Accurate forecasts are vital for outdoor fans heading for the hills. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Accurate forecasts are vital for outdoor fans heading for the hills. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The official Scottish Government agency responsible for funding mountain weather forecasts said it hopes talks will resume with an independent forecaster who said its money had been withdrawn.

sportscotland moved to reassure the outdoor community following the weekend’s statement by the Mountain Weather Information Service that it would end its forecasts in December.

sportscotland, the non-departmental public body answerable to the Scottish Parliament, administers the £36,000 annual grant to the Galloway-based meteorological team, led by Geoff Monk.

It said: “sportscotland will discuss with MWIS the provision of their service through this coming winter to ensure this familiar forecast format is available at a time when participation within the Scottish mountains peaks.

“Future developments into the provision of mountain weather forecasting will continue to be considered with the Met Office and it is hoped that MWIS will return to play an active role in these discussions.

“We reassure all stakeholders that safeguarding the supply of accurate, bespoke mountain weather forecasts is at the core of our commitment to outdoor communities and all those who rely on them.”

Mr Monk had said he received mixed signals during meetings this year with sportscotland and that the agency had decided to turn to the Met Office for all its mountain forecasts. The Exeter-based Government agency already provides mountain-specific forecasts for Britain, but in Scotland these cover larger areas than those detailed by MWIS.

He said: “It was really quite a shock. 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.”

Shaun Roberts, principal at Glenmore Lodge, had accused Mr Monk of misleading the outdoor world in a statement on the MWIS site.

He said: “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.”

On Monday, sportscotland issued a statement saying: “A review of mountain weather forecasting began in June 2014 after MWIS raised concerns into the future long-term sustainability of the existing service.

“This began collaborative discussions between sportscotland, the Met Office and MWIS to look at ways of securing forecasting provision for the future, at the same time as developing and improving the service.

“In 2015 a survey was commissioned by sportscotland aimed at understanding the current and future needs of mountain users. The survey received over 2,000 responses from mountain professionals and mountain users, and it was this consultation that helped form the basis of ongoing discussions.”

The issue is complicated by the fact that, although funding for MWIS comes from the Scottish Government body, its forecasts cover the uplands of England and Wales too, as does the official Met Office mountain service.

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.”

“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.”

A sportscotland spokesperson added: “sportscotland’s priority is to ensure the long-term provision of critical mountain weather forecasting and that is precisely what will be delivered.

“MWIS has been integral to the discussion around future mountain weather reporting and we would welcome the opportunity to resume conversations with them.

“We hope that MWIS will meet with sportscotland, Met Office and representatives from Mountaineering Scotland, to continue the discussions around the exciting plans, which are aimed at enhancing the future safety of all those who are active in Scotland’s hills and mountains.”

In a statement on Sunday, Mr Monk said: “Thank you very much to everyone who has expressed support for the continuation of the Mountain Weather Information Service.

“We have been inundated with emails of support in the last 24 hours and are so grateful for all the kind messages and comments we’ve received.

“As it stands, MWIS will close if sportscotland funding is not reinstated next year. Our forecast team remain committed to providing a quality service so that everyone can enjoy the mountains safely, but this will require funding. And we are open for collaboration if it means our forecasts are enhanced and improved.

“With your support, we are hopeful that MWIS funding can be reinstated and the service can continue for the long-term.”

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