Author Topic: Pathway back to Welsh caving  (Read 1289 times)

Offline Stuart France

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Pathway back to Welsh caving
« on: May 15, 2020, 10:17:47 pm »
Today, the First Minister for Wales, has published a kind of government roadmap, with a traffic light system, but involving five colours,  to explain the government approach to normalising society.  The extra colours are black (the present lockdown), then red-amber-green intermediate stages of relaxation, leading to (presumably) white which is the status quo ante.  He’s published a document adorned with library photos of smiling NHS workers and happy pensioners, but also containing some meat on the bones:
http://cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/pdf/WGstatement-200515.pdf

Somewhat ahead of the Welsh are the French who have already permitted limited caving to resume, plus cave diving and canyoning activities.  Here is a nuanced translation of the French deal:
http://cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/pdf/FrenchCavingRulesMay2020.pdf

The Outdoor Alliance (Wales) is an action group consisting of all national bodies for adventure sports, plus various public sector interested parties including NRW.  It is set to publish next week its own roadmap for the resumption of outdoor recreation in Wales.  There was a 25-person zoom meeting to set this up about 10 days ago.

The Welsh Sports Association, which includes all sports bodies, even golf, held a 100-person zoom meeting this Weds, attended by the Welsh Government’s (WG) director of sport, their ‘regeneration’ project manager who did most of the govt talking, and a deputy director of Public Health Wales.  The WSA is now embarked on a similar ‘scenario’ exercise for the resumption of all sports - but they are about a week or two behind the OA effort.

The WG says it wants to receive proposals from all sports through WSA or similar focal points to help plan the pathway back to outdoors recreation as we knew it.  So we are pushing at an open door.  But obviously they will deal with ‘easy’ sports first which present least risk.  The French cavers have addressed risk already by proposing a phased return to their government bodies which begins by permitting only low grade caving etc activities – and this negotiaated system has been officially adopted.

Whether Cambrian Caving Council goes with OA or WSA or both, we will need a plan as to what is practicable for caving, safe to undertake, and timescales for it to evolve.   As CCC's Access Officer, I could propose an initial list of 'acceptable' caving trips for each stage of restrictions relaxation, under a booking system (say morning, afternoon and evening slots) where groups would have exclusive cave use to avoid unexpected encounters with other groups.

Please discuss.



Offline PeteHall

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2020, 11:42:14 pm »
As CCC's Access Officer, I could propose an initial list of 'acceptable' caving trips for each stage of restrictions relaxation, under a booking system (say morning, afternoon and evening slots) where groups would have exclusive cave use to avoid unexpected encounters with other groups.


Personally, I think a prescriptive system like this should be avoided at all costs. It would be completely impractical to manage access to every cave in Wales on this basis, so you would end up with a few honey pot sites where there was a booking system and all the rest illegal to visit. This would surely cause us far more trouble than it could possibly resolve.

Who should decide what caves are ok and on what basis?

What are we actually trying to achieve?

 - ensure social distancing?
 - prevent a rescue?
 - ensure any rescue is easy?

If we are concerned about social distancing/ meeting another group, rather than a permit system for every cave, how about a system where you leave a red flag at the entrance on your way in and pick it up on the way out, so others know not to visit at that time? Would be pretty annoying though if you'd just walked an hour to the entrance of a cave, only to find a red flag, so that system would struggle... Also no good for a through trip.

Perhaps a phone app for cavers. Select your cave from a database. Clock in when you enter, clock out when you leave (if there is a phone signal). This might actually work, but would exclude cavers without a smart phone (if there are any still; even I have one now after my work got me one...). Could also be used for call-out, monitoring footfall at sites, reporting issues such as bad air or trouble with fixed aids. I doubt a system like this could be developed and rolled out quick enough to help us now, but I see a future in the idea.

Another option could be "cave rationing", as reducing frequency reduces all other risk factors proportionally. Download a "permit to cave" that simply has the days date on it and a QR code to verify it, which you can show to the plod if pulled over. You would only be able to download so many permits in any given time period? The number of permits you could get would increase as lockdown was eased. Again, whether a system like this could be implemented in time, I don't know.

The next question is how to define what caves are "acceptable". What is a doddle for an experienced group could be a serious undertaking for a less experienced group. What is ok on a dry day could be a death trap in the wet. There is no one-size-fits-all description of a "safe" cave. Many caves have a simple area, with a more challenging section beyond. Once you are legally in the entrance, who's to stop you going for a longer trip?
Key headline stats that the French system seems to use might sound good to the authorities, but in reality say very little about the actual challenges underground. A cave might have one vertical pitch, but otherwise be a walk in the park, other caves may have no specific obstacle, but just be a relentless physical strain. I would be very worried to see any such system adopted here. It's the kind of thing that's likely to have unintended consequences; universities banning anything over a grade 3 trip, insurance not covering a trip with a squeeze etc. If anything like this makes it to law, it will still be there once we have long got over Coronavirus.

