A Welsh MP says the Government takes mountain rescue teams for granted, as calls were made for more public money for the rescuers.
The Mountain Rescue Council (MRC) for England and Wales says teams are increasingly used by police in urban searches, and this is stretching the volunteer teams’ budgets to the limit. Dai Havard, MP for Merthyr Tydfil, said the mountain rescue teams may find it more difficult to respond if they continue to rely on donations.
Andrew Simpson of the MRC said: “We used to get people off the hills. These days we’re regularly called to search for vulnerable or missing people and we often have to search for bodies or evidence after a murder.”
Last month, grough revealed that the Greater Manchester ambulance service has repeatedly been calling on the services of Bolton Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) to cover urban medical emergencies when it has been overwhelmed by demand.
Mr Havard said: “It’s not just the odd call at the weekend. They are becoming part of the responder community for incidents of all sorts.”
He continued: “If it’s a missing person search and it’s in the town, then they would perhaps not send as many people to it.
“The quality of the response would drop, but they will still try and do their best, and feel guilty about it as well. That’s not good enough.”
Mr Simpson said: “The number of call-outs we are attending goes up year on year.
“We like to think we provide as professional a service as possible, but the job is harder now than it used to be in term of call-outs. Eventually something will have to give.”
The Scottish Executive gives the country’s 23 teams £300,000 a year to divide among themselves. Police forces in Scotland contribute a further £100,000 to the teams. The Welsh Assembly gives its 11 teams £18,000, which must be spent on equipment only.
The MRC says £1.5m of Government money would be needed to give the English and Welsh teams parity with Scotland. Mr Simpson says, if the service were to be set up now from scratch, it would cost up to £30m.
Mark Moran, of the Central Beacons MRT, said extra Government money would relieve pressure on volunteers who give up their time and money to help people. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Local police forces have different priorities in the work they do. It’s a matter for them and the local Chief Constables to make a decision on what they do to assist local mountain rescue teams.”
Chris Lloyd of the Ogwen Valley MRT, said: “We’re going out to call-outs that we really should not be called out for.
“We’re mountaineers trying to put something back into the sport, but we’re increasingly being used on police jobs. We’re a cheap resource.”
Nearby Llanberis MRT, the busiest in Wales, can only afford a second-hand Land Rover to replace its old vehicle.
European mountaineers have to take out insurance to cover the potential cost of mountain rescue, which can run into thousands of pounds. Traditionally, British mountain rescue teams have been firmly against any such moves, which run counter to the ethos of freedom of the country’s upland wildernesses. There are also worries among the mountain rescue community that increased Government funding would bring with it attempts to control the service.
- The RAF’s search-and-rescue control centre at Kinloss has had its busiest year for a decade.
1,700 people were rescued last year, involving 2,391 flights. The rescues were carried out throughout Britain.
The Kinloss base is the control centre for Britain’s search-and-rescue flights which, although primarily there for military means, ends up helping more civilians, including mountaineers.
Squadron Leader Barrie Nielson says the fact people carry phones with them has probably contributed to the increased number of call-outs. “The use of mobile phones may be a factor because people have the ability to contact the emergency services much more quickly.”