Dorothy-Grace Elder and Paul Cunningham during the Newsnight Scotland discussion

Dorothy-Grace Elder and Paul Cunningham during the Newsnight Scotland discussion

Mountaineers are demanding the BBC puts the record straight after a Newsnight discussion in which a freelance journalist called for access to Scotland’s mountains to be restricted.

The programme, which was aired only in Scotland, used rescue statistics which gave a misleading picture of deaths on the mountains, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland said.

The debate between presenter Gordon Brewer, mountaineering instructor Paul Cunningham and journalist Dorothy-Grace Elder, a former Scottish National Party MSP, was prefaced by statistics drawn from official data collected by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland.

Ms Elder said the MCofS should ‘get tough’ and should say ‘don’t go in bad weather’. She said the situation was ‘madness’. The programme was broadcast before Friday’s Cairngorms avalanche which killed three more people, bringing to 10 the total who have died this year on Scotland’s mountains.

The MCofS said it has asked Diarmid O’Hara, editor of BBC’s Newsnight Scotland, to put the record straight following last night’s programme.

“The debate discussed a number questions relating to safety in the mountains following ‘calls from certain quarters to restrict access’ to the mountains during winter,” the council said. “Unfortunately Brewer did not specify from which ‘quarters’ the ‘calls’ originated.”

David Gibson, MCofS chief officer said: “We welcome any debate which raises the profile of mountain safety. Clearly interest from the media is always helpful in bringing such issues to the attention of the public.

David Gibson: spoke to Ms Elder before the programme

David Gibson: spoke to Ms Elder before the programme

“Unfortunately the discussion failed to provide sufficient clarity concerning relevant statistics, which are detailed in the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland’s Annual Statistics Report 2011.

“The programme correctly stated that there were 52 fatalities in 2011, but omitted to mention that 31 of these related to non-mountaineering incidents; in the prior year there were a total of 45 fatalities of which 16 were mountaineering and 29 non-mountaineering.

“Rescue teams also responded to 158 non-mountaineering incidents in 2011 – 194 in 2010. The piece also failed to recognise the financial contribution to Scotland’s mountain rescue teams made by the Scottish Government which was £310,000 in 2011 to 12.

“Clearly any fatalities which occur in the mountains are regrettable; however these occur against a background of increased participation in mountaineering activities which in 2011, according to Scottish Natural Heritage Statistics, saw 7.2 million individual visits to the hills for mountaineering and hillwalking by Scottish residents alone.

“According to VisitScotland’s research 55 per cent of Scotland’s visitors come for the landscape and 41 per cent of visitors to the Highlands went for ‘hikes or long walks’.

“Against this background, and at a time when the Scottish Government is seeking to improve public health through increased activity, and so avoid a burden on public spending through funding for the NHS which in many cases seeks to put right years of inactivity, calls to restrict access would appear to be out of all proportion to the issue at hand, if indeed such calls could be enforced.

“Restrictions on access would also be contrary to the provisions of the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003.”

Mr Gibson said he had spoken to Ms Elder at length during a telephone call on Tuesday, prior to the broadcast, and explained these statistics. He added: “I also pointed out that mountaineers recognise the international participation statement which ‘recognises that climbing and mountaineering are potentially dangerous activities and that participants should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.’

“We hope that in future the BBC will seek to provide better information concerning matters related to mountain safety and ensure that the public is more accurately informed.”

The Newsnight Scotland discussion can be seen on the BBC iPlayer for the next few days by readers in the UK. The piece starts at 15 mins 20 secs.

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