The MWIS said its service will end in December. Main photo: Bob Smith/grough

The MWIS said its service will end in December. Main photo: Bob Smith/grough

The forecast is looking gloomy for a weather service that offers specialised reports for Britain’s hillgoers.

The Mountaineering Weather Service says it will end its forecasts in December after a government-backed agency said it was withdrawing funding.

MWIS provides daily tailored forecasts for nine areas of upland Britain, from the north-west Highlands to the Brecon Beacons. It announced its funding from sportscotland was coming to an end and it would have to close the service at the end of the year.

It said in a statement: “The safety of climbers and walkers in the mountains will be put at risk if funding is not continued and the Mountain Weather Information Service will cease producing forecasts as of 31 December 2016.

Geoff Monk, lead forecaster at MWIS said: “The funding withdrawal by sportscotland, following their previous decision to collaborate with MWIS, together with the Met Office, was a real shock and jeopardises the safety of those who use the mountains every day.

“All we want is for MWIS to continue to provide a consistent, quality service so that mountain users can enjoy the mountains safely, fully aware of what the weather will throw at them.

“MWIS has a stable, long-term future and the service will continue to be enhanced provided funding continues. We are asking sportscotland to come back to the negotiating table and commit to the continued funding of MWIS so its long-term future is secured.”

The Galloway-based forecasting service receives about £36,000 a year from sportscotland, the non-departmental public body answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

MWIS has received widespread public support on social media since it announced on Saturday it faced closure.

Speaking to grough, Geoff Monk said: “I think we’ve had more than 200 emails; I have only seen one that isn’t in support.”

He said the funding, which the non-profit-making service has received since October 2007, goes towards providing the cost of providing the forecasts.

“It pays for forecasters’ time,” he said. “A lot of time goes into the forecast; it’s 365 days a year and there’s checking for the amendments through the day, so it takes a lot of time.”

He said he provides the lion’s share of the forecasts, but others work on the service too. “Nearly all of the forecasts are done by two of us but I have, if you like, an emergency team so that if something happened to one of us there will be somebody else to fall into the slot, as happened a few years ago when I was suddenly in hospital.”

The storm clouds began gathering over the service this summer after a series of meetings with sportscotland and the Met Office.

Mr Monk, who has been a meteorologist all his life, said: “We don’t know the reasons sportscotland has withdrawn the funding.

“All of a sudden, we knew from what was a very positive press release put out by the Met Office on 7 March saying we, sportscotland and the Met Office were going to work more closely together using the skills we have – presumably our skills in mountain weather forecasting – and suddenly we never heard any more.

“All went quiet for a while. We’d been talking to the Met Office increasingly; we had a meeting in Manchester last October and a full day in Exeter in February which was a very positive day, and I think everybody concerned would have agreed with that, which was followed by that press release.

“Then, I met with sportscotland on 22 April which was a funny meeting. Let’s just say sportscotland seemed to have gone a little bit cold. They seemed to be giving mixed signals.

“I came back from Glasgow and then subsequently, when everything was quiet, I asked for another meeting. I went up to Glenmore Lodge, and met with them on 18 July and it was then that, after a little bit of beating about the bush, it was stated by sportscotland that they were collaborating with the Met Office; it’s too complicated to collaborate with three people.

“It was really quite a shock. That was the bottom line. Following that meeting I wrote what I thought was a fairly detailed response, outlining where I felt we’d come from and just reviewing the conversation we’d had at Glenmore Lodge. I’d also been on the phone with the Met Office for an hour that afternoon. My final statement was an invitation to get back to negotiations.

“I did make plain that, without my knowledge, the situation seemed to have changed.

“The Met Office had described the planned collaboration in various terms. They described it as a roadmap; in other words, we were not quite sure where we were going to go: let’s collaborate on our skills and let’s see how we can work together.”

He said he believed earlier in the year MWIS would be working with the Met Office to provide sportscotland with an improved service.

