A furore has broken out during the weekend over the prospect that the highly valued Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) may cease to operate within months. Over the past 13 years, the service has become an established and vital part of the arsenal of tools that walkers, climbers and mountaineers use to plan safe days in the hills.
The founder of MWIS, Geoff Monk, who also oversees the daily forecasts, put the following statement up on his website on Saturday:
“The most-used mountain weather service in the UK, the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS), is set to close after SportScotland, the Scottish Government sporting body, withdraws funding and walks away from a key mountain forecast collaboration project. The safety of climbers and walkers in the mountains will be put at risk if funding is not continued and the Mountain Weather Information Service will cease producing forecasts as of the 31st December 2016.”
He then added the following personal statement: “The funding withdrawal by SportScotland, following their previous decision to collaborate with MWIS (together with the Met Office), was a real shock and jeopardises the safety of those who use the mountains every day. All we want is for MWIS to continue to provide a consistent, quality service so that mountain users can enjoy the mountains safely, fully aware of what the weather will throw at them.
“MWIS has a stable, long-term future and the service will continue to be enhanced provided funding continues. We are asking SportScotland to come back to the negotiating table and commit to the continued funding of MWIS so its long-term future is secured.”
SportScotland responded with a comment criticising Geoff Monk’s statement but which didn’t refute the suggestion that funding would be withdrawn at the end of 2017:
“This is a disappointing and misleading claim by Geoff Monk at the MWIS,” read their statement, issued late on Saturday.
“Investment into MWIS continues until the end of this year and we have been involved in collaboration discussions for over a year with the Met Office and Geoff about building a resilient and development-focused mountain weather forecast provision for Scotland together.
“sportscotland has been investing in mountain weather provision since 2007 and this investment has established bespoke mountain weather forecasts as a critical part of risk evaluation for those who want to participate in outdoor activities in the Scottish mountains.
“Lines of communications with MWIS have always been open and remain so. sportscotland’s priority is to ensure there is a sustainable mountain forecast for Scotland through the provision of reliable, authoritative forecasts, which are relevant to outdoor activities and enable forecast users to make informed judgements about their chosen activities. This is precisely what we will deliver and we will ensure there is a continuity of this service.”
Following angry feedback on social media, Shaun Roberts at Glenmore Lodge and David Gibson at Mountaineering Scotland have both issued statements today. Shaun Roberts, Head of Centre at Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre, issued an email urging calm, and stating:
“Over the past year MWIS has been directly involved in collaboration discussions with the Met Office and sportscotland. These discussions sort [sic] to find a resilient and development focussed structure to ensure the provision of reliable and authoritative mountain weather forecasts.
“I have been representing sportscotland throughout these discussions and would like to state that the claims made by Geoff Monk are disappointing and misleading.
“Geoff Monk, representing MWIS, has had a very active role within these discussions and the lines of communications have always been open and remain so.
“As a mountaineering community the provision of quality mountain weather forecasts has become a critical part of our risk awareness process before heading for the hills and mountains. sportscotland has been investing in mountain weather provision since 2007 and avalanche forecast provision since 1988 and we are committed to ensuring continuity and enhancement of these forecast services.
“I look forward to sharing more information with you regarding future developments and can confirm that sportscotland will ensure the provision of mountain weather forecasting as we enter this coming winter.
“Given that the current social media traffic is being driven by misleading statements, I would appreciate it if you would circulate this email to colleagues and friends to help inform our community.”
The CEO of Mountaineering Scotland (formerly the MCofS), David Gibson commented:
“Mountaineering Scotland was influential in securing the original Scottish Government funding, provided through sportscotland, which secured regular provision of Scottish mountain forecasts produced by Geoff Monk since 2007. The agreement was for Scottish forecasts and has never applied to English and Welsh forecasts.
“Prior to provision of funding, the forecasts had been produced daily by Geoff Monk free of charge for a number of years but together with many other organisations, we felt that this situation was unsustainable and that the forecasts were a major contribution to mountain safety, hence the need for government funding.
“Until April 2016 we managed the contract with Geoff, following which sportscotland took that responsibility. Geoff had already indicated prior to April that he wished to reduce his level of activity and sportscotland had advised us they wished to see a sustainable solution which would ensure forecasts were not solely reliant on Geoff’s relatively limited resources and that would leave a lasting legacy when he eventually retired. That solution involved the Met Office and we have not been involved in any of the subsequent negotiations between Geoff, sportscotland and the Met Office.
“A number of alternative mountain weather forecasts have been launched in recent years and are in use regularly by mountaineers and skiers, offering a choice and enabling comparison of forecasts.
“MWIS is not the only option available to users but it offers unique features that have earned massive support in the mountaineering community and made it the number one choice.
“Mountaineering Scotland wish to see continuity in the daily production of Scottish mountain weather forecasts, which are publicly funded, available free to users, and which provide at least the same range of forecast features as MWIS.”
“We believe there is an urgent need for the three parties to reconvene their dialogue to ensure that there is continuity, especially with the onset of winter and the critical need for mountaineers and skiers to be able to assess forecast conditions and plan their activities accordingly.”
In recent developments, an online petition has been created named ‘Reinstate vital funding to the MWIS’. At the time of writing it is only 1,000 signatures short of its target of 5000.
We will keep you updated on the discussions as soon as we know more