Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mountain Rescue Teams: Time to drop the word 'Mountain' ?

I was looking at the Ogwen Mountain Rescue website yesterday. I drop in occasionally to see what the latest call out travesty is. Amongst the genuine and worthy rescue missions undertaken by the team, it seems that increasingly, a lot of  these call outs could be classified as ‘Non mountain related’. Essentially, in a lot of cases it’s simply helping numpties get back to the A5. How did it come to this and why? Were the Mountain rescue services established to find someone lost in the Gwydr Forest or assist a 4x4 stuck in mud whilst off roading?

I’ve blogged before as an ex MRT member about how I just haven’t got the patience or tolerance these days to be involved in a service which has drifted so far from its original goals. The Mountain Rescue Service in the UK is overseen by the police. It’s the police who make the final decision as to which service gets called out. Increasingly the MR team members are essentially used as unpaid police dogsbodies in searches for missing persons. The teams are also used by the police to carry out actions which a lot of people believe should be the responsibility of the police themselves. 

Have a look at this call out for Ogwen MR Team which involved 14 people on the 27th November....

Four friends were driving their 4x4 from Snowdon towards Betws y Coed, and reached Siabod Café. They spotted a bridge and track on the right and decided to go off-road. They went up a steep gravel track, then followed a grassy track until they got stuck in the mud. After 3 hours it started to get dark and they called for help. Their knowledge of their location was poor, but using local area knowledge the Team was able to approximate their location. This was backed up when one of the group had enough signal to reply to the SARLOC message sent to them (the one with better signal had no credit on his phone, so could not follow the link). A team member who knows the forest tracks was dispatched to recover the group. It was decided that it was not worth the risk to team member or team vehicles to try and pull theirs out. A NWP officer met them at the road to provide a debrief and advice on where they could go to get their vehicle recovered....Ogwen MRT

Given how off roaders are the bane of real mountain activists lives and how their actions command so much anger and displeasure in the outdoor community, I’m sure a lot of people will be asking why a mountain service which was essentially created to help climbers and walkers has evolved into an organization which helps those who would trash the mountain environment?

My main beef with how the Mountain Rescue Service is structured these days is that it no longer has  mountain rescue as its core activity. It’s become a voluntary search and recovery organization which gets the state off the hook with regard to funding a professional service.  My own personal belief is that MR teams should be professional and funded by the state but still a free service. The type of ‘rescue’ described above, should be within the remit of the police who perhaps could have a division which specializes in search and recovery outside of a mountain environment.

At the moment, the whole service is a bit of a dog’s dinner with MR team members being exploited and used as unpaid policemen and women in areas where really they should not be being used. That’s a personal view of course but I wonder how many people involved in mountain rescue share at least some of these misgivings?

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