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Our Month: Mountaineering Scotland in September 2023

Monday 2nd October 2023, 2:57pm

Welcome to the September 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.

A focus this month has been on engaging with our partners and organisations across the outdoor sector and September stated with the first face to face meeting of the Mountain Safety Group since the pandemic, hosted at Mountaineering Scotland’s office in Perth. This was the last meeting chaired by Nigel Clark, our Director for Mountain Safety. before he steps down at the AGM in November. The focus for discussion was on developing a national strategy and action plan for mountain safety and Nigel has been instrumental in working with our partners to lay out the foundations for this piece of work, before he hands it over to his successor Brendan Hughes, subject to his election at the AGM.

Early in the month, I chaired a meeting of the Outdoor and Adventure Sports CEO Group, where one of the main points of discussion was the cancellation of the Pentland Hills Skyline Race, and the potential implications of this for other outdoor events, with both Mountaineering Scotland and Ramblers Scotland supporting Scottish Athletics in raising their concerns with the National Access Forum. I also attended a face-to-face meeting of the Scottish Sports CEO Forum, delivering a joint presentation with Graeme McLean, Head of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland on the challenges and opportunities facing the outdoor sector and taking the opportunity to provide an update on the It’s Up to Us campaign.

I was also invited to join the Scottish Outdoors Consortium Group, which aims to help to make connections across the outdoor sector and is attended by groups such as DofE Scotland, the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education and the Association for the Heads of Outdoor Centres. It provides an opportunity for Mountaineering Scotland to share some of the work we do, and helps us to understand what’s happening in the world of outdoor education and youthwork. It was also interesting to hear an update about the Outdoor Residential Bill being considered by Holyrood. At a separate meeting with the BMC and Simon Richardson from the SMC, I also participated in initial discussions about hosting the International Winter Climbing Meet in 2025, following on from the very successful event delivered as a partnership in 2020.

It was another busy month for all things Access & Conservation! After engaging in discussion about the challenges of snowsports tourers taking passage through ski resorts, some consensus is being reached on what is required to facilitate safe passage for tourers and walkers, and for downhill skiers. This situation is most acute at resorts where there are car parks at altitude, allowing tourers easy access through the resorts to the open country beyond, and the numbers doing so can cause cumulative impacts that potentially interfere with the management of the facilities. The real issue is not so much one of access rights, but of responsibilities – in what circumstances and conditions should tourers adapt behaviour to reduce potential interference with downhill skiing and management for it.

Advice and guidance will be discussed at the forthcoming Snowsports Touring Advisory Group and published on the Mountaineering Scotland website in advance of the winter season starting.

Elsewhere, it’s a continuing challenge to keep track of the Shared Rural Network’s 4G telecoms mast applications proposed for remote areas with no residents or businesses to benefit from the expense of installing and maintaining the masts, never mind the visual intrusion into areas with very little if any infrastructure.

Communications with project managers and telecoms operators have confirmed that they are committed to launching hundreds of masts into remote hill country in order to pursue a notional, arbitrary 95% geographical coverage of the UK. Questions need to be asked in the UK Parliament about the suitability of this theoretical target and the reality and consequences of pursuing it. This will be the next stage of the campaign to apply some sensibility and sensitivity to this project.

The Scottish Government has opened a consultation on ‘Tackling the Nature Emergency’. This is a strategic framework for biodiversity that includes a Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and Delivery Plan, and a policy framework for Nature Networks, creating connectivity for wildlife in Scotland’s landscapes.

Bundled up with this is a controversial section to amend the statutory Purpose and Aims of National Parks where the Third Aim of National Parks is “to promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public”. The proposal is to remove the reference to enjoyment through recreation as a statutory Aim of National Parks in Scotland. 

National Parks are famed for their recreational opportunities to enjoy the landscape and nature, and it needs some thought as to what this amendment would mean in practice for future generations. The consultation can be read and responded to here. We urge members to read, digest and respond to this important amendment.

September started with the last of this year’s Mountain Skills WeekendsMountain Safety Advisor Kirsty Pallas and I ran the course from Glencoe, which was a new location for Mountain Skills Weekend. Both days saw beautiful sunshine and dry conditions, with only a brief moment of driech weather, which conveniently appeared in time for some final navigation practice! I also put last month’s social media training into practice and produced my first ever Instagram ‘Reel’ from the course!