“We started to have meetings. The culmination was: our skill was in weather forecasting; their contribution would be mainly adding on to the site which, incidentally one part of our proposal was to get the forecasts on to the other lodge sites, which made a lot of common sense, for sportscotland really to be a big part of MWIS. That was one of the big things really.

“sportscotland was really looking to take ownership of MWIS in a positive way. They just moved away from that without any explanation; all the work I’d done with the Met Office, all of a sudden, sportscotland put nothing in writing.

“The plan was that the MWIS forecasts would also appear on the Met Office sites; also appear on a Sportscotland website which would also include the Scottish Avalanche Information Service information. Together on that website would be some automated information supplied by the Met Office which would be things straight from a computer, like summit temperatures, wind speeds and such, which is not such high-quality information, but it’s good as an initial plan.”

Mr Monk said finding alternative cash to run the service would not be easy. “It’s difficult to see where we could get alternative funding, though nothing is impossible.

“I am aware a very small number have said, why not try crowdfunding or something like that. But you do that once. Is that really something that’s sustainable?”

The MWIS and Met Office currently each run mountain weather forecasts online.

Shaun Roberts, principal at Glenmore Lodge, said in an email issued on Sunday: “The mountaineering community is alive with social media statements and petitions regarding the MWIS, following a press release posted on the MWIS website.

“Over the past year MWIS has been directly involved in collaboration discussions with the Met Office and sportscotland. These discussions sort [sic] to find a resilient and development-focused structure to ensure the provision of reliable and authoritative mountain weather forecasts.

“I have been representing sportscotland throughout these discussions and would like to state that the claims made by Geoff Monk are disappointing and misleading.

“Geoff Monk, representing MWIS has had a very active role within these discussions and the lines of communications have always been open and remain so.

“As a mountaineering community the provision of quality mountain weather forecasts has become a critical part of our risk awareness process before heading for the hills and mountains.

“sportscotland has been investing in mountain weather provision since 2007 and avalanche forecast provision since 1988 and we are committed to ensuring continuity and enhancement of these forecast services.

“I look forward to sharing more information with you regarding future developments and can confirm that sportscotland will ensure the provision of mountain weather forecasting as we enter this coming winter.

“Given that the current social media traffic is being driven by misleading statements, I would appreciate it if you would circulate this email to colleagues and friends to help inform our community.”

David Gibson: 'dialogue should restart'

David Gibson: 'dialogue should restart'

David Gibson, chief executive of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “Mountaineering Scotland was influential in securing the original Scottish Government funding, provided through sportscotland, which secured regular provision of Scottish mountain forecasts produced by Geoff Monk since 2007.

“The agreement was for Scottish forecasts and has never applied to English and Welsh forecasts.

“Prior to provision of funding, the forecasts had been produced daily by Geoff Monk free of charge for a number of years but together with many other organisations, we felt that this situation was unsustainable and that the forecasts were a major contribution to mountain safety, hence the need for government funding.

“Until April 2016 we managed the contract with Geoff, following which sportscotland took that responsibility.

“Geoff had already indicated prior to April that he wished to reduce his level of activity and sportscotland had advised us they wished to see a sustainable solution which would ensure forecasts were not solely reliant on Geoff’s relatively limited resources and that would leave a lasting legacy when he eventually retired.

“That solution involved the Met Office and we have not been involved in any of the subsequent negotiations between Geoff, sportscotland and the Met Office.”

Mr Gibson said a number of alternative mountain weather forecasts have been launched in recent years and are in use regularly by mountaineers and skiers, offering a choice and enabling comparison of forecasts.

He said: “MWIS is not the only option available to users but it offers unique features that have earned massive support in the mountaineering community and made it the number one choice.

“Mountaineering Scotland wish to see continuity in the daily production of Scottish mountain weather forecasts, which are publicly funded, available free to users, and which provide at least the same range of forecast features as MWIS.

“We believe there is an urgent need for the three parties to reconvene their dialogue to ensure that there is continuity, especially with the onset of winter and the critical need for mountaineers and skiers to be able to assess forecast conditions and plan their activities accordingly.”

  • MWIS provides a link to grough via its website.

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