One of the great pleasures of climbing is being in nature. Some of the best routes are often away from the beaten track, hidden from all but the keenest walkers, in beautiful, secluded locations. As a climber, it is our responsibility to care for these places. Leave no trace, and if possible, leave it better than how we found it.
There is a delicately balanced agreement, generally forged through the hard work of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and regional councils, to enable access to the crags. These agreements are reliant on climbers being aware of any seasonal restrictions due to resting birds and adhering to site specific rules such as no camping or fires. Failing to follow the rules could cause access to be removed for everyone.
Many climbing locations are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). A SSSI is an area of scientific interest due to rare species of flora and fauna and/or important geological areas. Avon Gorge is home a variety of rare plants and trees such as Bristol’s Whitebeam, a variant of the Common Whitebeam which is only found in Bristol.
Avon Gorge is also a regular home to Peregrine Falcons nesting in the cliffs. Peregrines tend to return to the same nest year on year and it is a criminal offence to disturb their habitats. Often climbing will be banned from March to July when the fledglings are still be in the nest. This is to protect the bird’s habitat and encourage them to return in future years.
Wintour’s Leap and Ban-Y-Gor are owned by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and form part of the Lower Wye Valley Gorge SSSI.
The Lower Wye Valley Gorge is home to plants including another rare species of whitebeam, small-leaved lime, wayfaring tree and large variety of other trees. Lower Wye Valley Gorge is also home to the Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bats. Both species are protected in the UK.
Cheddar Gorge is split into the North and South side, the South being owned by the Longleat estate.
Cheddar Gorge is home to the famous limestone cliffs but is also home to the Cheddar Pink and the Cheddar Whitebeam. Both plants are found only in Cheddar so protecting them is of the upmost importance. Asides from the dizzying heights of the cliffs rising to over 100 metres from the base, the Gorge is home to Grayling butterflies and of course, the mountain goats.
There are specific annual access restrictions to Cheddar which can be found in the BMC’s website or follow the link to find the 2020 access map. Cheddar Access Map.
I have very lightly described 3 areas near Bristol, but I have hardly even touched on the importance of delicate ecosystems contained within them.
There are specific restrictions to crags all over the UK and it is important to be informed. The best way to find out the local information is through the BMC Regional Access Database (RAD). BMC RAD.
A superhero once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. As climbers we have the opportunity and reason to visit secluded areas, but it is our responsibility to look after them. If there is a small sapling or flower growing in a crack you want to use, think twice before pulling it out, it could the only one of its kind.