Holyrood honours mountain rescue volunteers

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Mountaineering organisations are to meet with politicians at the Scottish Parliament thanks to enthusiastic mountaineer, Liz Smith MSP.

In the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, where the sport of climbing in Scotland is reputed to have originated in the Victorian age, Mountaineering Scotland and Scottish Mountain Rescue held a reception at Holyrood to celebrate the dedication and expertise of the volunteers and professionals who keep people safe in Scotland’s mountains and wild landscapes. Ms Smith has also submitted a motion in parliament recognising and praising the work of both organisations and has received the cross-party backing of 36 MSPs so far.

Scottish Mountain Rescue is the representative and coordinating body for mountain rescue teams in Scotland, speaking for 23 voluntary teams involving more than 800 volunteers.

Mountaineering Scotland is the representative organisation for hill walkers, climbers, mountaineers and snowsport tourers in Scotland, with nearly 15,000 members, and plays a major role in promoting safety in Scotland’s mountains, giving advice and providing subsidised training covering a range of essential mountain skills.

At the reception tomorrow evening (Tuesday September 12), hosted by Liz Smith MSP, more than 100 members, supporters and partners of the two organisations discussed with MSPs and their staff the contribution mountaineering and mountain rescue services make to the nation’s economy and well-being, as well as some of the opportunities and challenges the future holds.

Speaking ahead of the event, Liz, said: ‘Without Mountaineering Scotland and the Scottish Mountain Rescue service our hills and mountains would be a lot more dangerous and it is only right that we celebrate their hard work at Holyrood. Scotland is one of the world’s most picturesque countries and visitors travel here to immerse themselves in the great outdoors and it is important that a safety net exists when things go awry.

‘I look forward to learning more about both organisations and this reception is the perfect opportunity to celebrate their work and inform other MSPs about the challenges they face and how best to increase safety on Scotland’s mountains.’

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, who will also be attending the reception, said: ‘Scotland is very fortunate indeed to be served by such dedicated mountain rescue volunteers and teams, who provide a first class search and rescue service, that is the envy of many other countries across the world.

‘We owe them, and those who support them, a huge debt of gratitude for the selfless attitude they demonstrate, towards helping those in need, in the mountains hills and remote areas of Scotland, time after time, whatever the weather, wherever and whenever they are called upon.’

Damon Powell, chair of Scottish Mountain Rescue, said: ‘During 2016 our volunteers put in nearly 23,000 hours on rescue call-outs assisting in a wide range of incidents – from mountaineering accidents to the search for missing persons. And that doesn’t include the huge amount of training that goes on or the work of many more volunteers which work away behind the scenes to keep the teams going.’

David Gibson, CEO of Mountaineering Scotland, said: ‘We aim to enable and inspire people to enjoy Scotland’s mountains, while equipping them with a healthy appreciation of the risks and the skills required to stay safe.

‘Through this evening we aim to give MSPs and their staff the chance to discover more about Scotland’s growing mountaineering community, the value of these activities to our visitor economy, the life-long health benefits they offer and the passion they generate amongst mountaineers for the natural environment and landscape.’

In 2012, hillwalking was included as an activity in an estimated nine million visits to the outdoors for leisure and recreation by adults living in Scotland according to SNH figures.

Mountain recreation is also a major contributor to tourism in Scotland. With walking tourism generating £1.26 billion for the Scottish economy in 2015 and long walks or hikes increasing by almost a fifth (18 per cent) on the previous year, mountaineering activities are a multi-million pound growth market.

Scotland was named this week by Rough Guide readers as the “most beautiful country in the world”. With Scotland’s awesome but often challenging landscape as its playground, mountaineering and its related activities are set to grow, emphasising the value of access to the right training and advice, and the critical importance of the services provided by the dedicated volunteers of our mountain rescue teams.