Author Topic: Letter by Malc Foyle to the Wessex Journal- posted here with permission  (Read 3056 times)

Offline mikem

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I think he's confusing it with something else - Tween Twins or Tankard mineshaft?

Offline PeteHall

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I don't believe I am confusing it...
The distance between stupidity and genius is measured only by success.

Offline menacer

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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 !
:o You're kidding right?
Its a parody website.
Its not suppose to be true, just funny.
It rocks that box for me for sure.    :lol:


 

Chaos, panic, and disorder - my work here is done.

Offline mikem

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He's talking about DaRkness Below...

Offline Pitlamp

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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...

Erm - I don't really understand. The Darkness below site does have some good content on it. I've especially enjoyed Alan Jeffreys' book reviews for example, so much so I was motivated to write a review myself for them recently. I don't remember ever shouting at the screen; but maybe that's because I'm not particularly sensitive to issues which Mendip cavers find more important, as my caving's mainly done in the north of England. I've always been one for giving credit where it's due though, hence commenting here (which will hopefully balance what you posted, a bit?).

Offline mikem

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It was set up to be an alternative news source to ukcaving, as this also has its biases.

Offline PeteHall

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Way off topic, but there is no comparison between a selectively edited website and a public forum where any opinion can be expressed.

As Pitlamp says, credit where it's due, they do publish some decent content, though they do manage to add an anti-access slant to pretty much everything they publish.
The distance between stupidity and genius is measured only by success.

Offline bograt

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To get back to the matter in hand, when considering the mindsets of all parties involved, consideration must be given to the fact that Medip caving area is the only one in England not in a "severely disadvantaged" farming area and as such the local farmers will have a different mindset about visitors on their land. This is not an insurmountable issue but needs taking into account when comparing it to other regions. Furthermore, it is the only major caving area not in a National Park, again influencing mindsets of all involved parties---
Aim low, achieve your goals, avoid disappointment

Offline mikem

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Although it is an AONB, which has similar aims. They are also generally managed fields & many are closer to people's houses, plus it's quite a small community, so they know what's going on.

(I'd suggest many internet forums provide a less balanced, & self-reinforcing, view of the world, as people hang out with those of a similar viewpoint. So it's less easy to identify those biases, than on someone's own website.)

Offline PeteHall

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Furthermore, it *Mendip* is the only major caving area not in a National Park, again influencing mindsets of all involved parties

This may be what it comes down to, but that doesn't necessarily affect the mindset of southern cavers vs northern cavers, most of whom I suspect don't actually live in a national park.

As I posted earlier, understanding the reasons access has been lost in the past, may help explain the attitudes of some older cavers in the area. I really hope someone can shine a light on this. Mikem, mrodoc, any ideas?
The distance between stupidity and genius is measured only by success.

Offline mikem

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In most cases it's been a change of owner, or a caver has pissed them off - which includes those who've assumed they had a right of access & haven't asked for permission.

Offline Pitlamp

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Way off topic, but there is no comparison between a selectively edited website and a public forum where any opinion can be expressed.

As Pitlamp says, credit where it's due, they do publish some decent content, though they do manage to add an anti-access slant to pretty much everything they publish.

Sorry - I tend to be a glass half full person.  :)  :thumbsup:

Offline Russell Myers

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Furthermore, it *Mendip* is the only major caving area not in a National Park, again influencing mindsets of all involved parties

This may be what it comes down to, but that doesn't necessarily affect the mindset of southern cavers vs northern cavers, most of whom I suspect don't actually live in a national park.

As I posted earlier, understanding the reasons access has been lost in the past, may help explain the attitudes of some older cavers in the area. I really hope someone can shine a light on this. Mikem, mrodoc, any ideas?

