Author Topic: Letter by Malc Foyle to the Wessex Journal- posted here with permission  (Read 3081 times)

Offline Pegasus

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I have been sent a copy of the following by a number of people and been asked for a copy by a number more so thought it easier to just post it here.  Malc Foyle has kindly given his permission as the author and paraphrasing -  'is happy for it to be posted on UK Caving. It has been circulated in the Wessex Journal to all their members plus anyone who subscribes to it plus a copy will be in the BCA/BCRA Library, so feel free. It is in the public domain'.

I am posting it as me, not as BCA P&I Officer.

I took it personally when the infamous proposals were put forward, particularly the one re P&I and it is why I am not standing for the position again, that and the resignations of Matt & Gary from BCA Council.

Reading this letter has brought me hope that maybe current issues can be sorted out as awareness is raised, discussions had and all cavers properly represented, leading to more volunteers once again finding satisfaction in what they do for BCA rather than resigning or leaving when their term is up. I hope BCA will move forward and be the National Body caving needs. Thank you Malc for writing it.




« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 06:09:45 pm by Badlad »

Offline PeteHall

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Thanks for sharing this Pegasus. :thumbsup:

From the various posts on the Wessex Facebook page, this has certainly generated some much needed discussion, generally supportive of Malc's position.

One thing that was perhaps missing for the journal readership, was a bit of background context, like for example a report from the club CSCC rep  though if I'm not mistaken club meeting minutes including some notes on the subject were published shortly after the journal.

I'm sure most readers of this forum will be well aware of the background!   :o
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Offline mrodoc

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One of the reasons the CSCC may be perceived as obstructive has to with geography (in the widest sense).  Both in Devon and the Mendips access to major systems has been denied by landowners for many years and, I think, understandably, older cavers in our neck of the woods are concerned that any perceived militancy would result in more cave closures.  I think this needs to be understood by those in other parts of the country.  On Mendip and to a lesser extent in Devon there is also a proud record of cave conservation and I have to say this is not so apparent in a number of caves in other parts of the country that I have visited over the last 50 years.

Offline PeteHall

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Both in Devon and the Mendips access to major systems has been denied by landowners for many years

Could you provide any examples mrodoc?

As a younger Mendip caver, I am aware that access to Lamb Leer was lost, though I believe that this was because the landowner wanted to use the area as a 4x4 track and asked cavers to pay the same rate. While a deal could easily have been struck, it would have set a precedent for access fees that may have been followed by other landowners. As such, the cavers decided to leave the cave for another generation, when a new landowner may agree to a better arrangement. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Other than that, and caves in active quarries, which are clearly problematic across the country, what other major systems in Mendip have been lost due to denied access?

Thanks
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Offline langcliffe

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On Mendip and to a lesser extent in Devon there is also a proud record of cave conservation and I have to say this is not so apparent in a number of caves in other parts of the country that I have visited over the last 50 years.

Fifty years is a long time, and I would hazard that your personal experience of what has been going on in the Dales over the last 20 years is severely limited. As far as I am aware, all major caves discovered in the Dales in that time have been properly taped, recorded and are respected, despite some of them, e.g. Shuttleworth and Notts II, taking a lot of traffic. There has also been a lot of effort put into taping routes, where appropriate, in places like Ease Gill and Gaping Gill which have had a very heavy footfall for many years. Have a look at the conservation section on the CNCC website for an idea of how active Dales cavers are in this area.

I suggest you put to one side the opinions you formulated in the distant past, and re-evaluate the real situation.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 08:35:15 pm by Badlad »

Offline Ed W

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That someone as respected as Malc felt he had to write a letter such as this surely shows that something has to change with the way the CSCC represents southern cavers.

Sorry, but the argument that Mendip is different just doesn't wash.  All regions have their specific issues, but the others all seem able to embrace change, whilst CSCC seems to be at odds with everything that BCA and other regional councils do (CROW, bolts, BCA modernisation etc).  As to conservation I have seen examples of good and bad in all UK regions, I really don't think any one regional council can claim any moral superiority on that count.

Personally I think the heart of the problem (as I have stated before) is that CSCC does not truly represent southern cavers, or even the member clubs.

Well done for sticking you head above the parapet Malc - I am sure you will take some flak but there will be many others who share your views.

Offline Badlad

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mrodoc, with respect

Devon and Cornwall have their own regional body to represent them (https://dcuc.org.uk/) and they don't behave at all like the CSCC.  In fact their representative to BCA usually drives 3.5 hours each way to attend meetings and never once have I witnessed anything other than a willingness and positive attitude in meetings.

