Sad days as split in Mountain Rescue Teams in now out in public. Times are a changing and maybe a time for leadership?

Today the media broke the news that Scotland’s three busiest mountain rescue teams have said they intend to leave the body which has co-ordinated the service for 50 years.

“The Cairngorm, Glencoe and Lochaber teams said they had  according to the media “lost faith” in Scottish Mountain Rescue (SMR) as their representative body.” BBC News These are three great teams where I have many memories working  over many years and still friends in the teams who I respect and are still there to this day. This decision would not have been taken lightly?

There will be much written on this over the next few days in the media and I was aware what was happening for a few months. I spoke at the Mountain Rescue Conference in November at Glenmore Lodge and stated that in my view  the teams would be “better together” and hoped that the dispute could be sorted. Yet changes may be needed within the organisation and change is never easy. I was part of the executive of Scottish Mountain Rescue for over 20 years serving as the Chairman/ Vice Chair and Statistician. There was no need for me to be involved personally  as I was part of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service and wanted to assist the overall civilian organisation. We in the RAF MR had great gear and funding from MOD and I was always amazed at how the civilian teams coped with limited funds all raised locally. I was one of the first who sowed the seed for public funding despite many who felt that this could be difficult as it may come with political pressure.  Yet many of the smaller teams really struggle financially  to this day for funding away from the popular and populated mountain areas, this funding however small is crucial to them and they needed government financial assistance. Is this is the time for a leader to come forth and ensure that any changes are beneficial to all concerned.

Mountain Rescue their to help others in the wild places.

Mountain Rescue their to help others in the wild places.  We all will help each other in trouble in the mountains and wild places no matter what. That will never change  – photo 1958 Ben Nevis !


Without a doubt in my mind it is time for change and hopefully there will not be a huge fall out between teams, that is not what Mountain Rescue needs or is about. In the end as we all are aware it is the casualty that comes first and I am sure that those in trouble in the wild places will still be looked after by all the teams involved, no matter what politics are happening behind the scenes.

The Police are in overall charge of Rescue as we all are aware maybe it is time for them to take a lead and hopefully advise on the way forward. This may ensure those who love the mountains and have spent much of their lives involved with Mountain Rescue that there will be limited effect in these troubled times. Too many in the teams will not effect them as they are the work horses who just get out and on with the task whatever it is. Politics are thankfully not their worry. When Public money comes in to the equation as the government £312000 funding has done then things can change. Yet in my mind the three teams involved have never stated that this is the problem as they have huge fund raising profile though they have to work at it.

Mountain Rescue has changed dramatically and approximately one-third are now Non – mountaineering incidents involving searches for vulnerable people, missing children,  and many urban and rural searches. Mountain Rescue personnel are heavily involved in these aspect as many occur in their local areas. The financial restraints of recent years have effected many services and Police man power  and financial pressures by the government would never cope if these responsibilities were not covered by Mountain Rescue Teams.  The task has changed dramatically over the years and this can involve huge man – hours by teams. Is it time for a re -appraisal of Mountain Rescue and the tasks they do for the public?

It should never be taken for granted, that these are unpaid volunteers who give their time to help others and often huge personal time. There may be difficult times ahead but change is never easy maybe things may happen now, I am sure that a solution is out there?

Should the Politicians get involved?

So many questions, how many answers?

Any views?


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Sad days as split in Mountain Rescue Teams in now out in public. Times are a changing and maybe a time for leadership?

  1. Calum C says:

    What a shame. I am new to MR but remember being in awe at the media stories of mountain rescues as I grew up as a mountaineer and am proud to now be a member of a team. I honestly can’t see the benefit to anyone of Glencoe, Lochaber and Cairngorm splitting off from SMR and the BBC comments don’t really clarify anything for me – apart from recalibration of what crumbs on the table can be valued at!

    I’ve been on several courses run by SMR which were all great and helped the developed the professionalism of the service – sharing ideas; developing common principles to increase interoperability; identifying evidence based best practice for rescue; and making some new buddies. Surely this is one area where SMR has added a huge amount of value to all teams and is a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts…

    The team I’m in operates in a relatively benign area, but like most has MICs, MIAs and multiple WMLs/MLs/SPAs plus the usual range of experience ranging from Munro compleaters to alpinists to Himalayan climbers. Despite this, the team chooses to provide additional support to our community through activities historically not seen as mountain rescue. We don’t have to do this, but as a team we chose to – fortunately we have the capacity to do so because we’re not being called out multiple times each week like Cairngorm, Lochaber and Glencoe are. However, I simply don’t see how this takes anything away from SMR or can have a negative impact on other teams – I’m ready to be enlightened though!

