Covid-19 Rule Changes and Caving

The new guidelines introduced this week make it clear that the roads and fells are open and so are most caves, but the suggestion is fairly clear – “you can cave – but please don’t, just yet”.

Cave and mountain rescue teams across the country, many caught by surprise after the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday, have rushed to release advice and statements. Most carry a similar message but beneath this there is real concern, perhaps best expressed by several Lake District mountain rescue teams in a message asking people to “stay off the high fells” adding “it is not a considerate place to go”. Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue have released a statement urging people to “Travel to open spaces but not the mountains or underground”

Teams are expecting a surge in the number of call outs from walkers, they are under-strength due to members isolating and other members working in key front line areas. PPE is problematic, even more so underground. Rescues will take longer. It will take time to disinfect kit afterwards. The biggest concern is that if one team member or casualty subsequently tests positive the entire team could be forced to self isolate for two weeks, meaning teams will be forced to rely on neighbouring teams for even the simplest rescues, and it’s easy to see how quickly that could escalate.

In several caving areas the local Cave Rescue team is the mountain and fell rescue team, and they are likely to see an increase in call outs.

Of course we could just choose to visit easier caves and mines, but accidents can happen in those too, and there is always the risk of a medical emergency.

The Cave Rescue Organisation and Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation have expressed similar concerns to those above, although Mendip Cave Rescue have gone further. In a Facebook message from their Secretary Martin Grass, whilst acknowledging as other teams have that it’s not their job to police caves, they’ve highlighted that according to the guidance :”The only pastimes allowed are golf, tennis and those where social distancing can be maintained. It cannot be maintained in caving.”

The British Caving Association is finalising it’s view, and expects to publish it later today.

As well as the risk to rescue teams some caves remain closed, as of course do club huts, pubs and cafes. It’s abundantly clear from social media posts in the Yorkshire Dales for example that many locals, including local cavers, are not ready to accept visitors.

In short the message could be summed up as:  “It’s up to all of us to act responsibly – so be safe, be kind and think of others”.

The British Cave Rescue Council guidelines echo the message of many teams, and this is their statement in full:

“Guidance from the government and the devolved parliaments on outdoor activities varies greatly across the British Isles. This is also reflected in the different laws which apply. People must follow the guidance and rules for the area in which they wish to exercise, including the social distancing rules.

Cave Rescue teams have been on call and ready throughout the COVID-19 lockdown (introduced to reduce SARS-CoV-2 virus spread) and have planned to be able to provide their specialised service as the crisis continues. Where and when caving is permitted and access is available BCRC asks that anyone who chooses to go caving or other underground activity consider the following points before setting out.

  • Stick to government and local authority guidance on social distancing and permitted activities. Remember that rules may be different in different areas of the British Isles. Respect those differences.
  • Take special care when caving. remember that you may not be ‘cave fit’ and you may need to build up to your previous capability.
  • There is likely to be a surge in numbers of people going caving, please do not crowd popular caves and be flexible in your plans to avoid a cave or shorten/amend a trip to maintain social distancing.
  • Do not forget basic caving safety including checking the weather, ensuring your kit, including lamps and safety kit is checked and safe and you have left an appropriate call out. #BeAdventureSafe
  • Local Advice – Please refer to the websites of regional caving bodies and local authorities for specific local advice, as the rules vary. For example you are likely to find all car parks and visitor facilities (visitor centres, café’s, toilets) at country parks and countryside heritage sites are still closed.

If in any doubt about these points – do not go caving. Cave Rescue teams are volunteer teams. They may be undermanned and there may be delays in a team’s response. Cave rescue teams will be using appropriate PPE, but be aware that this is in short supply. Be sensible and do not put your fellow cavers at risk.”

BCRC Executive Committee