been a mixed bag with everything from amazing to atrocious, but then that’s the ‘joy’ of winter! We hope a wider geographical spread of winter courses is making access and affordability easier for members.

Back at the computer screen, I attended meetings with the Snow and Avalanche Foundation of Scotland (SAFOS), our friends south of the boarder at the BMC regarding near miss reporting, and with Police Scotland about recent incidents in the Scottish mountains. I also gave a joint presentation to the Cairngorm Club with Scottish Mountain Rescue (SMR) Statistician, Jess Steinemann. I then gave an online talk to the International Institute of Risk & Safety Management (IIRSM).

On Friday 15th March, the ClimbScotland team and the Mountain Safety Advisors team met up at Glen Nevis to share ideas around good practice of teaching/coaching of movement skills, and rope management. It was also great to have Malcolm Airey, the Student Mountain Safety Instructor along too, before he headed off to deliver with another University mountaineering club.

The last of the winter courses closed with Kirsty and I running the Winter Skills weekend in Glencoe. The Saturday was wet and windy but the Sunday gave blue sky’s and fresh snow for a stunning end to our season. There is still plenty of winter in the mountains, so make sure you go prepared, but for us it’s off to start ‘summer’ next week in the Pentlands, then Arrochar for our navigation courses.

Image: Emma Holgate/Mountaineering Scotland

It’s been all systems go for the ClimbScotland team in March! The ClimbScotland Fun Comp qualifiers wrapped up on the 1st March, with over 320 young people taking part! Those who qualified were then invited to the Fun Comp Finals at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena which took place on Saturday 23rd March. 59 young climbers attended the finals to take on the amazing routes set by our setting team lead by Calum McBain as Head Setter. Results can be found here and check out our socials for photos and videos of the actions. Massive thank you to the volunteers that made the day a great competition experience for the climbers competing. Thanks also goes to Robert Mackenzie for acting as Jury President and Neil Ross who was shadowing Robert and is in the process of becoming a new Competition Coordinator/Jury President for our comps. Great to have him on board! 

CalumRobert and Jack Davies, along with our national coaches Pete Langlands and Mike Mullins have busy delivering our squad programmes including a Development Squad bridging session and Fundamental Coaching Workshop at the Ledge in Inverness and Climbing Wall Instructor Training in Glasgow.

Jamie has been working with Helen on the new ClimbScotland website which went live on Monday 25th March. We hope members like the new platform, which we feel is a great improvement over the old website. 

March also saw the last round of the Scottish National Bouldering League take place at Eden Rock in Edinburgh on Saturday 16th March. Massive thank you to everyone that took part in the rounds and well done to the league winners, which were presented with their prizes at the event. Results can be found here.

Finally…our 2024 RealRock programme start on Sunday 24th with Robert delivering a intro to Sport Climbing at Kirriemuir, with two young members who had a great days climbing in the sun. A great way to start the outdoor programme for the year! 

March got off to a great start, with a walk up a very chilly West Lomond for the women staff and board members of Mountaineering Scotland to mark International Women’s Day 2024. This was an opportunity for staff members to spend some time with new President Anne Butler and board members Jo Dytch, Chair and Director for Clubs, and Ilona Turnbull, Director for HR and Equalities, chat about our own mountaineering experiences and achievements and discuss how we can encourage and support more women and girls to discover hill walking, climbing and snowsports touring.

Mid-month saw the launch of our new interactive digital members publication – Mountain Matters – which members will receive twice a year between the two print issues of Scottish Mountaineer magazine. Feedback from members has been fantastic and huge thanks to Communications Officer Fiona McNicol and the team from Connect Communications who put a lot of work into brining Mountain Matters to life!

The week beginning 18th March saw the last few days of work for the first phase of the An Teallach path project. Mountaineering Scotland Member Services & Communications Manager, Helen Gestwicki and Communications Officer Fiona, along with It’s up to Us ambassador and writer Chris Townsend and photographer James Roddie, joined the contractors and volunteers to discover exactly what’s involved in path repair and maintenance and what hard, but rewarding work it is. Chris and James are working on a feature article about the project for TGO magazine which will be published in April and it was fantastic to see the progress that has been made compares it to our visit last April to make the campaign video. Under the expert eye of Julian Digby, owner of Cairngorms Wilderness Contracts, who has been working on the path with his team since October 2023, we were put to work locating and moving rocks and other materials from the surrounding area to use for steps and surfacing, and digging ditches and drains, while also hearing from Julian and his team about the challenges involved, not only in the actual work but in finding enough funding for paths and the impact that has on his business. The campaign fundraising total of £300,000 is getting closer, but we still need another £100,000 to finish this project – visit the It’s Up to Us website to make your contribution!

The 2024 club survey is now live and clubs are invited to submit their response after discussion with their committee and club members by 5pm Mon 15th April 2024. The survey provides us with an insight into the aims and needs of clubs and allows us to use our resources effectively to support the club network. We look forward to hearing from clubs – if you are a club secretary, chair or president and haven’t received an email about this please get in touch.