Three founder members of the Peak Adventure Sports Alliance (PASA) featured on the BBC's Countryfile programme on Monday May 5th. In a report examining the impact of adventure sports on the Peak District National Park, Phil Baker, Ed Chard and John Horscroft explained why they think responsible gorge walking, climbing and mountain biking carry little risk to the natural environment.
BBC reporter Tom Heap met all three members of the campaign group, which was set up earlier this year to promote the interests of adventure sports enthusiasts in the Peak District National Park (see February's news here).
PASA member John Horscroft tells us more:
First Heap went on a gorge walk with Phil Baker, head of Hagg Farm Outdoor Education Centre. Hagg Farm work closely with the National Trust to ensure impact is minimised. As is the way with TV, time was tight and some interesting material ended up on the cutting-room floor. This included footage of children using Hagg Farm's own rope course, which was built to ensure not all activities take place in the great outdoors, thus reducing pressures on the natural environment.
Next on the sharp end was Ed Chard, Deputy Centre Manager at Thornbridge Outdoors. Enjoying some wet rock in Burbage Valley he explained that, in spite of growing numbers of climbers, the British Mountaineering Council has been effective in reducing their impact by forming close relationships with the National Park and other land managers. He was at pains to emphasise that climbers take their responsibilities very seriously and have demonstrated just how seriously by, for example, rigidly adhering to voluntary bans that protect Ring Ouzel at Stanage Edge. Again one or two important points fell victim to the edit, for instance when Ed suggested that perhaps the environmental impact of adventure sports is exaggerated when more mundane pastimes such as dog-walking can have a serious effect on ground nesting birds.
I then found myself on Totley Moss defending the right of mountain bikers to enjoy the Peak District. Tom Heap set the scene by describing mountain biking as the most popular adventure sport of all, with one in four households owning a mountain bike. Also intercut were a couple of vox pops with walkers who viewed mountain bikers with varying degrees of equanimity and concern. I described the debate over damage to trails as a red herring, contending that all users damage trails and therefore have a responsibility to look after them, both by avoiding them if conditions are poor and through ongoing maintenance. The Countryfile footage was taken near Wimble Holme Hill where mountain bikers have joined forces with the Eastern Moors Partnership to repair a badly eroded trail. Again, the edit was tight and some important points didn't make it into the programme: Tom Heap posed the question as to whether current rights of way legislation is fit for purpose, to which my only reply had to be that, since the legislation dates from a pre-mountain bike era, it now looks hopelessly outdated.
It seems we still have to defend the rights of adventure sports enthusiasts to enjoy the Peak District. Climbers were instrumental in the creation of the National Park when hard working people needed a safety valve to escape from the rigours of everyday life. Now, as then, we should be encouraging people to get out and enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors, not discussing ways to curtail their freedom. The appearance of PASA on Countryfile should at least help to inform the debate.
The relevant episode of Countryfile can be viewed for the next few days on BBC iPlayer at about 6mins in and again at 28mins45secs.