February 2001

Climber caught by avalanche

A climber is recovering after being swept 100ft down a Scottish mountain by an avalanche. Blair Fyffe (20)w a student from Edinburgh, suffered a minor leg injury during the incident in Wester Ross on Saturday, February 10. He was ice climbing Coireag Dubh Mor on Liathach in Torridon with three friends when the avalanche happened.

Japanese TV survival star rescued

A Japanese woman who was living in a cave on a Scottish island to film a survival programme has been rescued after contracting hypothermia. The 30-year-old, who has not been named, was part of a crew making a film on endurance activities when she lost consciousness in a cave 50 feet down a cliff on the Isle of Mull. A Tobermory lifeboat crewman eventually made it ashore to rescue the woman despite heavy seas and high winds. She was then airlifted to Belford Hospital's hypothermia unit, in Fort William. The rest of her crew are understood to have kept filming throughout the morning after the rescue drama. Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman Mark Clark revealed that the group were hopelessly ill-prepared for their stay in the cave overlooking the remote Treshnish Isles. He said: "We said to them to put her in a sleeping bag to keep her warm and they said: 'We haven't got one'. We didn't know anything about them. You really have to be wearing all the proper gear and take all the proper equipment with you. If you are going to go out at night to caves and things - particularly in the middle of winter - for goodness sake take everything you need to survive." A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: "My understanding is they were filming a kind of version of Castaway." The alarm was raised in the early hours of the morning when a local man working with the crew contacted Oban Police to say the woman was suffering badly from hypothermia. A rescue helicopter from the Royal Naval Air Base at Prestwick was requested but the aircraft was unable to fly because of technical problems. The Tobermory lifeboat was launched and despite hazardous conditions with strong easterly winds a crewman was landed at the cave after several attempts. As a fire was lit in the cave to warm the woman, Tobermory Coastguard Rescue Team also helped stabilise her after they hiked three miles across country to the cave from the nearest road. Robin Watson, watch manager at Clyde Coastguard said: "After the seriousness of her condition was made clear a helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was scrambled and a winchman lowered to the cave to help prepare her for winching. It seems the film crew have not been particularly well-prepared for the rigours of weather in West Scotland at this time of year."

Schiehallion appeal update

The John Muir Trust's appeal to buy Schiehallion now stands at £304,380. This includes £202,966 from charitable trusts and companies, £62,796 from members and £27,972 from non-members. The conservation group has drawn up plans to halt erosion on the mountain by creating a new path up the Perthshire peak to allow the existing crumbling route to be restored. Members reached the conclusion after commissioning a report into the mountain's condition by upland access management consultant Margaret Thomas. In September 1999, the John Muir Trust agreed to buy the mountain from owners Mary Horsfall and Ian de Sales La Terriere and quickly raised the necessary £300,000. The appeal will continue to raise the same again to fund future maintenance and management of the mountain. Under the trust's plan, the new main path will follow the line of a seldom used track before rejoining the existing path higher up the mountain. According to trust director Nigel Hawkins this should allow the existing path from the car park to the east ridge high on the mountain to be completely reinstated. He said: ''It is felt that the east ridge is not only more able to stand existing heavy use, it is intrinsically a finer way, with more interesting and better vistas in ascent and provides the opportunity for a higher quality experience of the mountain. It was also a popular way to the top before the Braes of Foss car park was built.'' The trust insists that although the new path will be promoted there will be no access restrictions on Schiehallion. ''Management work, and requests to visitors to help the restoration process, will enable damaged ground to vegetate,'' said Mr Hawkins. Oil firm BP Amoco has seconded staff to work on the project and the JMT is in the process of making a Heritage Lottery Fund application for a grant to help cover the cost of the remedial work. Schiehallion is one of Scotland's most recognisable mountain, whose peak can be seen from many parts of Tayside. However, its popularity with walkers over many years has taken its toll and severe scarring can be seen from miles away.

Ben Nevis Appeal hits purchase price

The John Muir Trust's Ben Nevis Appeal now exceeds the £450,000 needed to purchase Scotland's highest peak. The appeal will, however, continue for a full year as the same amount is needed again to manage the area. Latest figures released by the trust put the figure at £455,084. This includes £131,495 from charitable trusts and companies, £124,513 from John Muir Trust members and £160,643 from non-members. Three recent large donations include £13,714 from the Daily Record, £3500 from Scottish & Newcastle pubs via journalist Bob Shields and £5000 from the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Director Nigel Hawkins said: ''Our members, yet again, have responded magnificently to the appeal and we have also had tremendous support from charitable trusts. Once we have raised the purchase price by our own efforts we shall look to public bodies to support future management costs. We are working closely with the other members of the Nevis Working Party. It is not realistic for us to work on our own. A good example is the main Ben path. We are responsible for all of the path above 2500 feet - but what happens to the path on ground below that is of equal concern to us. I am pleased to report that there is considerable agreement among the members of the Nevis Working Party on issues such as keeping the mountains and hinterland wild and beautiful, sensitively managing visitor access and ensuring that roadside facilities in the glen are appropriate to their setting. There is enormous goodwill among the partners,'' he added.

