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Mountain Safety

Mountaineers ask BBC Newsnight to Put the Record Straight on Mountain Safety

Thursday 14th February 2013

Mountaineers ask BBC Newsnight to Put the Record Straight on Mountain Safety

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has asked Diarmid O’Hara, the Editor of BBC’s Newsnight Scotland to put the record straight following last night’s programme which featured a debate concerning safety in Scotland’s mountains.

The debate, led by presenter Gordon Brewer included Dorothy Grace Elder, a freelance journalist and former SNP MSP, and independent mountaineering instructor Paul Cunningham. The debate discussed a number questions relating to safety in the mountains following ‘calls from certain quarters to restrict access’ to the mountains during winter. Unfortunately Brewer did not specify from which ‘quarters’ the ‘calls’ originated.

David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer said:

“We welcome any debate which raises the profile of mountain safety: clearly interest from the media is always helpful in bringing such issues to the attention of the public.

“Unfortunately the discussion failed to provide sufficient clarity concerning relevant statistics, which are detailed in The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland’s Annual Statistics Report 2011.

“The programme correctly stated that there were 52 fatalities in 2011, but omitted to mention that 31 of these related to non-mountaineering incidents; in the prior year there were a total of 45 fatalities of which 16 were mountaineering and 29 non-mountaineering. Rescue teams also responded to 158 non-mountaineering incidents in 2011 (194 in 2010). The piece also failed to recognise the financial contribution to Scotland’s mountain rescue teams made by the Scottish Government which was £310,000 in 2011/12.

“Clearly any fatalities which occur in the mountains are regrettable; however these occur against a background of increased participation in mountaineering activities which in 2011, according to Scottish Natural Heritage Statistics, saw 7.2 million individual visits to the hills for mountaineering and hillwalking by Scottish residents alone.

“According to VisitScotland’s research 55% of Scotland’s visitors come for the landscape and 41% of visitors to the Highlands went for ‘hikes or long walks’.

“Against this background, and at a time when the Scottish Government is seeking to improve public health through increased activity, and so avoid a burden on public spending through funding for the NHS which in many cases seeks to put right years of inactivity, calls to restrict access would appear to be out of all proportion to the issue at hand, if indeed such calls could be enforced. Restrictions on access would also be contrary to the provisions of the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003.

David Gibson added:

“I spoke with Ms Grace Elder at length during a telephone call on Tuesday and explained these statistics and more during that conversation. I also pointed out that mountaineers recognise the international Participation Statement which ‘recognises that climbing and mountaineering are potentially dangerous activities … and that participants should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.’

“We hope that in future the BBC will seek to provide better information concerning matters related to mountain safety and ensure that the public is more accurately informed.”