The BMC wants to be seen to represent hillwalkers and not just climbers

The BMC wants to be seen to represent hillwalkers and not just climbers

The organisation that represents mountaineers, climbers and hillwalkers in England and Wales says it is determined to do more to represent the walking section of its membership.

Spurred by criticism that it is climber-dominated, the British Mountaineering Council appointed Carey Davies as its first hillwalking officer in April 2013.

Since then, Davies, a former journalist on The Great Outdoors magazine and a keen hillwalker, has worked hard to elevate the profile of hillwalking within the Manchester-based council, 87 per cent of whose members described the pastime as one of their main mountain activities.

But the council admits it still has some way to go. It recently appointed eight new ‘ambassadors’ – luminaries among the outdoor community whose job is to promote and explain the work of the BMC. Seven of those were climbers; just one, Chris Townsend, was a hillwalker.

Once a year, the BMC holds court at the Kendal Mountain Festival and chief executive Dave Turnbull delivers a ‘state of the union’ address to outline how the council is doing.

Dave Turnbull makes his point at Kendal Mountain Festival

Dave Turnbull makes his point at Kendal Mountain Festival

This weekend, he told the gathering: “We’ve produced a 15-page internal discussion document looking at the BMC’s work for hillwalkers and we’re analysing where the shortfalls are; where we need to do more.

“There’s a big discussion going on to do with that; there’s a consultation day we’re running in the Peak District on 29 November and we’re setting up a hillwalking working group comprising people from all over the country, basically to work out how the BMC can do more to work for hillwalkers.

“It’s a really important group of members for us. It’s one of the few areas where we get serious criticism for not doing enough and we’re genuinely keen to do it.

“We need help from the media; we need members who are keen to get involved with that and ultimately, I’m sure, the organisation will put its money where its mouth is and invest in work for hillwalkers.”

grough has seen the strategy document to which Turnbull referred. In it, Carey Davies fights the corner for walkers within the BMC and he pulls no punches.

A survey last year showed, of 2,000 respondents, only 30 per cent of members said they were satisfied with the work the BMC did for hillwalkers.

Carey Davies. Photo: Dougie Cunningham

Carey Davies. Photo: Dougie Cunningham

Davies also points out the BMC’s website, social media, newsletters and its magazine Summit have a strong climbing bias.

He says the council is culturally and financially a climbing organisation. Most of its officers deal with climbing matters; specialist committees are ‘climbing heavy’; local and national volunteer meetings are dominated by climbing discussions; most spending goes to climbing projects.

He sets out a range of ways in which the BMC might improve its work with hillwalkers, including changes to Summit, working with the media on hillwalking stories and issuing press releases on safety and advice in a way similar to the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

Davies also advocates changing some of the organisation’s staff roles and spending more cash on hillwalking matters, including the appointment of more hillwalking ambassadors.

grough spoke to the sole present hillwalking ambassador Chris Townsend, a man with huge experience of hillwalking and another TGO writer, who was also at the Kendal festival.

Were the recent moves because of criticism of the BMC’s commitment to hillwalkers? Townsend said simply: “Yes.

Outdoors expert and BMC hillwalking ambassador Chris Townsend

Outdoors expert and BMC hillwalking ambassador Chris Townsend

“I think the first thing was appointing a hillwalking officer. That was a sign finally we’re taking this seriously.

“A lot of the work they’ve done, particularly access and conservation, has always been of benefit to hillwalkers. That’s why I originally joined.

“But apart from that it could be very much seen that everything else is geared towards climbing, not hillwalking.

“I think, first of all appointing an officer and then making me an ambassador, shows they are thinking we’ve got to do more than take the hillwalkers for granted because of the access and conservation stuff which obviously I think is really good.

“Upland areas are always under threat from development; access is always challenging. Of course, it’s a lot better now because there is access legislation but even so it has to be monitored and the conservation of the hills is very important as well.”

Townsend has been working with the hillwalking officer, whose post is funded by Sport England.

All the BMC's ambassadors attended the Kendal Mountain Festival gathering

All the BMC's ambassadors attended the Kendal Mountain Festival gathering

Chris Townsend said: “As I’m the first-ever hillwalking ambassador and so far the only one, and Carey Davies is the first hillwalking officer, to some extent, we’re learning as we go along.

“Overall, it is to raise the profile of the BMC and to say to people: ‘the BMC is not just a climbers’ organisation, it’s an outdoor hill organisation’, so hillwalkers are just as important as climbers and the BMC does a lot for hillwalkers and to explain what that is.

“I’ve been a member for longer than I can remember, but we need to explain why I’ve been a member as a hillwalker.

“I’ve done a couple of films for BMC TV. We’re going to do some more films. I’ll be doing a bit of writing, but also promoting it on social media as well.

“So I’ve been commenting on and sharing things, sharing things about the BMC as the ambassador for hillwalking.

“I would hope in future that there are other hillwalking ambassadors; I think there are seven climbing ambassadors.”

Hillwalkers are not the only group in the BMC’s sights for increased involvement.

Dave Turnbull told the Kendal gathering: “We are very keen to get more women involved with the BMC at different levels. The Sports Council put various requirements on us, but basically, it’s good practice. We want women to get involved with the BMC at area level.”

BMC vice-president Mina Leslie-Wujastyk

BMC vice-president Mina Leslie-Wujastyk

Vice-president Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, a Sheffield rock-climber, was on hand to expand.

She said: “We’ve increased the number of website and Summit articles that are relevant to women in climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering. We’re making a push to make sure that isn’t neglected. With a male-dominated organisation, it’s easy for those things to be slightly overlooked.

“We’ve support the women’s climbing symposium, which has just had its third year and has been stupidly successful. We’re proud to be an active part of that.

“We’re actively engaging in Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.  It’s going to have adverts on TV from January. The basic idea is to celebrate active women and to encourage other women to become more active through deconstructing barriers.

“So it’s not going to be loads of pictures of stunning glossy women who look like they’re not sweating on a cliff face.

“It’s going to be women out and about, doing sport, having a really good time, sweating profusely, having mud on their faces – all the things real women want to be doing and are doing.”

Turnbull admitted the council had a major problem with its travel insurance scheme after the insurers refused to pay out on some high-profile Alpine rescue claims, despite other providers, notably the Austrian Alpine Club, settling the claims.

“This led to us falling out with them [the BMC’s insurers] big-time and parting ways.

“We’ve found a new company. They have agreed to take on virtually identical wording to the Austrian Alpine Club which means fundamentally if you have an accident in the mountains you will be rescued and there won’t be any questions asked, which is the way it should have been all the time with the BMC scheme.

“There was a lot of bad press on UKClimbing and it’s had a quite a negative impact on the BMC’s income and reputation. But that, I’m pretty hopeful, will be solved and the good thing is that we appealed to the financial ombudsman on the first of these cases and they’ve now found in our favour and told the insurer they have to pay out.”

The BMC will continue to work with the all-party Parliamentary group

The BMC will continue to work with the all-party Parliamentary group

But he was upbeat about the health of the British Mountaineering Council, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year – on 2 December officially.

He said: “Financially, we’re pretty stable; membership is pretty stable, given that the insurance scheme has had a difficult ride over the past couple of years. Our membership is still increasing by one or two per cent a year.”

The BMC said it expects its new hillwalking strategy to be introduced next year.

It also says it hopes to continue and extend its work with the all-party Parliamentary group for mountaineering, the Open Wales Campaign to create new access laws in Wales, and complete dedication of all the land it owns to make them open access permanently.