A Tweed Valley team member on duty during the Storm Frank floods. Photo: Tweed Valley MRT

A Tweed Valley team member on duty during the Storm Frank floods. Photo: Tweed Valley MRT

Mountain rescuers in Scotland have denied the movement is about to split, after the three busiest teams expressed dissatisfaction with the way its umbrella body was operating.

Glencoe, Lochaber and Cairngorm teams last year proposed separating Scottish Mountain Rescue into two different organisations.

The three teams said the increasing demands on volunteer mountain rescue teams for ‘non-mountain’ operations such as flooding rescues, searches for vulnerable missing people and other non-core mountain rescue activities followed funding cutbacks to statutory rescue organisations meant SMR had lost its focus.

Lochaber, Glencoe and Cairngorm have the largest number of callouts in difficult mountain terrain, with honeypot mountains such as Ben Nevis, Cairn Gorm and those in Glen Coe attracting large numbers of walkers, climbers and mountaineers.

The three tabled a motion for the organisation’s annual meeting, saying: “We no longer feel that Scottish Mountain Rescue represents the interests of our teams. We believe that the requirements of search and rescue and mountain rescue are now so diverse that the interests of both operational areas would be better served through separate representative bodies.”

The three also believed there was a ‘democratic deficit’ in the way SMR, which distributes the annual £312,000 Scottish Government grant, was being run.

Other proposals put forward included splitting the organisation geographically, with the northern teams having a bigger say than those in the South and East, and the western teams.

Lochaber MRT secretary Miller Harris told the BBC recently: “All the hassle that goes with a strategic organisation is not worth it with the amount of money that filters down. We’re just fighting for crumbs.

“I have the utmost respect for the recent work done by teams during flooding in Hawick and Lockerbie.

“It’s a fantastic service, but it’s not what we do. What I can offer is 20-plus years of experience at the sharp end on Ben Nevis.”

The Lochaber team, which carried out 130 rescues last year, receives the largest chunk of the shared government cash, £24,000 a year.

But the three teams and acting SMR chair Steve Penny of Tweed Valley MRT, who took over from Cairngorm MRT member Simon Steer at the head of the umbrella body, moved to take the heat out of the row with a joint statement.

Mr Harris and Mr Penny said: “There has been considerable press and social media cover about the decision of Glencoe, Cairngorm and Lochaber MRTs to resign their voting membership of Scottish Mountain Rescue.

“We both feel that while it is healthy to debate these issues, some of the comments are misinformed and not representative of the position or views of the respective parties within SMR.

“While our geographic areas and operational demands are different across Scotland, we all have one thing in common, which is that we are volunteers and as volunteers, we probably have more in common than our differences.

“The teams that collectively deliver mountain rescue and search and rescue services across Scotland can deploy personnel into every part of the country and those in need can be comforted in the knowledge that they will receive a world class service that will cost them nothing.

“The primary purpose of around 1,000 volunteers currently in SMR is to offer a wide range of skills that are appropriate to their own local area. Whatever happens in respect of the administration of the organisation, none of that will change. Every team has been set up and runs as its own body and most have done so for around 50 years.

“The current discussions have largely been imposed on us all as volunteers by the pressures created by outside influences. We have seen significant changes which have put considerable pressures on rescue teams and the demands on volunteers’ time.

“This has resulted in increased expectations on what volunteers will contribute in support of reduced resources in the non-voluntary sector. Decisions are being made at a strategic level which ultimately impact on operational expectations of volunteers.”

Ben Nevis attracts thousands of visitors no matter what the weather. Photo: MCofS

Ben Nevis attracts thousands of visitors no matter what the weather. Photo: MCofS

The statement said SMR has to review and refresh to meet the needs of an ever-changing operational landscape. “So, yes, GLC [the three teams] feel that the national body has lost focus from their point of view and that needs to be resolved,” it said. “It is healthy that teams can feel that they can question and challenge an organisation that exists to help them deliver at the sharp end.

“We must accept that Scottish Mountain Rescue – the charity – is entering a period of change. However, Scottish mountain rescue – the activity – as delivered by the teams across Scotland will continue as it has always done.

“We must stress that no teams have actually ‘left’ SMR and there is no ‘split’. GLC would still wish to be affiliated to SMR and will continue to support the wider mountain rescue community in whatever way they can.

“Where appropriate we believe that the current healthy exchange of skills to facilitate training and information exchanges within the organisation will continue irrespective of the outcome of current discussions.

“So, if you are unfortunate enough to need to call on the services of a mountain rescue team anywhere in Scotland then don’t worry: it’s very much business as normal and we will drop what we are doing, grab the packs and head out to help you.”

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