Author Topic: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended  (Read 3027 times)

Offline Dave Tyson

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The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« on: November 25, 2021, 10:30:57 am »
The directors of Cave Access Ltd (CAL) were told on 24/11/21 without any notice in a Zoom meeting with NRW that NRW has unilaterally terminated CAL's mine access agreement with immediate effect.

CAL's scheme had been operating successfully for about 6 years without any concerns being voiced.   But we are now told that NRW requires strong proof of compliance with statutory requirements across its estate.  NRW said its main concern is ensuring that bats are not disturbed which seemed to revolve around the SSSI status of land.  Essentially we were told that if the land was not an SSSI then bats are not an issue.  This demonstrates a failure by NRW staff to understand bats protection is on a national basis and the SSSI status of particular pieces of land neither adds to nor subtracts from that national-level bat protection which applies no matter where the bats are located.  There needs to be more clarity here.

Despite this massive quango being created to integrate environmental management, NRW has divided itself into six operational areas and so no longer has a holistic view of Wales.  So sadly the all-Wales access agreement we have enjoyed will need replacing with up to six separate agreements that cover our mines of interest split up by NRW operational areas. We have agreed with NRW to work on a solution to their North West Wales area first and once that is deemed a success then to try to replicate it in other areas, but this requires cooperation from five other Land Management Team Leaders which is clearly not a given and we may end up with many different access agreements tailored to these employees.

NRW asked CAL to pay for mine surveys done by professional bat ecologists at various times of the year, to be repeated in future years as necessary.  This is infeasible for a voluntary non-funded group like CAL to embrace.  So we told NRW that if they held to this idea then we would not attempt to renew the access scheme, leaving them at a dead end.

We suggested to NRW that installing electronic footfall counters (to count all groups using the mines and not just CAL visitors) and electronic bat activity monitors running all year around provided on a voluntary basis would provide a clearer wider picture and be more accountable than infrequent visits by paid-for consultants writing snapshot style reports.

CAL is not the only organisation affected by this change.  Outdoor Pursuits Centres will also be affected along with underground adventure companies.  Unfortunately NRW is requiring each group to commission its own professional bat surveys even if the surveys done by other groups exist and are in NRW's possession.  So, for example, if several local authorities want to use a mine then all will need to purchase independent bat surveys which concern the very same mine and the cost of this would fall on each local authority.  NRW would then have multiple bat surveys for the same site.  For NRW's purposes, CAL cannot utilise bat surveys commissioned by others and simply reference them as prior art.

Unfortunately there will be no access through CAL for explorers anywhere on NRW's estate whilst CAL endeavours to work with NRW to find a workable solution for their North West Area first.  We think this may take a year if NRW is cooperative and flexible.  If not, then CAL may wind up and NRW would then be left with no obvious lines of communication with mine explorers in the caving community.

Conversely mine explorers in the caving world would have no practical way to obtain permissive access from NRW resulting in a return to the status quo ante which was unregulated, unaccounted for and unconsented activity.

I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news  :(

For and on behalf of the CAL directors,
Dave Tyson


Offline ChrisJC

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2021, 10:38:23 am »
Sorry to hear that news Dave.

So are we truly back to the old situation?, or is there a certain way that we should all behave to maximise the chances of a return to a satisfactory access agreement?

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2021, 10:42:27 am »
I am sorry to hear about this also , as I said before I am happy to help how I can but I don’t think I can be of much use with this !   :'(

Offline Dave Tyson

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2021, 11:16:57 am »
Sorry to hear that news Dave.

So are we truly back to the old situation?, or is there a certain way that we should all behave to maximise the chances of a return to a satisfactory access agreement?

Chris.
The ball is firmly in NRW's court and until they decide exactly what forms of bat survey etc. are needed we are in the dark as are the outdoor centres and commercial groups. I believe Go-Below paid for a bat survey in Rhiwbach so they may be covered for access for the time being. I cannot really say much more on an open forum, save to say that this whole issue flies in the face of Welsh Governments desire to promote Wales as the outdoor experience and recreational area of the UK.

