Funding in Mountain Rescue ? Government, Order Of St John a huge help. Or am I out of touch?

I was very lucky to be part of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service where all the gear we needed was provided by MOD. In my early days I bought most of my own gear as the supplied kit was basic  and outdated. The Curries the boots were worn with 3 pairs of socks to prevent frostbite, they were lightweight working boots with a Vibram sole great for the summer only.

My first pair of issued boots the famous Hawkins Curlies - thin leather and a vibram sole !

My first pair of issued boots the famous Hawkins Curlies – thin leather and a vibram sole !

The crampons were liable to break as they had to be heated and moulded to the boots for winter and some of the clothing was still second world war issue. The outer gear waterproofs  were very basic and after a long day on the hill your  and your feet and the rest of you were soaked or frozen to you. I spent most of my money on updated gear, boots socks and decent waterproof and climbing gear. Equipment change was slow and even very basic items were hard to get yet we were far better provided for than our Civilian Mountain Rescue counterparts. New gear was hard-won and I as I progressed in the system I knew learned how to  get new gear from the mandarins that controlled the money in MOD.    The best way was to bend some High Ranking Officers ear and get them out in the basic gear on the hills and see the problem, not politically correct or career  enhancing but it worked. Basic things like good accommodation after a hard and tragic  call out with showers, food  etc were hard-won to find funding. Mountain Rescue has moved on and when I became Chairman Of the Mountain Rescue Committee I did my best with the Committee  at the time to gain funding for the Civilian Teams. This was not an easy time as a few saw it as the start of professionalism in Mountain Rescue?  To me it was fundamental that Teams need to have the right gear and equipment and a Base to work from especially when dealing with a casualties or fatalities relatives in these modern days. The days of working out of the back of a Land rover are over. All this costs money and I would ponder to work out the cost on average to run a Mountain Rescue  team annually £20000 – £ 30000 more for the bigger teams?

The Cost of some of the gear. photo Cairngorm MRT

The Cost of some of the gear. photo Cairngorm MRT

It is even more critical for the Mountain Rescue teams in the sparsely populated areas where fundraising is hard, This is from Jim Fraser at Kintail MRT

“Torridon MRT operate in an area where a big town is one with 508 people in it, making recruitment and fund-raising extraordinarily difficult. A little further south, we are lucky to have a vast metropolis with 739 people in it, which helps a bit. The story is the same all across the North-west Highlands. MR teams are an integrated part of Scotland’s readiness to tackle whatever life throws at us. Every year, those teams typically spend less than £1000 maintaining the readiness and activity of each volunteer. This is about one seventieth of the cost of a police officer but in the case of Mountain Rescue the cost falls mainly on the giving public.” Thank you. Jim Fraser

How do you fund raise in such areas as Assynt, Torridon, Skye, The Hebrides, Dundonnell and Kintail it must be so difficult and the local area and population are incredible in their support?  Every year  I try to do a lecture to raise money for my local Teams it is only a little but it all helps and I even did a program for National Geographic TV Channel and donated the fee to Torridon MRT.  As a member for a few years of a civilian team I know how costly it is on travel expenses and gear. One of the reasons I retired (apart from being old) was the cost of training on fuel over 100 miles each way at the time.

This week I read that the Scottish Goverment has just decided that Scotland ski centres are to benefit from over £5.5 million to upgrade their existing infrastructure.

Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise are providing 75 per cent of the funding with the remainder coming from the ski centres and will be used to replace and improve chair lifts and upgrade tow lifts.

Glenshee and Glencoe will be replacing existing chair lifts which will cost £2.474 million and £1.89 million respectively. The Lecht and Nevis Range will spend £456K and £707K on upgrades to their current tow lifts. Cairngorm Mountain Ltd has already upgraded its infrastructure with support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

“The snowsports sector is very important for Scotland’s rural economy and is worth an estimated £30 million per year, supporting over 600 jobs.

“Our ski centres bring many tourists to Scotland and this considerable investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, who have worked together with the centres to identify their needs, will provide the necessary support to ensure the sector’s long term viability.

