Scots return to the hills, but are urged to do so responsibly

© Dan Bailey

Travel restrictions in Scotland were lifted from Friday 16th April, earlier than expected, meaning that walkers in cities and local authority areas far from hills are finally be able to get back out on day trips. While local residents in mountain areas are bracing for the influx, people heading for the hills are being urged to make sure they are properly prepared and ready to be flexible in their plans, and to be aware of the current high fire risk.

If you're returning to the hills for the first time in months, bear in mind you may still encounter significant snow   © Dan Bailey
If you're returning to the hills for the first time in months, bear in mind you may still encounter significant snow
© Dan Bailey

Mountaineering Scotland CEO Stuart Younie said: "We are delighted with the unexpected news this week and particularly for those living in the cities and smaller local authority areas who have had limited access to the outdoors during this lockdown, as they can now get back to doing what they love.

"The last 12 months have demonstrated how important outdoor recreation is for our physical and mental wellbeing and as things start to ease it will play an important role in our economic recovery, particularly in rural areas."

However, popular destinations are expected to be very busy, so walkers and climbers travelling by car may have to set off early or consider going somewhere less crowded.

It is also important to act in a responsible manner, say Mountaineering Scotland, especially given the anticipated sudden pressure of numbers.

"We've all been through a stressful few months," Stuart added. "So we should be considerate of local residents and our fellow visitors, whether that's by parking considerately, making sure we leave no litter or damage, or just in interacting with others.

"The forecast is good for the weekend and if we all take care and look out for each other we can make sure our long-awaited return to the hills is memorable for all the right reasons."

Mountaineering Scotland advises that walkers who may now have rusty skills and doubtful fitness think carefully about the conditions they are likely to meet on the hill.

Snow still lies extensively on the higher hills, and fluctuating temperatures have meant much of it is likely to be very icy, and the consequences of a slip more likely to be serious. That caution is particularly relevant in the mornings.

Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor for Mountaineering Scotland said: "An ice axe and crampons to cope with any icy stretches really are still essential items of kit at this time of year.

"People should also be conscious that, with limited opportunity to climb in the hills over the last few months, they may have lost some hill-fitness and may well prefer to take on easier walks to begin with so they can ease themselves back into the swing of things."

In addition, NatureScot is advising people heading to National Nature Reserves this weekend to be aware of the risk of fire.

Scottish Fire and Rescue has warned of a very high to extreme risk of wildfire across North-East, East and Central Scotland and an extreme risk of fire across Western Scotland until Saturday, April 17.

Firefighting after a camp fire caused a wildfire on Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve
© Doug Bartholomew/NatureScot

Visitors are being asked not to light fires, and to take care with cigarettes and disposable barbeques.

Stewart Pritchard, Nature Reserves Senior Adviser with NatureScot, said: "After what has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone, it is great news that people will once again be able to travel to enjoy our great outdoors and we're looking forward to welcoming people back to our beautiful National Nature Reserves.

"We want people to enjoy their visits but with extreme wildfire warnings in place it's vital to bear in mind that fires spread quickly in these conditions and devastate nature and wildlife.

"The Scottish Outdoor Access Code states never to light open fires in these conditions as fires that get out of control cause major damage. We would also urge people to be extremely cautious when disposing of cigarettes – even a cigarette butt can easily start a wildfire.

"One of the biggest risks is disposable barbecues. These should be left to cool and taken away and disposed of safely along with all other rubbish. You may think the barbecue is no longer a risk, but the lingering heat could cause vegetation to smoulder and catch fire.

"When out and about this weekend please follow the code and respect, protect and enjoy our wonderful countryside."

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