The idea that you can take three disparate bodies: Forestry Commission Wales, Countryside Commission Wales and the Welsh environmental agency and shove them all together to make NRW with less funding (and no funding or plan for the merger) seems to be nonsensical - the organisation seems still to be in 'headless chicken' mode - my personal view.

Dave

Offline Cantclimbtom

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2021, 11:22:49 am »
 :wall:

Appreciate all the work you guys have been doing for others!
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Offline Brains

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2021, 11:59:32 am »
Sorry to hear that, hope it can be resolved ASAP

Offline Keris82

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2021, 12:00:54 pm »
What is CAL please?

Offline Dave Tyson

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2021, 12:27:38 pm »
It’s a major shame such selfish people have been going without using the permit system it only took 5 minutes and the information passed on helped make it a safer system of mine exploring for others .


It’s always the way though the decent people suffer because of the others .

Offline royfellows

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2021, 12:31:38 pm »
Could be good business for anyone selling camouflage oversuits?
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Offline badger

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2021, 01:19:13 pm »
bureaucracy at its best to confuse the populace, some may call it the mushroom approach. why keep thins simple when you can complicate them, and someone somewhere has been paid a lot of money coming up with this.

Offline Cantclimbtom

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2021, 01:26:56 pm »
Could be good business for anyone selling camouflage oversuits?
 :lol:
I have various of comments here... that I can't post ;)  But it's back to that perhaps?
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Offline lumenchild

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2021, 02:29:56 pm »
The directors of Cave Access Ltd (CAL) were told on 24/11/21 without any notice in a Zoom meeting with NRW that NRW has unilaterally terminated CAL's mine access agreement with immediate effect.

CAL's scheme had been operating successfully for about 6 years without any concerns being voiced.   But we are now told that NRW requires strong proof of compliance with statutory requirements across its estate.  NRW said its main concern is ensuring that bats are not disturbed which seemed to revolve around the SSSI status of land.  Essentially we were told that if the land was not an SSSI then bats are not an issue.  This demonstrates a failure by NRW staff to understand bats protection is on a national basis and the SSSI status of particular pieces of land neither adds to nor subtracts from that national-level bat protection which applies no matter where the bats are located.  There needs to be more clarity here.

Despite this massive quango being created to integrate environmental management, NRW has divided itself into six operational areas and so no longer has a holistic view of Wales.  So sadly the all-Wales access agreement we have enjoyed will need replacing with up to six separate agreements that cover our mines of interest split up by NRW operational areas. We have agreed with NRW to work on a solution to their North West Wales area first and once that is deemed a success then to try to replicate it in other areas, but this requires cooperation from five other Land Management Team Leaders which is clearly not a given and we may end up with many different access agreements tailored to these employees.

NRW asked CAL to pay for mine surveys done by professional bat ecologists at various times of the year, to be repeated in future years as necessary.  This is infeasible for a voluntary non-funded group like CAL to embrace.  So we told NRW that if they held to this idea then we would not attempt to renew the access scheme, leaving them at a dead end.

We suggested to NRW that installing electronic footfall counters (to count all groups using the mines and not just CAL visitors) and electronic bat activity monitors running all year around provided on a voluntary basis would provide a clearer wider picture and be more accountable than infrequent visits by paid-for consultants writing snapshot style reports.

CAL is not the only organisation affected by this change.  Outdoor Pursuits Centres will also be affected along with underground adventure companies.  Unfortunately NRW is requiring each group to commission its own professional bat surveys even if the surveys done by other groups exist and are in NRW's possession.  So, for example, if several local authorities want to use a mine then all will need to purchase independent bat surveys which concern the very same mine and the cost of this would fall on each local authority.  NRW would then have multiple bat surveys for the same site.  For NRW's purposes, CAL cannot utilise bat surveys commissioned by others and simply reference them as prior art.

Unfortunately there will be no access through CAL for explorers anywhere on NRW's estate whilst CAL endeavours to work with NRW to find a workable solution for their North West Area first.  We think this may take a year if NRW is cooperative and flexible.  If not, then CAL may wind up and NRW would then be left with no obvious lines of communication with mine explorers in the caving community.

