In Scotland foot and mouth outbreaks have so far been confined to Dumfries and Galloway with 129 cases (plus four more in the Borders). There have been no cases found north of there ie in most of the country. Despite this, almost the whole of Scotland became a no-go area for walkers and cavers soon after the outbreaks started in February and has remained so since. This has been due to a combination of farmers, estates and organisations closing access to their land, and the very real desire on the part of the public to avoid doing anything that could be thought to present a risk to farmers.
The effect has been to empty the countryside. As in other parts of the UK if it continues for any length of time many businesses will fold. There are now signs that areas are opening up with organisations like the National Trust opening up their Torridon estate. However the picture changes daily and some estates have opened only to close again. In Assynt the Inch and Alt are quiet and Inchnadamph Lodge is empty.
Some GSG members were in the club hut in Elphin on the weekend of the 17th and 18th March. The two objectives were to do some hut maintenance and to check local opinion on access. The whole area is very quiet with keep out notices at most access points to the hills. The Assynt estate and SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) reserves both have notices and that covers almost all the caves.
Talking to local crofters gave a different picture and the ones canvassed were quite relaxed about us caving. There was also some hope that SNH were relaxing their stance, but that hasn't happened yet for Assynt though other sites such as Corrieshalloch gorge are now open - but not to dogs.
There are now attempts to encourage tourism with statements in the press and elsewhere that Scotland is open for business. While that might be true for the seatbound variety of tourist is ain't so if you want to walk or cave. Especially if you want to cave. There are areas where walking is now permitted and details can be found on various web sites. Look at:- http://www.visitscotland.com/, http://www.walkingwild.com/, http://www.snh.org.uk/, http://www.nts.org.uk/ and navigate from there. For details on caving I will send out further Newsletters as more information becomes available. If you have any please pass it on to me for the next issue.
So what will you be abler to do if you come to the hut for Easter or for the traditional Mendip Migration time of the May bank holiday. The answer is - we don't know. There will almost certainly be restrictions, but the picture is changing from day to day and a trend to improved access is apparent.
There will be a good number of us up there next weekend (14/15 April) and also a fortnight later. We can probably guarantee access all the usual watering holes if not all the caves.
The SNH web site contains the following advice for visitors to their sites:-
There's also a 'Comeback Code' to guide walkers that is now being widely circulated. I've downloaded it from the SNH and NTS sites:-
Much of Scotland's countryside is free of foot and mouth disease and is open for outdoor pursuits and tourism. However, given the serious nature of the disease, care is still required. This Code outlines sensible precautions for those coming back to enjoy the countryside. While large areas of Scotland are accessible it is wise to check that your particular destination is open before you travel.
PLEASE FOLLOW THIS ADVICE TO AVOID ENDANGERING FARM ANIMALS AND PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOODS
The Code is based on expert advice from the State Veterinary Service and on guidance previously issued by the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department, which is responsible for action to contain and eradicate foot and mouth disease.
Plus some background advice also from SNH to allay some of the fears people might have about foot and mouth:-
Humans, dogs and horses can't catch foot and mouth disease but they can spread it to cattle, sheep, goats and deer.
Foot and mouth is a highly infectious disease but the chances of spreading it are generally low for people who don't work with animals. The risk of people spreading the disease is mainly down to direct contact with an infected animal or its dung.
People can pick up the virus on their hands, clothes and footwear and transfer it to other animals. This is why it is crucial to avoid all physical contact with livestock and to avoid farm steadings, yards and enclosed fields where there could be dung from infected animals.
Indirect transfer through person to person contact for example at sporting or social events is possible but not very likely.
This advice is especially important for dog owners. Dogs must not be allowed off the lead as they tend to root around where animals have been and can be attracted by dung.
The virus can remain active for three days on flat surfaces during the summer. It can survive for up to two weeks in dried mud or dung on clothing, shoes or vehicles but it can be killed by heat or disinfectants. If you have mud or dung on your footwear, bicycle or car you should clean them as soon as possible. Washing your footwear with soap and hot water is sufficient.
The risks of spreading foot and mouth are greatest in the areas where the disease has already broken out. But we can't assume the disease is not present elsewhere. By following this code, we can all minimise the chances of spreading foot and mouth and to begin to allow life in the country to return to normal.
This week we asked Alex Scott who works for SNH in Assynt and is a GSG member for the latest news. He confirmed that both the Allt nan Uamh and Traligill valleys are closed. Access is being reviewed continually, and if stock are moved there could be some limited lifting of the bans by Easter, but we shouldn't count on it.
Paul Archibald at the Inch reported that some limited access to Suilven and Canisp might soon open plus other routes if stock is relocated. Smoo Cave is open so divers frustrated from not getting into Claonaite have a sump to investigate there instead!
I have not heard any specific news on caving in other areas in Scotland. However if the most remote area on the mainland has the problems outlined above, I doubt if there's much chance of gaining access anywhere else. If I get any news to the contrary I'll let you know.
In the meantime I am pleased to announce that John Crae is organising a tour of three central Edinburgh tunnels for Saturday 28th April. This includes a water tunnel from the Meadows to Princes Street, a railway tunnel from Waverley Station northwards towards Leith, and a site in Edinburgh Castle.
Contact us at the Cambridge on Tuesday for more details.
For news about access in the rest of the UK look at the National Caving Association website:- http://www.nca.org.uk/
If you want to know a bit more about the potential for the F&M virus to survive in caves look at:- http://www.caving.org.uk/news/fmdv_in_cavewater.html
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