Using tape in Caves (was Agen Allwedd Trashed ?)

The Old Ruminator

Active member
Oh dear I see this turning into a rant. I have been caving in Agen Allwedd for over 50 years.This weekend I had a nice photo jolly up to Cliffs of Dover. Well that was the plan. To say I was horrified is an understatement. Main Passage is festooned with garish tape rather reminiscent of roadworks on the M4. Perhaps the traffic cones are soon to arrive. That made much of Main Passage impossible to photograph. Perhaps worse still is the appearance of fixed aids ( two scaffold poles ) in the entrance series. If you cant do a simple short traverse and climb without a scaffold pole you should not be caving. Then there are the notices re bats fixed to the wall. Surely one larger notice by the log in shelf would be enough. Maybe we shall soon see Keep Left signs all the way in. Notice that my topic has a question mark. So this is entirely my personal view. I always thought that cave exploration should take you as close as possible to the environment seen by the first explorers. The cave as it should be not as a tourist attraction for wannabee cavers. The tape in Main Passage is mostly where the roof is low so would not be walked on in error. In any case if one was bent on vandalism the tape would be no deterrent. Perhaps somebody here would like to justify their own form of vandalism.

 

mrodoc

Active member
I think the main issue is the terrible  inconsistency in the approach to conservation. I am joining the rant to say that in the well preserved caves of Western Australia, trail markings are obvious but unobtrusive. Some of the taping in UK  caves has been done very unsympathetically to the environment e.g. in Fairy Cave Quarry, in some caves where trails or guidance is needed there is none, and some of the damage in well known caves can only be described as depressing.  The road tape used currently in Aggy deteriorates with time and looks really messy as well.  I am surprised any fixed aids have been installed. OR is in his 70's. If he can manage without the fixed aids this suggests that the sort of person who they have been installed for perhaps shouldn't be in the cave at all!
 
The Agen Allwedd problem arises from people who are now in the retired age bracket or sadly no longer with us who walked all over the pristine mud floors in Main Passage in the 1950-60s when there was absolutely no need to do so given the ease of keeping to the same central line.  This is before conservation tape was invented.  The same goes for parts of OFD - the exploration push predates what we regard now as normal practice for conservation.

Laying conservation tape has been and continues to be an immediate and effective tool to establish and maintain agreed lines for paths through caves to leave the ground to either side untouched.  I really can't comment on colour schemes but most folk would consider bright colours suitable for the purpose for which it was intended which is visibility.

Conservation tape isn't a subject for a rant as it is plain common sense to most folks, and it's a good job the above haven't visited other Welsh caves yet with 'access installations' to put it broadly, and Ogof Draenen which holds the Welsh record for miles of conservation tape.

 

Badlad

Administrator
Staff member
Miles and miles, yards and yards of so called 'conservation' tape is both ugly and a very outdated method of cave conservation.  There have been huge improvements over recent years in conservation education and that together with subtle signage and occasional in situ prompts such as reflective arrows should be just as effective and far less obtrusive than the rather counter productive tape.

There is certainly a view amongst cavers which would agree with the OP.
 

mrodoc

Active member
We should learn from examples around the world. I cannot believe British cavers are a special breed apart who cannot see a well indicated trail or paths marked by thin unobtrusive line. The photographs shows some subtle path markings also accompanying some invisible monofilament line that does the job just fine.  Much better than ugly jarring brightly coloured tape.    I notice nobody's come to the defence of the scaffold poles so far ;)
 

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Huge

Member
Aggy has been trashed but that happened decades ago, with floors being walked all over, rubbish and carbide being dumped, carbide soot marks and formations being broken.

I agree with OR about the signs and scaffold bar aids in the entrance series but not about the tape. There's actually very little tape along Main Passage. I was also in Aggy at the weekend and one of the people with us first went into the cave in 1967, 10 years after the Main Passage had been discovered. He told us that at that time, the wonderful passage floor was still in good condition, with cavers sticking to a central untaped path. Almost the whole floor was preserved in its natural state, that you can now only see glimpses of beyond the tapes, with selenite crystals growing along the entire length of the passage. The damage was done after this time, when cavers wandered willy nilly along the passage, crushing the crystals and obliterating any features on the cracked mud floor. He said that he avoided the cave for many years as he felt depressed to witness the destruction that had occurred. Even now he feels sad to see what has been lost. Bill Gascoigne once told me how he and others rescued the remaining selenite crystals that were in vulnerable possitions and moved them to safer areas, behind tapes. I too thought that some but certainly not all of the taped areas were at undercuts and therefore would probably be protected anyway but I'm not going to criticise anyone for wanting to protect what is left of this once amazing cracked mud floor. If conservation tape had been placed early on, we could all still wonder at the floor. It's still a very impressive passage, of course.