If anything like this becomes too bureaucratic, it will force people to make bad decisions or risk breaking the law. The key will be to keep it as simple and flexible as possible.


Here's a slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion for the 5 stages:

Stage 1: Cave diving only. All cavers are guaranteed to be properly isolated and breathing from a clean air supply. No limit on group size or frequency, so long as social distancing is maintained while getting changed, or breathing apparatus used instead.

Stage 2: In addition to stage 1 activities, 25 - 40's are permitted to dry cave as they are at lower risk, but sensible enough not to have an accident. Max group size of 2. Max once a month.

Stage 3: In addition to stage 1 & 2 activities, Under 25's permitted to cave so long as they are accompanied by an over 25. Max group size 2. Breathalyser test for the U-25's. Max once every 3 weeks

Stage 4: In addition to stage 1, 2 & 3 activities, Max group size increased to 4. Breathalyser pass limit relaxed for U-25's. Fortnightly trips permitted.

Stage 5: Over 40's permitted back into caves. No requirement for breathalyser testing. No limit on group size.
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Offline pwhole

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2020, 11:52:35 pm »
I don't have a smart phone ;)

But I've got a long wait it seems - Stage 5 for me - and probably most people on here. I guess they can do all the digging though whilst I control via some video link.

Offline mikem

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2020, 06:41:36 am »
Firstly the government do not have jurisdiction over which sites can or can not be visited, that has to be a decision of the landowners / management groups - so producing a definitive list for them is not helpful.

The more landowners you ask, the more restricted the list will become & the risk of transmission will increase, as cavers are concentrated into a smaller number of sites. Those that decide they don't want cavers about should be assured that their decision will be published somewhere that cavers can easily check (I'd suggest at least regional council website & here - so a list of caves you can't visit, rather than those you can, as latter would also encourage people into certain sites).

Allowing the government to suggest what level of caving is or isn't permissible is also a dangerous precedent, for the reasons suggested by Pete, & because it could be used in the future to restrict access at the whim of those with no knowledge of the sport (although this word has come to be associated with competition, it's original meaning was a pastime, or amusement - hence the landed gentry using it for hunting etc).

You are no longer a risk of infection to the hospital staff, they've already had massive exposure, you are far more likely to catch it from them, but you are still a risk to rescue teams (& them to you), so stick to easier trips than you normally would.

Older cavers are more likely to visit esoteric / less popular locations, so there is no need to restrict participation on the basis of age. Many of them are diggers, so visiting sites that aren't of interest to, or can't be accessed by, others anyway.

South Wales has the advantage of obvious large systems, where there is easy walking, but that means more people will head for those spots. A booking system may be required for these, but that should be managed locally, rather than nationally, as they are better placed to decide suitable numbers / choice of routes & they can also react more quickly if the local situation changes / weather conditions, or other factors, make it unsafe.

Advice about best practice to fit with whatever government decides on rules (number of people, distance of allowed travel etc) needs to be widely advertised.

There is already a separate discussion on here about the French guidelines.

An interesting paper exercise would be whether experienced cavers injure themselves more in systems they are familiar with, because they become blasé, or if most accidents happen in new environments - I suspect it will be a mix, but one may be more prevalent than other. Inexperienced cavers are obviously a different matter.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2020, 07:05:25 am by mikem »

Offline Graigwen

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2020, 07:11:29 am »


The Outdoor Alliance (Wales) is an action group consisting of all national bodies for adventure sports, plus various public sector interested parties including NRW.  It is set to publish next week its own roadmap for the resumption of outdoor recreation in Wales.  There was a 25-person zoom meeting to set this up about 10 days ago.

...

Whether Cambrian Caving Council goes with OA or WSA or both, we will need a plan as to what is practicable for caving, safe to undertake, and timescales for it to evolve.   ...


Will the Welsh Government accepted caving representation via the Outdoor Alliance when they have decreed caving not to be an outdoor activity, but more like darts or card playing?

.

Offline mikem

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2020, 07:13:54 am »
Canoeing & various other outdoor activities are not allowed under CRoW (even mountain biking), so actually no different to them.

