Figures showed a mixed picture for teams across England and Wales. Photo: Paul Burke

Figures showed a mixed picture for teams across England and Wales. Photo: Paul Burke

Mountain rescuers in England and Wales saw large increases in the number of callouts during the first easing of lockdown in 2020.

Many incidents involved visitors to national parks who were less experienced and new to walking in the hills and remote countryside.

The umbrella body for the teams said overall figures for the year were up slightly, but some areas bore the brunt of the demand for their services as more people headed for the uplands during the coronavirus crisis.

Mountain Rescue England and Wales released statistics for 2020 on New Year’s Day.

The organisation said the numbers showed a mixed picture. A spokesperson for MREW said: “Overall, callout numbers for the year are remarkably consistent, with 3,080 callouts in 2020 compared with 2,973 in 2019, a relatively small increase of 107 – under 4 per cent.

“But this national view hides a much more complicated story once the figures are broken down by region, especially in the months following the arrival of Covid-19 in the country.”

The first three months of the year saw a small increase in callouts, up 16 on 2019 with most of the increase attributable to the West Country around Dartmoor and Exmoor where there was significant flooding, and in the mid-Pennine region.

Quarter two, with national lockdown, saw a huge fall overall with 359 fewer callouts in April, May and June. “However, while areas like the Lake District and north Wales saw significant falls, the Peak District was relatively unchanged with just over 120 callouts in those three months,” the spokesperson said.

“Then, with a loosening of restrictions in early summer, callouts increased by about 300 to a figure of over 1,230 across England and Wales. The incident reports show that this coincided with a large increase in visitor numbers to some of the national parks, particularly those that were close to centres of population.”

Mike Margeson, operations director for MREW, said: “The Covid pandemic has affected everybody.

“Our objective from its beginning was to protect the safety of our volunteer team members and to ensure that mountain rescue services were not compromised.

“It is no surprise that we have seen significant extra pressures and an increase in incidents and callout figures in areas like the Peak District, the North-East of England and the mid-Pennines – which includes parts of Greater Manchester and Merseyside – with the increased public recognition of the benefits of time spent in outdoors.”

Teams in the Peak District were the most affected by increases in incidents, with a rise in callouts of 205 over the previous year. Matt Dooley, chairman of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation, said: “The increase can be linked directly with the easing of the first lockdown in late May.

“During quarter three, Peak District teams were called out over 170 times, which was an unprecedented level. While some of these callouts were to what may be classed as our usual type of incident, a large number were to assist people who would not normally venture outdoors. We understand that people were attracted to the Peak District due to other locations being closed down and our proximity to major cities but it certainly put us under a lot of pressure – huge thanks and congratulations go to all the volunteers across the region who responded with such commitment.”

The Yorkshire Dales region dealt with a similar number of callouts in 2020 to 2019 – 207 in 2020, 218 in 2019 – but there were other impacts from Covid-19 as Ian Hugill, incident controller for Scarborough and Ryedale MRT reported: “We had a similar volume and mix of incidents as in other years but everything just took that bit longer, donning full waterproofs, PPE, including masks, goggles and helmets in the middle of summer, sterilising vehicle controls and cockpits before deploying, steamed up goggles and glasses, decontamination of team members’ kit after handover and deep cleaning of equipment and vehicles on return to base.

“Thankfully, other than being colder than we would have liked, we don’t believe any delayed response had a negative impact for those we rescued.”

Will Close-Ash of Northumberland National Park MRT in the north-east region saw similar effects: “In March 2020, it was impossible to predict what impact the first lockdown would have on incidents in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

“Then, once restrictions were lifted, we didn’t know whether we’d see a sudden deluge of incidents or a steady trickle. In the end, both Northumberland National Park and North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Teams recorded more incidents and had more deployments than usual and, like the Peak and Pennines, we were significantly up on rescues in the hills as people took to the outdoors in response to their time in isolation.

“The extra precautions and the uncertainty of Covid placed added stress and pressure on our members and we have also had to face another challenge. There were huge cuts in fundraising opportunities at events and we couldn’t engage with the public in the usual way. We have had to become more creative in reaching people via online media and spreading safety messages without that face-to-face contact.”

While the Peak District, North-East, Mid-Pennine and south-western peninsula areas encountered significant increases in demand for rescues, other areas saw their callout numbers drop. Teams in the Lake District, north Wales, south Wales, and south-west England were called out fewer times than in 2019, with the north Wales teams seeing a drop of 190 on the previous year as the Welsh Government imposed strict lockdown rules and footpath closures.

MREW said its message to visitors to the uplands and the outdoors remains the same. Mr Margeson said: “#BeAdventureSmart and think about your skills, the weather and the clothing and equipment that you need.

“Just a bit of planning can help to avoid many dangerous situations, add to people’s enjoyment of the hills and ensure that mountain rescue volunteers are available for the unavoidable emergencies that can happen to anyone.

“Our teams should be proud of their dedication, team work, professionalism and resilience in 2020. They now face the challenges that winter will undoubtedly bring with fewer hours of light, challenging weather and difficult ground conditions.

“I hope that everyone reading this will appreciate these volunteers and take a few precautions to ensure that they’re not part of our statistics in 2021.”

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Take charge of your own safety on hills, say rescuers, as lockdown eased
  2. More biker callouts as England and Wales mountain rescue figures rise
  3. Cumbrian rescuers plead with outdoor fans not to head to fells as lockdown eased
  4. Calder Valley rescuers’ finances under pressure as lockdown sees callouts increase
  5. Post-lockdown visitor surge leads to path erosion on trust’s Scottish hills