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”.