Later in the month, Ali Rose met up with Malcolm Airey to officially hand over the reins of the St John Scotland Mountain Safety Instructor role, which supports Student Clubs. It is fantastic to have Malcolm on board with this, and Ali will continue to support Malcolm at the start of the season.

The Mountain Safety Group (MSG) had its first in-person meeting since before the pandemic, which was held at the Mountaineering Scotland HQ in Perth. It was really nice to meet all the members in person. Focus was on developing a vision for the group for the next five years and looking at how we can maintain all the good work that has come from the group so far- more on this to come soon!

Mountain Safety Advisor Ben Gibson worked on the first instalment of our Summer Mountain Leader training course, run by Richard Bentley of Mountain Motion. With a generally settled weekend of weather and a strong team of 12 candidates, we covered a number of the syllabus areas such as, leadership and group management in mountain terrain, general and fine (micro) detail navigation, access and land management, weather and planning, flora and fauna of the mountain landscape, emergency procedures and prep for the weekend that will cover more leadership, navigation and expedition skills. The last three days of their training is now coming up, and we wish them all the best with this and their consolidation.

We have had a really positive response from our #AutumnAdventures blog post, which helps reminds us all of what we should pack and do in case of an emergency on the hills.  Thanks also to Scottish Mountain Rescue for sharing it on their social feeds last month too. If you’ve not seen it, take a look and let us know if you have any other thoughts on what people should be adding to their kit for autumn! 

September was another busy month for the ClimbScotland team with lots going on, both indoors and outdoors. ClimbScotland Regional Development Officers, Robert MacKenzie and Calum McBain, delivered Mountain Training Climbing Wall Instructor training for the first time at the Climbing Academy Glasgow and Glasgow Climbing Centre. The training was delivered to staff and volunteers from Urban Uprising and Common Wheel, as well as some staff from the two host venues. This was over seen by Mountain Training Scotland Course Director Alan Halewood and is part of our wider aims to support and enable EDI groups that we work with the ability to be self-sustaining supporting the people they provide to people in the community.

Robert and Calum also wrapped up RealRock for 2023 managing to finish on dry rock on both days with a Sport Improvers session at Kirriemuir and Trad Intro at Kingussie. Well done guys!

Later in the month, ClimbScotland Development Manager Jamie Smith attended the Association of British Climbing Walls Conference in Sheffield. This provided a great opportunity to network with partners (old and new) in the indoor climbing sector. We are looking forward to taking forward some exciting ideas and discussions with partners from the conference. Watch this space…

Development Officer Kevin Howett has been busy with the organisation of the Youth Climbing Series with Round 1 and Round 2 now complete! Results can be found here and don’t forget to check out our highlight Reels on our Instagram too! 

Finally, the Scottish National Bouldering League dates are also now live - check out our website to find our more! 

September is always a busy month for the team, with university and college mountaineering clubs busy registering club members and applying for spaces on our popular student mountain skills courses, a steady influx of new individual members and preparations for a Club Networking Meet in Drymen in early October.

With the arrival of cooler weather and shorter days, we’ve been sharing some top tips for getting the most out of hill walking in autumn with our #AutumnAdventures mini-campaign, as well as reminding walkers and climbers to check the Heading for the Scottish Hills website for information as the stag stalking season reaches its peak in September and October. 

We were delighted to hear that Cairngorm Wilderness Contracts Ltd - the contractor working on the much-needed path repairs on An Teallach as part of the It’s Up to Us campaign - will be taking on two trainees as part of the project, meaning It’s Up to Us is not just supporting mountain paths, but also creating opportunities for local people to develop new skills and get involved. 

Fundraising for It’s Up to Us has continued as we work to raise £300,000 for An Teallach path repairs. With just over £50,000 raised through public giving, including generous donations from some of our clubs and corporate/trust donors, we still have a mountain to climb to reach the target, so please donate as much as you can and consider setting up a regular donation through the It’s Up to Us website.

And finally…work began on the 100th issue of Scottish Mountaineer this month in partnership with our new suppliers, Connect Communications. We are really excited about the fresh new design and format we have developed with them for the magazine, which is due out in November, and hope our members will love it too!