As for the moan that 'I couldn't take photos because of the tape', I've got no sympathy at all. Limiting the change from its natural state, that cavers make to a cave, is much more important than someone feeling that their snaps are spoiled by the conservation tape, in my opinion. I'd prefer to experience caves in as near to their natural, pre-discovery/untouched by cavers, state as possible. It's impossible for cavers to go into a cave without causing some change to occur but the laying of conservation tapes, for the reasons Stuart gives above, is an important step in limiting that change. The biggest factor in causing as little change as possible, is for cavers to think carefully about how they move through a passage and to simply not touch anything that does not NEED to be touched to move safely through the cave.

Below I've attached some photos I took in Aggy Main Passage at the weekend.
 

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droid

Active member
'It's conservation Jim but not as we like it'

I never liked 'conservation tape' underground but then I was never keen on trashed formations either. If someone is thick enough to trash formations they are probably too thick to understand more subtle markings....
 
I think its main purpose is to stop people absent-mindedly stepping where they shouldn't. The only way to stop deliberate misbehaviour is for someone else in the party to tell them not to.
 

Jenny P

Member
droid said:
'It's conservation Jim but not as we like it'

I never liked 'conservation tape' underground but then I was never keen on trashed formations either. If someone is thick enough to trash formations they are probably too thick to understand more subtle markings....

I am slightly surprised to see the heavy, wide, red and white hazard tape used for conservation taping.  It was agreed some years ago by BCA's Conservation & Access Committee that there were better ways of indicating appropriate pathways, particularly since this type of tape is known to grow mildew under cave conditions.  A lot of thought was given to alternative methods of indicating sensitive areas and it is much more common now to see taping done using steel supporting pins to hold thin orange-red cord above floor level - still easy to see and avoid but not so blatantly obtrusive.  Perhaps this recent taping in Aggie needs to be re-thought and done in a more sensitive way - there are plenty of good guidelines.

Another problem with that red and white tape is that it is so intrusive that would-be photographers are tempted to move it to avoid spoiling their picture and, having moved it, don't replace it.  The thin cord raised on pins is easier to keep out of the picture if taking a photo and more easily photoshopped out of the final image if you need to. 

Agreed that the main route has been battered over the years and probably should have been taped sooner; it's gradually and imperceptiby got worse as each successive intrusion wasn't noticed after all the previous damage.  Better that taping has been done now, even at this late stage, to prevent things getting even worse.  But please make sure that the solution isn't almost worse than the problem in terms of "unsightliness" - that red and white tape looks really horrible.
 

Ian Ball

Active member
Perhaps the tape is temporary whilst better options sourced?

Perhaps the scaffolding is for heavy carry assistance such as film lighting?

Perhaps this cave is in the Lord of the Rings series? 

 

andrewmcleod

Active member
My vote goes for tapes; as a (relatively) recent convert to caving I will never see what places like OFD2 were like before they were trashed pre-tapes. Up here, there are caves where you can see the damage that not being sensibly taped has caused/is causing (e.g. Wizard's Chasm), while places like Shuttleworth Pot which are heavily taped are largely immaculate beyond the tapes (and heavily worn within them).

While I'd prefer the more discreet red tape on stainless risers or whatever, I'm not going to complain about it unless I'm willing to get of my bum and change it (plus red and white road tape is dirt cheap, which is probably why it's traditionally been used).
 