Conversely mine explorers in the caving world would have no practical way to obtain permissive access from NRW resulting in a return to the status quo ante which was unregulated, unaccounted for and unconsented activity.

I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news  :(

For and on behalf of the CAL directors,
Dave Tyson

Does this affect access to caves? or just mines?
Should we all invest in ghillie suits?
Will this affect the AALS insurance for taking groups?  :shrug:
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Offline Dave Tyson

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2021, 02:42:01 pm »
Does this affect access to caves? or just mines?
Should we all invest in ghillie suits?
Will this affect the AALS insurance for taking groups?  :shrug:
Just mines on the CAL list (mainly slate/lead)
Outdoor groups are affected as NRW have barred their access as well.
I think Go-Below still have access to Rhiwbach as they funded a bat survey of the mine just after the Covid restrictions were relaxed.

Dave

Offline lumenchild

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2021, 02:53:59 pm »
Does this affect access to caves? or just mines?
Should we all invest in ghillie suits?
Will this affect the AALS insurance for taking groups?  :shrug:
Just mines on the CAL list (mainly slate/lead)
Outdoor groups are affected as NRW have barred their access as well.
I think Go-Below still have access to Rhiwbach as they funded a bat survey of the mine just after the Covid restrictions were relaxed.

Dave
 
Thank you for clearing that up.
Hope you have a wonderful day, it's a shame this has happened.
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Offline Cantclimbtom

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2021, 03:05:56 pm »
I understand CAL no longer has an access remit and so no authority to grant access
However: Question.... Suppose - someone decided, permission or not, they were going to enter a site formerly access managed by CAL

If they *retrospectively* notified CAL (note the retrospective, not asking CAL to endorse access) would that be beneficial for CAL to know about trips so they can demonstrate that people are still using these sites?
Or would CAL prefer not to hear about "trespassing"?

EDIT: hmmmm..  actually in theory isn't there a bylaw prohibiting entering mines on NRW land, maybe reporting a trip could be a liability?
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Offline Dave Tyson

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2021, 03:32:46 pm »
I understand CAL no longer has an access remit and so no authority to grant access
However: Question.... Suppose - someone decided, permission or not, they were going to enter a site formerly access managed by CAL

If they *retrospectively* notified CAL (note the retrospective, not asking CAL to endorse access) would that be beneficial for CAL to know about trips so they can demonstrate that people are still using these sites?
Or would CAL prefer not to hear about "trespassing"?

EDIT: hmmmm..  actually in theory isn't there a bylaw prohibiting entering mines on NRW land, maybe reporting a trip could be a liability?
Yes, accessing mines on NRW land without explicit permission is now a trespass so please don't notify CAL  :)
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Offline Paul Marvin

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #17 on: November 25, 2021, 04:51:30 pm »
Well to say this is a shit is an understatement  :o
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Offline royfellows

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #18 on: November 25, 2021, 05:05:12 pm »


EDIT: hmmmm..  actually in theory isn't there a bylaw prohibiting entering mines on NRW land, maybe reporting a trip could be a liability?

Yes there is, and bit of history. Back in the 1980s there was a rescue call out to Rhiwbach whereby a woman slipped on the incline and injured her back. The leader was taking payed for trips to complicate matters, and was prosecuted and fined under what was then, before devolution, Forestry Wales Bye Laws.

In other words, get caught and you could get done.
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Offline notdavidgilmour

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #19 on: November 25, 2021, 05:38:52 pm »
It’s a major shame such selfish people have been going without using the permit system it only took 5 minutes and the information passed on helped make it a safer system of mine exploring for others .


It’s always the way though the decent people suffer because of the others .

I could be mistaken, but I don't think this is down to people not using the permit system.  I'm happy to be corrected if I've misinterpreted Dave's post.

Either way, this isn't good news for cavers.  Back to dressing like a rambler then  8)
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Offline ChrisJC

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #20 on: November 25, 2021, 06:48:44 pm »
Either way, this isn't good news for cavers.  Back to dressing like a rambler then  8)

I'm going to dress like a caver. If I get caught, I will put on an Australian accent and ask if they know the way to Adelaide.