It must be my years (being over 25) things from the past feel like yesterday and that everyone should know about them. To answer your question about the reasons access is such an issue on Mendip, it is coming up to 40 years since SSSI status came into being in caving areas primarily to protect caves from loss through quarrying etc. SSSI status was applied to Mendip caves and with it unintended consequences as that status protected just about anything else such as plants, animals, insects, creepy crawlies and things of a natural disposition. This  meant that farming practices came under scrutiny and some quite draconian measures implemented on the farmers. Quite rightly, they got a bit tetchy and reacted with a if you want to conserve caves, you can't go down them anymore resulting in access being denied for 18 months until the matter was resolved probably by some of the people who are now being criticised on CSCC. They should be commended if not lauded for their efforts. I can't remember the details, I was caught up in our own battles over access to the caving areas of the North so we had more than enough on our plates. CRoW raises similar concerns but let's not get distracted.
What we can't get away from, is that all the actions of organisations representing cavers, such as CSCC need to act in a democratic manner (if you believe in democracy) which is an underpinning foundation of BCA. Unfortunately, the enemy of democracy is complacency. It is rife in the caving community and allows minorities to dominate control of these seriously influencing bodies, setting their own agendas and doing what they think best for the rank and file which may be 40 year old thinking. It is time to wake up and start asking questions, just like Malc has and even go a step further and apply for some of the positions to influence the way in which you wish caving to go in the future.
I'm looking forward to a "punch up" to take on all comers when the BCA Secretary's position is up for election!       
JFK: Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

Offline PeteHall

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Thank you Russell for that insight. I have to admit that I am much too young to remember this era, not being born until the latter half of the 80's...

This does go some way to explaining historic attitudes, but times do change and we do need to move with them, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Malc's letter raises the prospect of the biggest(?) club in Mendip disassociating itself from the regional body. This surely signals that the time is ripe to change.
The distance between stupidity and genius is measured only by success.

Offline Ed

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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.
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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.

Might of been so back then, but in the early 1990s when I was at Poly it was those that started caving in the 60 and 70s that put me off, so I stuck to climbing

Offline Fulk

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Hi Ed, I started caving in the 60s, but I don’t remember doing anything to put off new-comers; I’d be interested to learn what happened in your case.

Offline Russell Myers

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Thank you Russell for that insight. I have to admit that I am much too young to remember this era, not being born until the latter half of the 80's...

This does go some way to explaining historic attitudes, but times do change and we do need to move with them, or risk becoming irrelevant.

Malc's letter raises the prospect of the biggest(?) club in Mendip disassociating itself from the regional body. This surely signals that the time is ripe to change.

Pete, I keep thinking I've just turned 25 but somehow my body doesn't quite work like it should at 25 especially stooped over trying to lift a foot over a rock on the floor, it's weird, I keep stubbing my toe!
In historic terms, I've traced this issue back to Eli Simpson and the attitudes that developed from his view of a British Speleological governing body! Maybe something for another post elsewhere on the forum.
Regarding change, I refer you to the quote on the footer of my posts.
 
JFK: Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

Offline mikem

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I think the difference in attitude mainly stems from Yorkshire already having lots of open potholes on the fells, whilst the majority of Mendip (& Welsh) caves were dug open. Derbyshire is slightly different, in that miners / quarrymen opened up most of the systems (even if many of those entrances were subsequently lost).
« Last Edit: June 29, 2020, 09:07:56 am by mikem »

Offline John Gresty

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Russel, long time, no see. Your comments re history are important. I quite recently questioned a high-up in the Peak district national park authority who was speaking about 'restoring the peak district moors' , I asked whether they were planning to replant with trees as that was the original flora, my final riposte was 'When does history start'.
Another occasion I heard someone make a very definite statement, that was correct within their knowledge timespan, but within mine it was total rubbish.
It is always useful to have the full story, but the difficulty is to know how to use that knowledge. Added to which I also believe that the more one knows about a subject, the more you realise how little you actually know.
Good luck with the 'job'.
John

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.

I wanted to make another point when I wrote this yesterday but had to leave the house for some rather damp potholing.

"Why would they [landowners] allow new caves to be found that will result in more people coming on to their land?"  ELMS perhaps?

Environmental Land Management scheme will take over farm payment schemes post brexit.  All farmers/landowners get large subsidy payments for a variety of reasons.  These are changing in the post brexit world as they can no longer be delivered through the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Government Ministers have stated that the new scheme will deliver "public money for public good" and that "public access is a public good".  Most outdoor organisations are working hard to ensure this happens for their own sectors.  The most difficult part seems to be placing a value on access.  Never the less it is likely that schemes will pay farmers for access on PROW, horse riding, climbing etc and it is perfectly possible to include caving amongst that mix.  So find a new cave and the farmer/landowner gets paid for it. 

