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Open Access for Birks Fell Cave


Active member

Short story for those in a rush...

From 1st April 2022 the CNCC will no longer be facilitating a permit system for Birks Fell Cave. This is not an April fools joke :)

In-keeping with this cave being on Access Land, we advise cavers that no advanced permission is required to visit Birks Fell Cave after this date. Please park cars responsibly (Buckden car park is a good choice, modest fee with proceeds to the National Park), change with discretion, use public rights of way and Access Land to reach the cave, and be respectful to others including the tenants of Redmire Farm if you meet them.

There is a description and topo on the CNCC website (https://cncc.org.uk/cave/birks-fell-cave). Dry, settled weather is essential.

Long story for those interested in some background...

For more details, inspiration to visit this first-class cave, and photos please read the full story:
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Staff member
Also worth noting that when Johnny Latimer was CNCC Access officer he tried to negotiate the removal of the closed season altogether.  At the time there was a six month closed season over the winter period.  His efforts were rewarded with a move from a six month winter period to a two month spring period.  Although this was the best that could be done at the time it was thought a bit odd that one closed season could be removed altogether and a new one imposed which had never been necessary before.  In my later meetings with the National Park they were quite surprised to find the National Trust restricting access in this way - at all.  It turned out to be on request of the tenant farmer.

It is also interesting to note the drop in the number of permits issued over the years.  I suspect this was partly due to a decline in interest and also an increase in cavers ignoring the permit system.  It went from something like 60+ a year in the eighties down to less than 10 a year in the 2010s.  A shame for such a fine cave if that reflected visitors.

We should also thank Ric Halliwell for all his work managing the access system for probably more than 40 years. 

...and if mrodoc is reading this (ref your negative viewpoint on CRoW campaigning in Descent).  Take it from me that this is only possible, as is the removal of restrictions and closed seasons across the fine caves of the Dales, because of the work of the CroW campaigners.  Waste of time indeed!
;) :)
Worth emphasising the flooding risk - many moons ago I arranged to meet some mates who were on a trip to scale Aven 2. They weren't at the pub which meant something serious was going on - it had rained most of the afternoon and when I got to the entrance it was under water. Not much decision making to call out the UWFRA and get the water diverted. My mates had realised the predicament they were in and sat it out in Slipped Floor Chamber until the cavalry arrived.
The cavalry described the gloopy sections of the entrance series being full of foam to the roof indicating the higher water levels had submerged the passages at these points. Prudence would suggest sitting it out in the larger passages below the entrance series rather than trying to force the situation if anyone is caught in similar circumstances.
Having said all that, it is an absolutely splendid cave and well worth a trip - highly commended all the way to the bitter end.


Active member
According to Ric's report to the AGM, this is his 33rd year as a CNCC Access Coordinator (previously known as Permit Secretary), not only for Birks Fell until now, but for several other 'outlier' caves that he has picked up along the way including Fairy Holes in Weardale, Robinsons Pot at Darnbrook, and Mongo Gill which are still subject to access agreements.

He and Pat have been attending CNCC meetings for a similar amount of time, contributing excellent viewpoints and ideas and being extremely welcoming and encouraging of those coming into the organisation  (y)

Mongo Gill is now the only Access Land cave for which we retain a permit system. This is something we need to look at, however, there are some complexities here with the showcave (Stump Cross) who have been extremely pro-caver and generous to local diggers (there is widely believed to be something substantial to find in the area), so this is something we are keen not to compromise as part of any discussions.


Active member
I spoke to the tenant farmer while there on a permitted trip (some time ago, before CNCC changed it stance) and politely enquired why he wanted permits his answer was to just to make sure he knew who was down there in-case anyone got into trouble (injured, flooding etc). I suggested maybe people could just knock on his door instead or leave a note if he's not in before going into the cave, but he was adamant that the permit system was the only way to be safe, he wanted advance notice I can't remember his reason.

Anyway, glad it's all sorted and well done. P.s. the tenant farmer was a nice guy and everything, so I never had anything against him. However, the existing permit system had stopped me from visiting the cave, though I had applied for one in July for the first time in about 5 years. It will be good to get back down the cave and well done again!


Active member
Though having read the full thing are we actually welcome as CNCC just pulled out of the agreement? I guess it don't matter as it's access land, just don't want to get shot at lol.


Staff member
The original six months winter closed season was brought about by concerns for the weather as there had been several rescues.  Moving it to spring was more to do with lambing apparently.  Flooding is a big issue in a cave like this, but so it is with many other caves.  With modern weather forecasting cavers should be able to mitigate those risks considerably.

Anyway I am pleased to see CNCC sticking to it's principles of access for all.  It is a shame that BCA insurance doesn't support that anymore as it was a valuable tool of reassurance.  From the recent reports of the BCA insurance officer and some personal communications last year it is obvious that the insurance industry is pulling away from this sort of cover.  Nothing much the BCA can do about that but it is a valuable lesson to move away from a reliance on insurance to gain access as there are bound to more problems in the future.

Well done CNCC


Yes, check that Weather forecast!
We got flooded in at the bottom of the cave quite a few years ago, weather forecasts weren't as good then. When we finally managed to get out I would estimate that at least a quarter of the cave had flooded to the roof.
As we made our way out, an injured Thirza Holden and her party were stuck below the small cascade. Our ladder was in the stream and impossible to climb. It was a monumental feat of climbing by John New of the DCC that enabled us to get out and call Cave rescue.