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Offline Stuart France

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #21 on: November 25, 2021, 07:35:01 pm »
This falling-out was not fuelled by people visiting the mines who had not got NRW permission via the former CAL access scheme.  People not using the scheme is not the fault of the scheme, and in any case nearly all the permitted mines were not in any way secured against unauthorised entry by NRW.

NRW told us it has simply become more risk averse because it gets many FOIRs from single-issue groups seemingly intent on demonstrating that NRW is not upholding the law to protect things of value to these groups.   Bats were said to be top of that list.  NRW maybe fears being held accountable in public and of being required to publish embarrassing FOIR answers about itself on its own website.  And if a complaint got really serious then it might result in NRW decisions being Judicially Reviewed which exposes NRW to High Court scrutiny, pushing things up to a whole new level.

Now that NRW has killed off the permissive access scheme everyone is back at the status quo ante which is that explorers would have no choice but to visit without consent if they're intent on doing it.  The need for consent to enter mines on government forestry land may not be obvious since walkers and cyclists and horse riders have 'unbridled' access to the same forests.

I don't imagine NRW is going to try to defend its territory and their staff are not allowed underground for H&S reasons.  So interest would likely arise when people admitted to breaking forestry byelaws in their social media postings or magazine articles, or if rescue services became involved somewhere people should not have been, as per the back injury incident mentioned earlier.

Determined people will still venture underground, but now in more senses than one, they'll do the same things and visit the same places as formerly, and so from a conservation viewpoint having explicit permission or not seems to be neutral.

NRW scrapped a workable lawful access system created by explorers for explorers who wished to avail themselves of it, one that suited and managed modest levels of activity well and of which there has never been any criticism.  They have thus left themselves with no rational basis for their opposite numbers in recreation to return to talk with them, and they also risk losing some general support too given the craven rationale for denying future access as we understand it.


Offline Dave Tyson

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #22 on: November 25, 2021, 07:52:33 pm »
One other thing to note is that in the unlikely event someone got caught and NRW decided to prosecute then I think a good defense council could absolutely nail NRW for removing a scheme which allowed legal access and worked well for very tenuous reasons. There is plenty of evidence from other parts of the country that cavers and bats have happily coexisted. The resultant publicity might result in NRW getting rather more FOIR's from concerned groups to the point that they just give up or spend an inordinate amount of money trying to secure sites which have multiple ways in. They are in a lose-lose situation regardless.

Dave 

Offline Cantclimbtom

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #23 on: November 25, 2021, 08:14:43 pm »
 :coffee: hmmm... given that mine exploring is likely to be seen by a magistrate (in their judgement) as an unusually dangerous activity, I wouldn't at all be surprised if it was taken as "strict liability" and defences like didn't know, or used to be the situation that, etc may not help. Probably it's a can of worms and those are the situations where only the lawyers seen to profit :(
I'd agree with your earlier comment, the activity is best covered by the 11th commandment
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Offline robnorthwales

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Re: The CAL agreement with NRW has ended
« Reply #24 on: November 25, 2021, 08:31:49 pm »


EDIT: hmmmm..  actually in theory isn't there a bylaw prohibiting entering mines on NRW land, maybe reporting a trip could be a liability?

Yes there is, and bit of history. Back in the 1980s there was a rescue call out to Rhiwbach whereby a woman slipped on the incline and injured her back. The leader was taking payed for trips to complicate matters, and was prosecuted and fined under what was then, before devolution, Forestry Wales Bye Laws.

In other words, get caught and you could get done.

I'd suspect that the Forestry by-laws have been superseded by the CROW Act and other legislation which has led to open access land. Which specifically allow such acts as climbing (and thus abseiling), walking, etc. Add in the reluctance of NRW to actually do anything that might put them foul of other pieces of legislation (bulldozing entrances might be problematic for bat or newt protection, for example), and the vast majority of their staff being office-based (mainly in Cardiff), and I suspect that there's not going to be much that comes to their attention.

 

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