Mountain Leader training in the Lake District

Mountain Leader training in the Lake District

Mountaineers fear the introduction of fees for commercial use of land owned by one of the country’s biggest conservation charities could hit outdoor training.

The National Trust has launched a pilot scheme covering 21 of its properties, where anyone running events for money will have to obtain a licence and pay a fee.

The Lake District, where many Mountain Leader training and assessment courses are run, is included in the list. The trust deems any activity where money is paid to be commercial and so subject to licensing, despite Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs guidance on open access land saying ‘activities organised for promoting or teaching an adventurous outdoor activity are unlikely to be undertaken or organised for a commercial purpose’.

The new National Trust rule is also likely to hit events such as ultrarunning competitions, mountain marathons and charity National Three Peaks walks.

The trust said: “People are now enjoying events and activities in the outdoors more than ever, and that’s great.

“But with that enjoyment comes, inevitably, more erosion and damage and the need for more repair and protection. It is the role of the National Trust to protect areas of land now and for the future, ensure adequate insurances are in place, protect event providers from liabilities of prosecution for environmental impact, support farm tenants and remove the risk of multiple events and activities clashing at the same venue.

“Across the country, people enjoy the National Trust’s open spaces to walk, run, climb, cycle and the freedom to roam. It’s the role of the National Trust, as land managers to look after these spaces for the enjoyment of everyone, and for future generations.

The BMC fears the new licensing scheme could affect outdoor courses

The BMC fears the new licensing scheme could affect outdoor courses

“Rights of way and open access land are really intended for individuals to get out and explore, but are not set up for racing or professional organisations to run their business upon.”

The trust adds that events run in conjunction with itself are likely to have their fees waived. Fees under the pilot scheme are pitched at 3 per cent of the income from the event, with an upfront licence application fee of between £50 and £100.

The charity said its aim is to minimise damage through greater control of activities happening on trust land; reduce conflicts between user groups; ensure provision is run at a high standard; develop better relationships with providers and increase understanding of the trust with their students and generate income with money raised going directly back to repair and maintain land.

The British Mountaineering Council held a teleconference with the National Trust to press the case for exemption of training courses by instructors and guides teaching and assessing candidates on courses such as Mountain Leader, Hill and Moorland Leader and Single Pitch Award.

The National Trust will also insist licensees hold relevant qualifications, though the BMC points out there are several ways of demonstrating competence, not all of which involve holding national governing body awards.

The council said: “The BMC strongly supports a view that the vast majority of provider work falls within this definition [promoting or teaching an adventurous outdoor activity] with a primary purpose of educating students, building skills to encourage further participation in outdoor activities and teaching an appreciation of the landscape and environment.

“Based on this interpretation of the law, providers using access land owned by the National Trust for the primary purpose of educating students should have a free right of access.”

There are fears other landowners could start charging hillwalking course providers

There are fears other landowners could start charging hillwalking course providers

The BMC is also worried the NT licensing scheme may set a precedent, with other landowners introducing similar stipulations, making it difficult to run courses which cross several owners’ land.

It added: “A key requirement for outdoor providers is to remain able to react to unexpected changes to weather and conditions and change venue at the last minute if necessary. This is an integral part of the activities climbers and walkers participate in and making last minute changes more difficult will only result in a reduction in safety for providers and students.”

It also points out that no-one can charge a fee for people to use rights of way. There is also the likelihood the charges will displace providers’ courses on to other areas, it said.

The pilot scheme will run for six months and the National Trust will then look at extending a licensing scheme for all its properties next year.

The BMC is asking providers and others involved in running what the trust deems commercial activities to contact it with their views. Mountain Training, which oversees the national governing body courses and awards likely to be affected, has also contacted those registered for its awards to canvass their opinion.

The BMC said: “A key point to note is that this is currently a pilot scheme and the trust was keen to stress that there is scope for it to change significantly if elements of the pilot version are found not to work.

“The trust is planning regular reviews throughout the pilot and a larger review in the autumn, accumulating feedback from local providers in the 21 pilot areas as well as from partner organisations.”

The areas, spread across England, are: the Lake District, New Forest, Alderley Edge, Longshaw, Osterley, Carding Mill Valley, Ashridge, Wimpole, Killerton, Clumber Park, Penrose, Birling Gap and Slindon, Gibside, Attingham, Purbeck, Buckland Abbey, Speke, Formby, Arlington, Tyntesfield and Leigh Woods and the trust’s properties in Gloucestershire.

National Trust land in Wales will also be included in the licensing scheme next year. Scotland’s access laws permit commercial activities which comply with the outdoor access code.

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