Mountain rescuers brace for a busy summer as Britain’s holiday boom continues

Mountain rescuers brace for a busy summer as Britain’s holiday boom continues

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In the Peak District, the light is fading fast and somewhere between the moors and hills an urgent cry for help is heard. Emergency responders rushed to the scene and searched for their injured person, playing network information on walkie-talkies: “Hello? Mountain rescue!”

They find their walker on the edge of a valley, his ankle is badly twisted and hypothermia is setting in. The 18 volunteers – teachers, doctors, carpenters – heave the man onto a stretcher and carry him more than a mile to safety.

Related: UK camping holidays are booming in the pandemic, figures show

This may be a training exercise but it has all the hallmarks of a commonplace emergency in Britain’s national parks.

Mountain rescue teams across the country say they are bracing for an exceptionally busy summer as the cost of living crisis pushes more people into cheaper outdoor pursuits.

“We’re expecting it to be a very, very busy summer, probably the busiest it’s ever been,” says Mike Margeson, operations manager for Mountain Rescue England and Wales. “Certainly we didn’t want it to be busier last year to deal with that.”

Emergency teams responded to a record 3,629 deployments in England and Wales last year, a 15% increase from 2020. 2021 saw nearly 1,000 more deployments than 2019, when crowds flocked to the mountains during Covid-19.

There’s little sign of the pandemic-driven popularity waning. Mountain rescue teams have completed 1,489 missions in the first six months of this year, generally the quieter half of the calendar, according to preliminary figures for England and Wales. More than half of these were in the three most popular regions – the Lake District, Peak District and North Wales.

“It’s been building and building, and the last five or six weeks have been really busy and very tragic,” Margeson said. He counts at least 12 deaths in the past two months, most recently a hiker who fell from Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, last Tuesday.

The vast majority of incidents are due to human error, primarily people ill-equipped for the terrain. Rescue teams said they saw a significant increase in people showing up in sneakers with no spare clothing, trying to rely on Google Maps in mobile blackspots.

rescue team

Edale mountain rescuers in the Peak District – one of the best hiking destinations in the country. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

“We’re very excited that people are realizing the importance of being in nature, it’s just that the number is so big,” said Margeson, who has worked in mountain rescue for more than 40 years.

“And the demographics: people who would normally be on the beach in Benidorm were crammed to queue for two hours to get to the top of Snowdon, or crammed into the Lake District.”

There could be another reason for the increase in emergencies, said Richard Warren, chairman of the Lake District Mountain Rescue teams: “A lot of people are having knee and hip surgeries now after the pandemic and I think there’s a great deal of people who have been affected by the come down high fells, hobble down, stumble, fall.”

Mountain rescue teams are made up entirely of volunteers and, for the most part, rely entirely on donations as they receive no money from the central government. They are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

They are not only used in accidents in mountains and valleys, but also increasingly by police and rescue services, whether because of their technical expertise or when the blue light services are overloaded.

Colin Price, a duty team leader for Edale Mountain Rescue in the Peak District, said his team had already responded to 82 calls this year and was on track to match last year’s record of 155.

Despite the return of largely unrestricted international travel, the region is “getting busier” even before the end of the school year. Campsites are also fully booked in the Lake District.

Margeson, a member of the rescue team covering part of Cumbria’s Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, said: “A lot of people have gone abroad again but a lot of people can’t afford it so they jump to the Peaks or North Wales or the Lake District is a more financially viable holiday – and who can blame them?”

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