I agree with Ed W's post below on conservation.  It was only a year or two ago that Mendip was at the heart of several destructive conservation problems itself.  We all have them. It has all changed from those days that you fell out of the Hunters into a wetsuit for a night time blunder down Swildons or St Cuthberts throwing a frisbee to the bottom and pissing everywhere.

In the Dales we have a large and active group of conservation volunteers who address all sorts of conservation issues from clean ups to education.  I'd be very surprised if any other region was more active.

Offline Fulk

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Quote
On Mendip and to a lesser extent in Devon there is also a proud record of cave conservation and I have to say this is not so apparent in a number of caves in other parts of the country that I have visited over the last 50 years.

So what happened down Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink?

I've only been there once, but my recollection is that access is/was controlled (loosely/tightly – I can't remember) by the landlord of the Hunters' Lodge Inn – but this didn't stop it getting trashed.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 09:47:42 pm by Fulk »

Offline Stuart France

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And what happened to Llygad Llwchwr 2 as well?

I am still extremely annoyed about this.  Some English cavers discovered damaged stalactites in this remote but extremely well decorated small cave on the western fringe of the Brecon Beacons (see photos attached) in the middle of nowhere in the middle of an “all caves need locked gates to conserve them” moment.   This cave didn’t have a locked gate.  It still doesn’t have a locked gate, and no damage has ever occurred other than the October 2016 incident.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but the damage discovery visit included some of the very same individuals who discovered the damage to the formations in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink on Mendip in March 2016.  They set up a ‘stalactite repair hospital’ to rebuild stals broken into pieces of roughly equal length using glue - with favourable reports in Descent magazine and Darkness Below:

https://darknessbelow.co.uk/news-repairs-to-the-hunters-lodge-inn-sink-vandalism/

They arrived at Penwyllt on a Saturday but too late to go caving, and then they went to LL2 on the Sunday.   They came back to Penwyllt, miles out of their way, to talk about the damage they discovered rather than take the M4 directly back to England.   As it happens, an accomplished photographer from middle England also arrived at Penwyllt from the Sunday onwards.  I’m not saying any of the above caused any damage anywhere - I’m just setting out the timeline for movements that were brought to my attention as the Cave Conservation Officer for Wales.  I discussed it with the landowner but they were not willing to initiate a police investigation.  Unbelievably the Llwchwr (the main cave and its impressive resurgence) is not an SSSI, and so NRW has no locus.

It is obviously distressing to be the person who discovers mindless damage to ‘pretties’ in any cave anywhere, but to be the discoverer of the very same style of cave damage twice in the very same year (2016) at sites over 100 miles apart must be more than a disheartening experience.



« Last Edit: June 27, 2020, 10:47:21 pm by Stuart France »

Offline mikem

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Although they were both reported by the same people, the damage in Hunters' lodge inn sink was discovered by a different group.

Offline andrewmc

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It also included me. All the damage appeared to be clumsy accidental damage. As I remember, you misinterpreted pieces of a small broken stal being placed in a line on a nearby shelf, as they had fallen into the streamway and would have been lost in the gravel.

You are of course at liberty to pursue a conspiracy theory if you want...

Worst of all, you've accused me of being English!
(I was was born in Pontypool)

Offline Duck ditch

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At the risk of getting involved with something I know nothing about.
Both sides agree to cave conservation. There is success and failure in both systems.  Agreed?

Is mrodocs fear of cave closures justified?  That seems to be the real question.

Do people think that access agreements in other areas have been beneficial to cavers and is overall a good thing? If you don’t why?
Malcolm Foyle Has sent a heart felt letter here, saying cscc are being obstructive and resistant to change.  Why?  Are the cscc Members comfortable with the current access arrangements and why?  Honest answers appreciated.

I am trying to be balanced on what is the most heated debate on this forum.  But if I have missed the point please ignore and delete this post.

Offline Badlad

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The current turmoil in BCA and the proposed motions from CSCC members which prompted it have nothing to do with conservation or access.  That is used as a convenient distraction to cover some really rather disruptive behaviour.  Did the resignation letters of the BCA secretary, IT and webmaster mention anything about conservation and access - no.

This was purely a battle between modernisers and those who want to keep it the way it has always been.  Modernising means to most, maximising volunteer resource for the good of caving, creating an atmosphere where people can volunteer happily, streamlining the organisation to get the most out of it, improving benefit to the members and being transparent in what it does and how it operates.