Offline PeteHall

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2020, 08:11:08 am »
But at least the Welsh Government accepts that they are outside,  so worthy of representation by the Outdoor Alliance  ;)
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Offline Bob Mehew

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2020, 10:23:41 am »
I suggest that any prescriptive system needs to be based on arguments which amongst other things would relate to risk of accident / ease of rescue but also other things such as control of risk of cross infection, access and impact on locals.  What is currently exercising my mind is what other factors should we be considering.  When we have a grasp of them then perhaps we can see whether a prescriptive list is of value.  See also https://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=26477.msg323919#msg323919

Offline Stuart France

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2020, 06:39:19 pm »
The Outdoor Alliance Wales has today published its “Post Covid-19 Recovery Plan for the Outdoor Sector in Wales:
http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/pdf/OA-RecoveryPlan-200518.pdf

Their plan covers both provider-led and informal adventure activities.  Reference is made to a New Zealand activity guidance website as that country re-opens to recreation.  I did a search for “Caving Northland” which means in the north island with places like Waitomo.  The short-and-to-the-point result is here:
http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/pdf/Covid19OutdoorsNZsample.pdf

I understand what people have been saying in the discussion above this posting, but I feel the pathway back to normality implies something of a return journey rather than near instant arrival at the final destination.

A lot of what the OA is suggesting for climbing, rambling and mountain biking applies to caving too, for example use of shared equipment like ropes or touching surfaces shared by others such as rock, stiles, gates, and facilities like car parks and toilets when they re-open, and consideration for local communities.

However, caves present, in a C-19 context anyway, venue management issues as compared to the above sports because of the scarcity of caves in general and popularity of some in particular.  So I would like to receive further ideas please on how to propose a “pathway” in Wales that is general purpose, practical to follow, and not overly prescriptive.


Offline Badlad

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2020, 07:18:27 pm »
I'm happy to chat with you about the CNCC approach.  Give me a call - unless I am you and you are me, of course, and then it is pointless (ref to a comment on another thread  ;D)

Offline Stuart France

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2020, 03:07:42 pm »
After a bit of a slow news month during May, other than about Durham, changes are underway in Wales.  The schools are going back, all of them, at the end of June and term has been extended by a week!

Developments too on outdoor sports so Cambrian have updated their Coronavirus page today and now provide a downloadable guide to the present situation in Wales as we see things currently and mention too what will happen in the second part of June by way of further developments for the availablity of outdoor recreation.

http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/corona%20virus.html

Anyone in any doubt that more positive action is coming soon needs to read yesterday's update on the Brecon Beacons NPA website which says "Over the next week we will be finalising our review of those sites currently closed ... we will preparing to reopen some areas in the week commencing 8th June ... starting the processes required to prepare for the eventual re-opening car parks and toilets ...  while awaiting the Welsh Government review on the 18th June" when I imagine there will be another shift up of gear at national scale.


Offline Stuart France

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2020, 01:23:59 pm »
Cambrian Caving Council's coronavirus  page has been updated, see:

http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/corona%20virus.html

The news is that the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority have lifted some of the land and car park closures in areas of interest to cavers.  This includes the car parks at Daren Cilau, Draenen and OFD/SWCC.

The "stay local to home" rule still applies in Wales but that might be lifted by the Welsh Government, all being well, on 6th July.  Whether that means the current mountain area closures will also be lifted on the same date is anyone's guess.  The WG have a press conference later today when some clarity might emerge.

The message we'd like to convey is that the end of the lockdown is now in sight, but coronavirus is still here, so everyone needs to prepare themselves for changes, and to think things through carefully, to plan ahead, and be adaptable, and stay safe.  The CCC website has more detail.

Offline Stuart France

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Re: Pathway back to Welsh caving
« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2020, 11:35:08 am »
This week's good news is that the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has for the second week in a row lifted more countryside and car park closures in areas of interest to cavers.  This includes everything west of the Swansea Valley except the limestone around the honeypot site of Carreg Cennen Castle and the Craig-y-Nos Country Park / Car Park.  Everything east of Tredegar is now open too.

We are also providing 'forward guidance' on the abandonment of the 'stay local to home' rule, expected to happen in about a week's time all being well, and the re-opening from mid-July of some self-contained overnight accommodation which has all self-contained facilities like kitchen/bathroom that would suit a single household.  Hostels, club huts and campsites will remain closed as their shared facilities would mix up different households.  We expect those clubs which issue cave keys to day visitors and to their own members in normal times will be ready to provide alternative self-service arrangements like an external key box or via local members when the next lot of restrictions are lifted during July.

Cambrian Caving Council's coronavirus page has been updated, see:

http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/corona%20virus.html

The end of the lockdown is now quite close, but coronavirus is still here and it will be for a long time to come.  So everyone needs to prepare themselves for changes and to think things through carefully, plan ahead, be adaptable, and stay safe.

Stuart France
Cambrian Caving Council
« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 11:48:24 am by Stuart France »

 

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