PeteHall

Moderator
andrewmc said:
While I'd prefer the more discreet red tape on stainless risers or whatever, I'm not going to complain about it unless I'm willing to get of my bum and change it
Good point, well made  :)

(plus red and white road tape is dirt cheap, which is probably why it's traditionally been used).
Given that BCA fund conservation projects, this should not be a consideration, should it? :confused:
 

pwhole

Active member
Ironically we installed tape in our recent find to protect bootprints and fingerprints - but they were from the miners, so it was imperative really. A part-buried wooden wagon also needed pointing out due to its fragility. But we used the thin orange tape on stainless pins, with no contact to any wet or actively-forming surfaces. The only real formations in there stopped forming a very long time ago.
 

andrewmcleod

Active member
PeteHall said:
andrewmc said:
(plus red and white road tape is dirt cheap, which is probably why it's traditionally been used).
Given that BCA fund conservation projects, this should not be a consideration, should it? :confused:

Indeed. The first port of call for such things should normally be the regional councils, who would almost certainly have no difficulties being reimbursed for such reasonable expenditure, and I assume all of them would be happy to supply suitable tape to any cavers keen to volunteer for a suitable taping or retaping project.

However, in this case I _believe_ the Mynydd Llangatwg Cave Management Advisory Committee are the relevant access controlling body. Perhaps the multiple layers of separation between cave management and the BCA are hindering the BCA's good work funding conservation and access through the regional councils? ;)
 

Wardy

Member
I am not sure if I am correct, but I understood the cheap red and white tape had been shown to lose its red colour over time which then leached into the water / cave environment.
Surely as a conservation measure the use of a tape that leaches dye into the cave environment is rather less than ideal and should not be considered no matter the cost.
If we need to tape off, then a solution held off the floor on pins would hopefully have less effect on the cave, fulfil the conservation function and be less intrusive to the visitor - would everyone not be a winner?
 
The colour of the red-white tape is not bleached or leached underground in my experience.  The main reason for replacing it is because it is trodden on (!) in damp or muddy areas and it becomes physically damaged or uniformly coated in brown colour and sticks to the floor.

I agree that at 2" wide it is not pretty, but it has done a good job for cave conservation in the past few decades.  The 1" wide fabric kind of tape is nicer but it comes in short reels, heavier, more expensive, and can still be trodden to death.  The PDCMG has replaced a lot of red/white tape in recent years with a 2" white only tape, often in places where the old tape was mechanically sound.  It makes very little difference visually, although it is a heroic effort by those involved.

Some people simply don't grasp the maths.  If a significant cave needs, say 10kms of taping, and all the tape is put on stainless pins every 3m (say), then that's about 6600+ pins because you need to create parallel tapes.  My predecessor at CCC had some nice pins custom made of 3mm stainless bar about 30cm long with pig tail turned on one end and rounded at both ends leaving no sharps.  I inherited a hundred or so and they've all been used.  I only have 2 left as samples.  The other common practice is using stainless wall ties - but tens of thousands of them for South Wales alone?  Is this practical?  Is it necessary to lift tape off the floor where it is dry?  If the floor is rock then should it be drilled to place the pins?

Another approach would be to make the path to walk on obvious with only a single line of bright reflective markers, perhaps every 5-10m, then you simply "join the dots" as you walk along.  But with the blobs placed mid-path they will get trampled too.

One problem with the two lines of tape is that sometimes it is not obvious which side of the tape you should be on, particularly when a twin taped path becomes a single tape path because one side is a wall.  The equivalent problem with blobs is that you might need to put them in different places so as to see the line coming from opposite directions because double-sided doesn't suit everywhere.

There have been experiments in Daren Cilau already using such reflective blobs to mark accepted paths.  For photographers with only basic Photoshop skills it would be simple to overwrite bright blobs with nearby dark cave overlays using the Clone Stamp tool as compared to what is involved in overwriting a long segment of red/white tape in an image.

The photos here are on a local footpath at night using twin 10m lengths of strong 20mm orange tape on wall ties every 5m versus one line of 40x40mm reflective markers also on wall ties at 5m intervals under a fairly strong caving light.  I suggest "join the dots" is a technique that has its rightful place along with conventional taping where appropriate.  My second photo has the blobs Clone Stamped out in mere seconds of editing.





 

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pwhole

Active member
Here's one unfortunate example (photo by Lisa Wootton), though it's difficult to tell whether the tape was actually leaching dye or the photo was just overrexposed. But it's certainly not coming out :)
 

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adep

Member
Electrified fences is the answer, not as visible and keeps em in line once you have had your first belt, just need to run a power cable round the entire cave and a generator to hook it upto!
 
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