“The outdoors is the number one reason why people visit Scotland and for every £1 spent on the hills an additional £4 is spent in the surrounding areas which provide vital income in many rural areas. The most recent full ski season in Scotland saw over 235,000 skier days recorded and with this funding we can look forward to many more successful years.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is investing £2.273 million; £342,000 to support the upgrade of ageing assets at the Lecht in the Eastern Cairngorms, £1.4 million for Glencoe and £531,000 for Nevis Range.
This is great news and I applaud it well overdue and will help the economy of the Highlands but dare I say it that the money given to Mountain Rescue by the Scottish Government is small beer in comparison.  I realise that part of the Scottish Police budget also helps teams but look what they and the public  get from the unpaid volunteers and remember that one-third of incidents are non – mountain related! Looking for vulnerable people etc that the Police would struggle to do on their own with the manpower and costs implications.  SARDA is also in the same position and they have huge cost for travel and gear and the personal upkeep of the dogs. Again they have fundraising and the odd sponsor but I would imagine life is hard in this current economic environment.  Or am I completely wrong any views?

The Scottish Goverment does give some funding  – Mountain Rescue Funding

The Department for Transport will provide grants totalling £250,000 to the mountain rescue teams across the UK for the financial year 2015 to 2016, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond announced today (20 March 2014).

This funding will help pay for mountain rescue equipment and training and is an increase on the £200,000 that has been provided each year since 2011.

Transport Minister Stephen Hammond said:

Mountain rescue teams provide a life-saving service to the public, often in extreme and dangerous conditions. The funding provided by the government since 2011 is the first time any government has given direct funding to mountain rescue services.

We recognise their commitment and that is why I am very pleased to be able to announce increased funding for financial year 2015 to 2016.

Is this enough ? Again I wonder as the UK Goverment wants a Healthy and more active lifestyle for us all. The Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games had millions spent on them by the Goverment is there any comparison with what  the Mountains and wild places do for the local economies and the populations well-being? These are days of a huge obesity problems and health worries we should be ensuring that the mountains can be available for all and the people who allow us to walk climb and ski have the funding available to ensure such great people are looked after. Should we hold our tongues and leave it at the status quo?

Government Funding is there nowadays for the Mountain Weather Information Service and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. This was not easy to achieve and took lots of pressure to ensure that the government put money aside for these now accepted bodies. Long may it continue. The Avalanche Service is running a trial in Torridon in the North West of Scotland at weekends and hopefully after the recent incidents funding will be available to cover this area throughout every winter. I am sure this is being looked at as I write.

At times I feel strongly that we have to fight for what we have achieved and for what we have got by others efforts. Money is tight especially in these days but I feel even though I am no longer involved that I have a view of what is happening and can express my views!

Tomorrows blog will be about the mountains hopefully!


The most amazing factor is that The Order Of St John a Charitable Trust has been a huge sponsor of Mountain Rescue

It is incredible to see MR Bases all over Scotland from Skye, to Glencoe to the Borders and the Islands. The new Base in Arran looks wonderful and this is where my family started me on my “Affair” with the mountains, nearly 50 years ago. What you have achieved is incredible for the Order and a wonderful addition to Mountain Rescue. I spent nearly 40 years many as Team Leader having to talk to casualties in the back of a land – rover or an old building during searches. Even worse is speaking to relatives after a fatality and to have some where warm and secure to speak and comfort them in nearly every MRT area was so needed and is a huge improvement. As important is having an area for Team Members to train and debrief after an operation and store and service equipment is a wonderful accolade to the Order. In addition the Team bases are now part of the local facilities in some areas, this gives especially the remote areas locals the opportunity to share in teams facilities. I do wish more people realise what the Order has done for Mountain Rescue and I hope the small logos on the buildings and Bases are testimony to your great achievements. The Bases and vehicles you have supported over the years had made a superb difference to Mountain Rescue. I have heard that you plan to continue this support of Mountain Rescue in Scotland in the future, long may it continue. Since 1997 St John Scotland’s main project has been a rolling programme to fund vehicles and bases for Scotland’s mountain rescue teams.

To date the Order Of St John has invested about £3.5m.

The Order of St John I salute you.



About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Avalanche info, Charity, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Lectures, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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