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On the value of community: BMC Peak Area Meetings

Monday, 28 November 2011

Curbar and Win Hill at Sunset. Peak District, BMC, Peak Area Meeting, Froggatt, Climbing, Bouldering,

Last Wednesday evening was the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) Peak District Area Meeting. Five meetings are held each year, and the November meeting is traditionally the AGM and Christmas quiz. Local climbing hero Neil Foster has been Peak Area Chair for the last 12 months and during the AGM Neil graciously accepted the nomination to continue as Chair for another 12 months. Lynn Robinson will also continue as secretary, with her responsibilities including the unenviable task of minuting the meetings. The meetings have a simple agenda format: local updates, access updates, guidebook updates, any other business, followed by chips, and then some form of local entertainment, such as slideshows, films, mini talks and, at Christmas, the quiz.

The Peak Area Meeting is going from strength to strength: there were 83 people at the meeting last week – I don’t know if that’s a record, but it’s a lot of people compared to the turn out in some years gone by. It’s also very encouraging at a time when management of our local crags in the Peak, and the land on which they sit, is up for grabs as part of the Peak District National Park Authority’s asset review. This is something that as climbers, walkers and cyclists we should all have a keen interest in.

Earlier this year the management of much of the Eastern Moors of the Peak District transferred to the Eastern Moors Partnership, a collective comprising the National Trust and the RSPB. Crags covered by the Eastern Moors include Curbar, Froggatt, Gardom’s and Birchen. Things are going great so far, and the Partnership may be in the frame to extend the land they currently manage to include the Burbage and Houndkirk moors, and even the Stanage moors. While other organisations were also in the running to take on the management of the Eastern Moors, the National Trust/RSPB partnership was the preferred choice of the BMC and the consultative approach taken by the partnership can only be a positive thing for future of access to these moors. Incidentally, this is also a good thing for local mountain bikers as the Partnership is very open to reviewing much of the outdated access laws on some of the trails covered by this area.

The second major area to be ‘disposed of’ by the PDNPA is the Roaches estate in the western Peak. Last Friday, the announcement came that the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust would take on a 125 year lease of the Roaches. The SWT was one of three options for the PDNPA to consider, along with the National Trust and the Land Trust. While the National Trust was the BMC’s preferred choice, the BMC will work with the SWT to maintain the interests of climbers and walkers. Rockhall Cottage (the Whillans Hut) which sits under the Roaches Lower Tier will continue to be leased to the BMC directly from the PDNPA.

The concerns regarding the SWT’s bid centred around its relative lack of experience managing such a large site (the National Trust have a great deal of such experience) and their need to borrow (public) funds from Staffordshire Moorland District Council, when the purpose of the the PDNPA’s asset review is to dispose of land so they can meet their reduced budget following the government’s spending review. One source of taxpayer money replaced by another?

When it comes to the Peak, the National Trust is traditionally more in tune with the needs of climbers and other outdoor groups, as noted by local climber and BMC volunteer Adam Long on UKClimbing:

'Our experience in the Peak has been that [the] NT are much more pro-active than the WTs in terms of stakeholder engagement, giving climbers lots of opportunity for input and feedback.'

This has certainly been the case with the Eastern Moors since the new partnership took over. It remains to be seen whether the SWT can live up their promises with the Roaches. Given the sheer size of what they have taken on, we can only hope they’re up to it. The worry is that politics took precedence over logic. For an overview of the Roaches management review, read Ed Douglas’s article on UKClimbing

The forthcoming decision of the fate of the Roaches rightly took up a sizeable chunk of the area meeting last Wednesday, and it is these kinds of access issues that make the meetings so valuable. If you’re a local climber or walker, it is an opportunity to find out first hand from the access reps about what’s going on that might affect you directly, and to get involved if you're so inclined. I’d personally pay my £30 BMC membership just to enable the likes of (voluntary) access rep Henry Folkard to continue to do such great work on our behalf.

The next BMC Peak Area meeting will be held in February. If you’re a Peak District climber, walker or general outdoor enthusiast I’d urge you to come along.

For details of other BMC Area Meetings, visit the community pages on the BMC website. 


Edit (29 Nov): You can also keep up with the Peak Area on Facebook

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