I copy below the agenda item no7 from the CNCC meeting yesterday as an example of what this is about.

"Few will have failed to notice that the BCA is in turmoil again. The resignation of key volunteers
including our own Matt and Gary is very concerning, especially given the events recounted in their
resignation letters. There are a few good folk at BCA still fighting to drag the organisation into the
21st century but there are equally those who would like to keep it as ineffective and dysfunctional
as possible so that the organisation has little effect on their own empires and the way they have
always done things. For some years now there has been a battle between the modernisers and
those who like it the way it was. This has meant that every step of forward progress is hard-won
and takes the hell out of volunteers. For most, it is just not worth it. Consequently, there is a fine
line as to whether BCA will ultimately fail. As a modern, transparent and forward-thinking
organisation CNCC should consider the consequences of this. Would it be wise to make some
contingencies in case BCA should fail or become so dysfunctional that we would no longer want
to be associated with it?"

Offline mikem

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Whilst the current situation is not directly related to access, it does stem from the view that taking control away from the landowners will adversely affect digging - why would they allow new caves to be found that will result in more people coming on to their land?

To answers Pete's question, apart from Box Mines, there are at least 8 other sites in Mendip Underground (which is only a selective guide) & until fairly recently Fairy Quarry Caves were also denied, despite the site having been shut down for years.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2020, 09:34:47 am by mikem »

Offline Badlad

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Whilst the current situation is not directly related to access, it does stem from the view that taking control away from the landowners will adversely affect digging - why would they allow new caves to be found that will result in more people coming on to their land?



Or, to put it another way, why wouldn't they.  Lots of landowners are fascinated by what might lie beneath their land and of course you generate good relationships to enable that. 

In my experience of the Dales, landowners expect us to be representing cavers including campaigning for better, improved and legal rights of access.  Building relationships on this basis has improved access and those relationships all round and sometimes you have to be challenging in order to achieve that.  We are often seen as the solution to access issues rather than the problem.  If anything it has improved opportunities for digging not diminished them.
 Landowners have to comply with many laws and regulations every single day of their lives.  It is not something they aren't used to but as you say this has nothing to do with current CSCC and BCA problems as outlined in Malc Foyles letter.

Offline Ed W

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mikem, CROW is just one of many areas where the CSCC has been disruptive to the BCA over many years.  The pros/cons of CROW have been gone over ad nauseum on this forum over that same time period.  To read CSCC minutes you would think that there isn't a single caver south of Birmingham who supports CROW, when the true situation is that there are a great many who do.  The enthusiastic embracing of CROW in other regions does not seem to have adversely impacted exploration.

I have no problem with CSCC having a different view to other caving organisations, I do however have a problem with it repeatedly and deliberately trying to derail progress against the majority view and even more so for failing to adequately represent southern cavers and instead promote the views of a few self appointed luddites.

Offline Stuart France

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Re:  Llwchwr.  The pieces of stal of equal length were lined up by me to show they were amenable to repair using a similar method to the Mendip incident earlier that year.  As andrewmc says above, the people reporting the damage found the broken pieces on the cave floor.  But this particular stal was broken off the cave roof above head height and so it could not have been broken accidentally.

The large lump of missing curtain in my other photo was 1-2 inches thick and weighing kilos and it could not have snapped off except by means of a tool, like a rock or a hammer.  It was on the floor nearby.   This is in the upper series and well away from the long stal broken into equal size pieces.

Our visits were investigative and they established that the damage was not accidental.  We did not repair this damage nor publish any photos before to avoid gratifying anyone and furthering their ends.  I am clear that the group who discovered the damage did not cause any damage.

The Llwchwr damage, as with Hunters, was selective, and amenable to a kind of repair - thus the same MO.  It could have been much worse – total carnage – and it surely would have been if the motive was as simple as vandalism.   Things happen for a reason.  Things happen in the same way twice for a reason.  Reflecting on circumstances, particularly commonalities, suggests motives.

We need to understand appalling events so as to figure out how to discourage repeats.  Rightly or wrongly, I feel the likeliest motive is political.  This was certainly not an accident.  Assuming it was political then some unhinged people are still on the loose.

Badlad says conservation is not politics and conservation is off-topic, and I agree.  But I'm not talking about conservation.  My concern is the exact opposite - wilful destruction - which in this context is a political statement.  How low can some people go?

The good news is that political interest drives political involvement which results in visibility.  People pop up in the most expected places, or they would like to.  Thus the caving community can and should become more prudent concerning those it appoints to regional or national posts, and thereafter be more vigilant concerning all of these people’s performance in the job.

