Mountain Rescue representatives and other outdoor organisations across the UK have expressed concern and dismay after the Prime Minister lifted restrictions on outdoor exercise in England.  

Last night, Boris Johnson announced plans to ease some lockdown measures from Wednesday 13th May. Unlimited outdoors exercise and driving to take exercise will be permitted in England – despite restrictions on travel remaining in place in both Scotland and Wales.

The Prime Minister’s speech was greeted with confusion and dismay by some key figures in the world of outdoor recreation.

“We’re looking at something different in England to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – which is obviously the last thing that we needed,” said Mike Margeson, Operations Director at Mountain Rescue England and Wales. “We needed the advice to be the same.”

Concern for outdoor ‘hotspots’

With Wales and Scotland still enforcing the ‘stay at home’ message, the Lake District and Peak District stand to bear the brunt of weakening restrictions in England. The Lake District in particular has already been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with new figures suggesting that some areas of Cumbria have among the highest infection rates in England.

“The biggest concern is that local communities are obviously very worried about flocks of visitors,” said Mike. “The way the advice has been framed… the Peak District and the Lake District might see considerable numbers of people trying to travel to them. We completely understand that, but it doesn’t change the situation for local communities and for us, pressure-wise.”

Last night, Lake District CEO tweeted: “This could be very difficult for the communities of the Lake District and Cumbria. Please don’t rush to visit us.”

And Cumbria Tourism added on Twitter: “We are shocked by the timing and short notice of tonight’s announcement. We are awaiting further details but the safety of residents must come first. For now, tourism businesses in Cumbria remain closed and we urge everyone to continue to #StayHome.”

A number of outdoors organisations and administrative bodies, including Mountain Rescue England and Wales and National Parks UK, are currently discussing strategy in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement and further clarifications due to be announced soon. “It could be that the National Parks choose to say ‘no, we’re still closed,” warns Mike.

Stay local

Despite the new advice in England, some outdoor organisations have already come out to advise that people continue to walk locally across the UK. In a statement released today, the Ramblers said:

“It is clear that Coronavirus has not gone away, and we need to continue to help control the virus to save lives.  Although there are some changes to government guidance, the lockdown is still in force across the UK.

“We recommend that you continue to stay at home as much as possible, stay local and consider walking at quieter times and locations where physical distancing may be easier.  Whilst we understand the temptation for some to drive to your favourite walking spot, we urge our members and all walkers to continue to take extra care and to walk responsibly…  If you or anyone in your household has Coronavirus symptoms, you should continue to self-isolate.

“Over the weekend, the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments confirmed changes to their guidance in relation to walking and exercise as part of the next phase of the Covid-19 response. The governments will provide more detail in the coming days and we will update our guidance accordingly.”

Visit the Ramblers website for more information on the advice for walkers in different areas.

‘England only’

Outdoors organisations and Mountain Rescue teams from Scotland and Wales are keen to emphasise that the new advice applies to England only.

“We’re all desperate to get back to the hills, but the bottom line is that restrictions still apply in Scotland,” said Stuart Younie, CEO of Mountaineering Scotland. “What that means is that we can work with other organisations, including national parks, Scottish Mountain Rescue and Mountain Training, to think about what an easing of lockdown restrictions might mean for the outdoors community – and that’s what we’ll be working on this week.”

Scottish Mountain Rescue said: “Firstly we would like to continue to thank everyone for staying stay, local and for keeping our rescue teams quiet. It means more to us than you can know.

“Only by acting as a community can we get ourselves back to a position where we can enjoy the hills together and we are very much missing the hills as much as everyone else.

“After today’s announcements we wanted to clarify the situation in Scotland. Which is no change apart from you can now exercise in the same way as before more than once per day.”

Arran Mountain Rescue Tweeted: “Nothing has changed here in Scotland apart from now being able to exercise locally more than once a day. Advice is still to stay off the mountains for now! Thanks to all those helping to keep MR callouts to a minimum and following advice. Stay safe, stay local, stay well.”

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that the ‘stay at home’ advice had not changed in Wales. Another member of the Welsh government, Jeremy Miles, said that anybody travelling to Wales from England could face fines.

“I want to be really clear about this,” he told BBC Wales. “The position in Wales is very different from the position in England in relation to that.

“Our regulations do not permit people to get in their cars and drive to destinations in Wales and this includes people getting in their cars in England.

“We are not permitting that in Wales.”

Scotland and Wales still face major challenges in facilitating a return to the outdoors. Read more about the challenges and possible solutions here.

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