    Given the recent discourse and increasing demand across all disciplines that MRTs are involved in, perhaps it is time that Police Scotland and the Scottish Government get some skin in the game and be clear about how they view MR in Scotland, what they see as being our core requirements and allowing the experts across Scottish MR Teams to propose how best to deliver that and the support needed to do so.

    As I believe you recently commented, nothing should take away from our core purpose: the casualty. Anything that does not contribute positively to the best possible outcome for our casualties should be viewed as secondary. The politics, the discourse and the organisation should all be focuses on this and, sadly, I don’t think that is the primary driver in this case (and I don’t profess to understanding what the reason is, though).

    I wish all teams in Scotland luck and safe times in the mountains – from HebSAR to Tweed Valley, including everyone else. Everyone I speak to about MR views us positively and I hope that we can keep the discussion active, constructive and in the best interest of our casualties.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter Kay says:

    Voluteer is the key word here Hev’s, we were all volunteers in the RAF MRT’s, and we gave of our time because we had a profound attachment to mountainous regions, mountaineering and walking in wild places. The rescue part was almost a sideshow to all that, insomuch we needed to be good climbers and mountaineers to able to do the job in the first place. Its the 80/20 rule, 80% training, 20% rescue works, turn that round and you have a problem in the MRS world in my opinion, the truth if it be known was we did it because we enjoyed it, the danger, the risk and the challenge.

    I have a massive sympathy for the teams that want to remain exclusively “Mountain Rescue”, its a vocation based on all of the above. Asking these guys to get involved in routine rescue activities for which they have no real training or inclination, is in my opinion an abuse of their good will and taking unfair advantage of a specialist Emergency Service that is already in many cases stretched to the limit. Add to this the time the MRT volunteers give up away from families and loved ones, increasing that burden puts an increased risk on the ability of the MRT’s to complete their primary task to the current high levels of professionalism.

    Without wanting to venture into the realms of political intrigue, I would suggest there is a financial motive here, in that local authorities have no wish to train or finance a separate volunteer rescue service to deal with the regular flooding and missing persons events et al, that the hostile terrain teams are increasing asked to attend. Where as I can empathise with them on the dilemma they face, attempting to change the current set up without fully engaging with all the parties is as can be seen doomed to failure.

    I can only add to this I wish all parties the very best of luck with solution.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Davy Gunn says:

    I guess I was from a fairly busy team and like about a third of its members strayed well away from my own wee Glen, much like RAF MRT do. I think this makes you appreciate that you might either know or have an aquaintance with who might come and get you if things went tits up. I could go to Torridon and climb, or Glen Tress and bike and meet like minded folk all who would delight in taking the piss but but who would be there regardless of whether I had early dementia (likely!) or just fecked up on my bike (even more likely!) but still come help me. Not motivated by money, just esprit de corps and a bit of humanity. The root of all this is money. I am not ancient, but remember when the team had £45.00p in the bank and we had little cardboard batteries that we wrapped wire around to get light from a half watt bulb and crap cagoules. We might have been semi blind, but we knew there was a generation before us going back another 40 years who were not part of a “team” but with tilly lamps who carried out rescues just as demanding. The nature of being your brothers keeper or its technical nature has not changed radically, only the frequency and the need to service infrastrucure and the need to be “adequately” equiped. I have taken my allowances as I am not of the quality of those who came before me so I have no right to judge, but I wonder if you strip all the money, kit and kudos away, even from my time would we have met a a “gentle scan of your fellow man” from those who came before. I don’t for one minute doubt that those wanting to break away are not committed and brave folks, but the rhetoric of describing a lot of public money given by the govt as crumbs seems haughty and misplaced and disrespectful to folk who might pick me up anywhere from Harris to to Moffat and to whom these crumbs are a loaf. I declare I know nothing of the decisions as I am an armchair rescuer living in the past and probably suffering an overdose of nostalgia. It’s maybe an age and mortality thing. At one time I would have been the rebel going fuck them all we don’t need them. Life, illness and the genuine friendship I have met even as an ex rescuer tells me its better working it out together and that the money and kit is nothing. It’s what is in the heart of those of give their time. A gorge or crag rescue up on the Black Gairy on the Merrick in winter, or an old biddy on the wander on Harris its all about the folk you want to help. FFKS there more to keep folk toghether than “mountain”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ian Meredith says:

    Re-posted my response to Scott Maclean on FB.
    The following are my views only. Maybe I am wrong… maybe I hit the right note… either way its sad it has come to this.