Such people and groups that are obstructing progress simply need to be removed or replaced, and it is good that this avenue is being suggested by new people with the courage to say so in print.  Democracy can only work effectively by voting people off, which means having alternative candidates.

So it would help if more new faces would stand for public roles.  Now with Zoom there is no need for travel to meetings and waste a good Saturday.  BCA Council has crossed that bridge and is about to hold its first 'experimental' Zoom meeting in July, and not before time too.   The next bridge to cross is depoliticising the BCA Council and thus get it to deliver the better future for caving we all want.




Offline Fjell

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I don’t think some “insiders” in previous decades ever fully appreciated how inhibiting it was for younger people to go caving in the past. Looking at a list of trips from the‘80’s and ‘90’s what I see is loads of university trips down the same non-permit caves. King and none ever down County seemed a theme. To the extent I remember being down the bottom of King with someone and then suddenly realising it was their second ever caving trip. It is almost impossible to reconcile travel, permits and weather over the winter for people with limited resources.
You wonder why the numbers went down. Easier to go abroad. If only for training expeditions down unexplored chasms.
The current situation in the Dales is dramatically better and forms a more sustainable and more inclusive basis for the long term. Making people feel they are included makes it far easier to get them to buy into other messages and objectives. Sanity prevails. People are happy. They might feel some ownership.
As an aside, if hyttes are your thing, maybe you need something more hardcore like this:
https://www.klikk.no/bolig/hytteliv

Offline PeteHall

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To answers Pete's question, apart from Box Mines, there are at least 8 other sites in Mendip Underground (which is only a selective guide) & until fairly recently Fairy Quarry Caves were also denied, despite the site having been shut down for years.

Ok, so I've been through Mendip Underground and found the 8 sites:

1. Banwell Ochre Caves (combined length 390m)
The wood is privately owned by Fountain Forestry Ltd. and access to the caves is currently denied.

2. Hayes Rift Mine (length 100m)
No stated reason for access restrictions

3. Holly Bush Shaft (length 170m)
No stated reason for access restrictions

4. Lamb Leer Cavern (length 585m)
No stated reason for access restrictions, though I have explained what I've been told in a previous post.

5. Nine Barrows Swallet (length 225m)
No stated reason for access restrictions

6. Rusling Farm Pot (length 60m)
Access is currently denied. The farmer cites rudeness by previous caving visitors as the reason for closure.

7. Twin Titties Swallet (length 125m)
No stated reason for access restrictions, though I believe it is now open and an active dig.

8. Winterhead Shaft (length 90m)
No stated reason for access restrictions

It would be very interesting to know the history of these sites and the reasons for their closure. This would really help understand if there is a consistent theme and an underlying problem specific to Mendip, or just a few difficult landowners as experienced in all areas of the country.
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Offline mrodoc

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I don’t think some “insiders” in previous decades ever fully appreciated how inhibiting it was for younger people to go caving in the past.
https://www.klikk.no/bolig/hytteliv
I would take issue with that statement. Certainly never stopped me caving in the 60's - it was more a lack of transport not being made of the sterner stuff shown by  Chard School Scouts were prepared to cycle a 30 mile round trip to search for and explore new caves.  I would suggest the limited number of cave down by uni groups might more be due to lack of imagination. Those groups like ULSA made a mass of discoveries in th 60's and 70's.

Offline nearlywhite

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The next bridge to cross is depoliticising the BCA Council...

  Satire? :lol:

Beginning to wonder if you have a hand in Dankness below, perhaps you should get back to posting!

Offline menacer

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I love Dankness below.
My primary 'go to' caving website.
Great fun.  :thumbsup:
 :clap2:
Chaos, panic, and disorder - my work here is done.

Offline braveduck

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Take care with Dankness Below ,it only spreads its own  version of the truth  .
It is not unbiased reporting unfortunately . :(
Great shame but there we are.
Just hope they never get their hands Descent !

Offline PeteHall

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I hope we are not confusing the mighty Dankness Below with the comically biased reporting of Darkness Below.

If it makes you laugh, it's probably Dankness Below, if it makes you shout at your screen, it's probably Darkness Below...
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Offline The Old Ruminator

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Sod all to do with the post topic but -

  "7. Twin Titties Swallet (length 125m)
No stated reason for access restrictions, though I believe it is now open and an active dig."

I would really like to know more about this as it was a very promising site when I last looked at it nearly 30 years ago. Pete Hall you may send me a discrete message.

 

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