The problem lies that you need to impress on government/Defra/NE that caving has a value.  That's the job for a national organisation.  Unfortunately since I reported on a meeting with other outdoor organisations two years ago (as a stand in for the BCA C&A officer) nothing has been done.  The BCA volunteer effort and good will is minimised by the infighting and disruptive politics as outlined in the subject of this thread.  It is likely that caving will be forgotten again because we haven't engaged with the outside world only looked inwards to our own petty battles.  We missed the boat with CRoW for the same reason and now we are playing catch up at great expense, I expect we'll be playing the same game with ELMS.

Offline mikem

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Quite possibly, but an ELMS payment will be a much bigger percentage of a Dales farmer's income, than it will down south.

Offline fi

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"Why would they [landowners] allow new caves to be found that will result in more people coming on to their land?"

One thing many fail to bear in mind is that farm land is private land (and as important to the owner as your garden is to you).  Having seen the mess left at some French sites (especially those in private gardens) we all need to bear in mind that one caver dropping a mars bar wrapper or being seen taking a piss gives all cavers a bad name and farmers speak to other farmers...  If we want continued (and improved) access then we need to look at what we can do for the farmer (cash for access isn't everything).  Remember, the easy option for a farmer is to say "No Access", access is a privilege and not a right.

Offline mrodoc

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Somebody a while back asked why caves were closed on Mendip. As Mikem has pointed out both Devon and Mendip are limestone areas primarily in relatively well populated areas where individual farms are not that big. Access to caves is very much at the whim of the farmer. Some feel caving is part of the appeal of the Mendips and are pro caver but others are sensitive about strangers on their land particularly with the high level of agricultural thefts we get in this part of the world. One or two have made demands for access fees that are quite frankly exorbitant so the cave is effectively closed. We rely on the goodwill of Cheddar Caves for all the caves on one side of the Gorge and that could change at any time. Some of the major caves are in a wildlife reserve where delicate negotiation was required to gain caver access (the bat lobby can be quite vociferous). In Devon the same applies and here landowners are even more unfamiliar with cavers and often have an outdated image of it being a very dangerous activity and then worry about their liability in case of accidents. One promising dig was shut down, apparently because the landowner's solicitor didn't trust the BCA insurance! Pridhamsleigh Cavern is the one open site. Here the farmer controls access to the cave but not the cave and makes many thousands a year by charging £1 or so per person to cross his land.  You might find this hard to believe but if I tell you that in the summer probably 20-30 children a day on outdoor activities trips get taken in there you can see how it mounts up. So if you want to go caving come to Prid (and risk the wrath  of the residents of this tiny place). I am sure there are other Mendip cavers who can expand on what I saying. 

One (tongue in cheek suggestion) is the BCA continues with the CROW case but sets up a fighting  fund to buy the land over all the caves we might risk losing access to down south. Seems only fair!

Offline Badlad

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Sounds like a really good reason to have a legal right of access to at least some caves.  In any case the whole CRoW issue might well come to a head soon and finally be decided in court.  It should be good for everyone, one way or another, to know where their legal rights stand.

Offline PeteHall

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Somebody a while back asked why caves were closed on Mendip.
TO be honest mrodoc, I was really interested in the specifics for each closed site. There are often general comments thrown around about landowners being wary of people on their land etc. but very few (if any) specific examples that I have heard.

Quote
One (tongue in cheek suggestion) is the BCA continues with the CROW case but sets up a fighting  fund to buy the land over all the caves we might risk losing access to down south. Seems only fair!
Appreciate that this isn't a serious suggestion, but the issue here, much like the issue of exorbitant access fees is that it sets a very dangerous precedent. If BCA (or any caving body) were to buy a site to secure an access that had been denied, other landowners may see an opportunity to demand a huge sum of money or the will close their site too. Currently, there is more financial incentive for landowners to allow access (Prid is a good example, but many other landowners charge a trespass or parking fee), than there is to deny access. If BCA had a dedicated fund for buying closed caves, there would be a strong incentive for landowners to effectively ransom their caves.
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