    Is this a case of decades of cut backs on Police, Coastguard and RNLI full time staff being cut? Years ago the type of incidents MRT teams are being called out too were the responsibility of other organisations. Thats not to say in any way that MRT’s would not respond if requested. The team members would be ready and eager to help out. I guess it is a strain on teams and team members to respond to all sorts of requests on top of the already valuable time and effort they give on rescues and training on the hills. Maybe I am wrong? Maybe the authorities that decide on the use of MR teams should think of the time and effort every member already put in purely as a mountain rescue service. However I do agree with you Scott, yes the guys are trained and best equipped, yes they have the area knowledge…. and when it comes to saving lives the guys are there….but only because the lack of government funding to the relevant bodies has failed in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ian Morrison says:

    Please excuse my lack of in-depth background knowledge here, but why not set up a Civil Rescue service? Same duties as performed when MR carry out urban/rural operations, but with different volunteers and skill-sets. There would surely be enough volunteers, just as there are in the St Johns Ambulance or Red Cross Ambulance volunteer services. That would free up MR (and their finances) to deal with what they train for and do best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jon Wickham says:

      The danger here is that it splits the funding pool between more organisations (the government also wants to deal with fewer organisations). There will also be substantial replication of skills, equipment, vehicles, bases and personnel, would be much less efficient use of money. It can also be difficult to define the difference between Mountain Rescue and other Search and Rescue incidents.

      However you do have a valid point and the growth of the Association of Lowland Search and Rescue in England, Wales and Northern Ireland shows that this may be the way forward. That said I believe the UK Government may be keen for MREW and ALSAR to merge to make things simpler for them!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Davy Gunn says:

    I should add that I believe the BBC misquoted or took a bit of licence using the term “crumbs” as I am reliably informed that is not what was said. That for me puts things in a slightly different light. I felt the term crumbs was a bit insulting. Journo’s are dangerous. I hope SMR and the teams work it out. Never thought after last Septemeber I would use the phrase “Better Together” !

    Liked by 1 person

    • heavywhalley says:

      Thanks for that and for putting the record straight ! Davy


    • Christopher Sleight says:

      As the journalist who wrote the story, I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed. I have a full shorthand record of all the conversations I had last week. I stand by my story fully and have received no complaint from anyone I interviewed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • heavywhalley says:

        Thanks for that Christopher and I am sure your integrity is not in Question. It is easy for all of us to say the wrong word at times which can cause if we let it a huge problem! The Statement by the Spokespersons on Mountain Rescue has cleared up a lot of
        issues for many.

        I would hope that as they ask we give them some time and space to make any changes that are necessary within Mountain necessary by all the Agencies concerned.

        I do appreciate your interest as a mountaineer and as a journalist!


      • Davy Gunn says:

        I am out of this as its too close to home and he said/she said. I wouldnt question anyones integrity and so my appologies if you have the facts. I commented as a member of the public and that term as used. As its internal to MR I will pass on making further comment. The statement put out by SMR “business as usual” is great news and I hope all parties find a resolution that works for all concerned.

        Liked by 1 person

      • heavywhalley says:

        Thanks Davy – appreciated and let’s get on with life !



  7. Steve and Miller says:

    Joint statement by Miller Harris, spokesperson for Glencoe, Lochaber and Cairngorm MRTs (GLC) and member of Lochaber MRT and Steve Penny, Acting-Chair SMR and member of Tweed Valley MRT –
    There has been considerable press and social media cover about the decision of Glencoe, Cairngorm and Lochaber MRT’s (GLC) to resign their voting membership of Scottish Mountain Rescue. We both feel that while it is healthy to debate these issues, some of the comments are misinformed and not representative of the position or views of the respective parties within SMR.
    Whilst our geographic areas and operational demands are different across Scotland, we all have one thing in common, which is that we are volunteers and as volunteers, we probably have more in common than our differences.
    The teams that collectively deliver mountain rescue and search and rescue services across Scotland can deploy personnel into every part of the country and those in need can be comforted in the knowledge that they will receive a world class service that will cost them nothing.
    The primary purpose of around 1000 volunteers, currently in SMR, is to offer a wide range of skills that are appropriate to their own local area. Whatever happens in respect of the administration of the organisation, none of that will change …. every team has been set up and runs as its own body and most have done so for around 50 years.
    The current discussions have largely been imposed on us all as volunteers by the pressures created by outside influences. We have seen significant changes which have put considerable pressures on rescue teams and the demands on volunteers’ time. This has resulted in increased expectations on what volunteers will contribute in support of reduced resources in the non-voluntary sector. Decisions are being made at a strategic level which ultimately impact on operational expectations of volunteers.
    The national body, now called Scottish Mountain Rescue (a charity in its own right), strives to represent all teams. The organisation has been around for 50 years and no-one would ever deny that any organisation with that history must review and refresh to meet the needs of an ever changing operational landscape. So, yes, GLC feel that the national body has lost focus from their point of view and that needs to be resolved. It is healthy that teams can feel that they can question and challenge an organisation that exists to help them deliver at the sharp end. We must accept that Scottish Mountain Rescue (the charity) is entering a period of change, however, Scottish mountain rescue (the activity) as delivered by the teams across Scotland will continue as it has always done.
    We must stress that no teams have actually “left” SMR and there is no “split”. GLC would still wish to be affiliated to SMR and will continue to support the wider mountain rescue community in whatever way they can. Where appropriate we believe that the current healthy exchange of skills to facilitate training and information exchanges within the organisation will continue irrespective of the outcome of current discussions.
    So, if you are unfortunate enough to need to call on the services of a mountain rescue team anywhere in Scotland then don’t worry …. it’s very much business as normal and we will drop what we are doing, grab the packs and head out to help you! We would hope that we can be allowed to continue our work without the need to make further comment at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Graham Morgan says:

    Hi Heavy,

    You knew my father Brian Morgan from LAMRT well and whilst the big man had strong opinions on many aspects of what we do, I’m sure he would be gutted at the thought of us becoming fractured and polarised.

    We at West Mercia Search and Rescue have been on our knees financially for a while now despite a proactive fundraising team. Despite being a national Defra flood asset and covering the largest patch in England (4 counties) for missing and vunetable people, we don’t have the public profile of mountain rescue and receive no funding whatsoever. There is simply not enough money to cover our basic operational costs (fuel, maintenance, rent, insurance) which is £14,000 a year and we struggle to hang onto a permanent base for more than 6 months (we get kicked out when a business comes along who can pay more). As a concerned member of the search and rescue family, I therefore started a personal petition for a fund for all UKSAR teams as I know many like ours face a challenge to continue. I also wanted to raise the profile for all UKSAR, to start a conversation inside and outside SAR about the vital work we all do, as a community shoulder to shoulder.

    The petition is backed by my team but not yet officially endorsed by ALSAR, MWER or SMR etc.

    So if that is ok with you, I hope you feel this is important and needs national attention. Please sign and share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • heavywhalley says:

      I certainly will – I knew Brian well a sound Mountain Rescue man – looked after me in these big English Mountains!

      Kind regards Heavy


      • Graham says:

        Thanks Heavy, very much appreciated. Just to be aware, although I forgot to explicitly mention Scottish Mountain Rescue in the final paragraph of the petition text, this was not a deliberate omission, and I could not edit it once it was submitted. I do indeed mean all UKSAR teams, those in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. All the best, Graham.

        Liked by 1 person

      • heavywhalley says:

        Good to hear from you.


  9. Margaret says:

    It appears that the problem and responsibility for that problem lies with the authorities!

    Voluntary Mountain Rescue Teams continue to do what it says on the tin; they provide a world class rescue ‘voluntary’ service for mountaineers.

    The authorities clearly need to spend money to provide a ‘service’ which seems to be needed nearer urban areas. If they can get away with it on the cheap, then they will. They have already re-badged the Fire Service by adding Rescue to their remit, so perhaps that is the direction the authorities should take. Though be wary – Fire and Rescue don’t do hills, but they might like to have Mountain Rescue under their belt. Bureaucracies have the habit of growing themselves.

    (I helped out in a local team many years ago!)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hugo says:

    I have been through a volunteer Mountain Rescue split. In that particular case the claim was that greater authority input would be more dangerous to all involved. What actually transpired was a massive reduction in time to rescue, a far better funded and streamlined response and the eventual, and resentful, return of the volunteer organisations in question.

    In many ways, looking back, I feel that volunteer rescue organisations are fueled by passion. They are also often groups that build intense friendships. Once their leadership feels the recognition they feel they deserve is not forthcoming, after all they as individuals have placed skin in the game for decades, their emotions take over and the volunteer system is torn apart.

    The UK can look forward quite a bit of this as the Bristow rescue services ramp up and the exciting rescues all start being done by a team of two professionals instead of a team of 30 ground volunteers. This compounds the frustration, and diminishes the value that volunteers can add, leaving them to the less heroic stuff.

    The sense of loss will be acute, and accusations will start flying, including the “wastage” of a good resource. It will all take time to settle, and there will be a better service, but there will also be anger, heartache, a sense of betrayal and bitterness.

    Strength to all…

    Liked by 1 person

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