Honour for Syd

Hillwalker, poet and author Syd Scroggie is to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Dundee University. Syd, who lives in the shadows of the Sidlaw Hills, above the city, has pursued his passion for exploring Scotland's mountains and glens despite losing his sight and part of a leg in the second world war. He has shared his love of the outdoor by writing many poems and books.

1000th right of way sign

An Angus firm is leading the way when it comes to pointing hillwalkers in the right direction. Sign Industries, based at Gardyne, near Friockheim, have just manufactured their 1000th sign for the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society.

The society's field officer Alistair Lawson visited the company's rural base to take delivery of the sign, the first of a new design. The society's traditional green metal signs have long been a familiar landmark for hillwalkers, directing them along the country's many rights of way.

However, the company is now also manufacturing a new style which features a metal plaque on a wooden background. In addition to picking up the new sign, Mr Lawson also received the 999th of the older model.

Sign Industries, which has a staff of seven, specialises in engraving brass, bronze and stainless steel signs and plaques.

The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society was established in 1845 and has campaigned vigorously to secure and protect public rights of access over land in Scotland.

Throughout the late Victorian era the society embarked upon a drive to sign-post all the major long distance traditional routes in the Scottish Highlands to secure them for the small but growing band of walkers and climbers.

This work continues to this day in an age when hillwalking and climbing are becoming increasingly popular. Over recent years the society has participated in the National Access Forum, preparing the ground for the Scottish Parliament's Land Reform Bill.

Ben Nevis path restoration

Scottish Natural Heritage has awarded a £41,000 grant to fund repair work one of Britain's most popular mountain footpaths. The money goes into a £50,000 fund launched to renovate the Red Burn Gully section of the route up Ben Nevis. The project, due for completion in the spring, is part of a phased programme of remedial work being undertaken under the management of Highland Council's Glen Nevis Ranger Service. The work is being carried out by Northern Conservation and a helicopter is being used to transport materials to the site.

Walker falls to death

A woman slipped and fell more than 500ft to her death in the Scottish mountains. The woman, who has not yet been named, had been walking along the northern side of Grey Corries Ridge, near Spean Bridge in Lochaber, with a male companion when she fell between about 1245GMT and 1300GMT on Saturday, February 17. Another climber came off the mountain to raise the alarm, and Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and an RAF rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth attended. The woman is believed to be from England, but police said no details would be released until her next of kin had been informed.

Climbers converge on Cairngorms

The world's top climbers are bracing themselves for blizzards and Arctic winds as they prepare to pit themselves against Scotland's mountains. As many as forty of Britain's best mountaineers are due to join up with colleagues from across the globe for the biennial International Winter Climbing Meet which gets underway in the Cairngorms on February 23 and 24. Since its inception in 1997 the Scottish Meet has emerged as a major event in the mountaineering calendar. This year the cream of the planet's climbing fraternity - including the likes of Sir Chris Bonnington and K2 conqueror Alan Hikes - have descended on the Highlands. They have been lured to Scotland by the prospect of some of the most demanding climbing conditions to be found anywhere in the world. They will be based at Glenmore Lodge but as the blizzards closed in on the Cairngorms there were concerns that the climbers might not even make it into the foothills. Forecasters are predicting that weekend temperatures could fall as low as -12C and if the snowfall continues there is a risk that access roads to the main mountaineering areas could be closed off.

Contaminated coastline

Scotland's beaches have the highest level of sewage debris in Britain, according to a survey. Plastic accounted for more than half the rubbish found by a UK-wide study by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which included 23 Scottish beaches. Beach visitors are still among the worst offenders for dropping litter, but the society says the biggest threat to wildlife comes from industrial plastics. The MCS said the strong resemblance of plastic pellets to natural foodstuffs such as fish eggs and tiny animals meant they were eaten by mistake, increasing exposure to poisonous substances. The research, which covered 150 beaches around the country, found that the overall litter level was slightly up on last year. More than 1,300 volunteers took part, removing more than 185,000 items. That figure was slightly up from the previous year, and reverses a generally downward trend recorded by the society's Beachwatch surveys. The most common items recorded were plastic pieces, rope and cord, caps and bottle lids, crisp and sweet packets and plastic drinks bottles. Beachwatch co-ordinator Amy Hinks said: "Levels are still unacceptably high and over 55% of litter recorded during Beachwatch 2000 is made of plastic. New evidence about the association of toxic substances with industrial plastic pellets gives us an even greater cause for concern as plastic fragments from degrading litter could potentially act in the same way. There is already a wealth of evidence indicating plastic fragments are regularly ingested by marine life potentially exposing them to toxins such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)." High concentrations of PCBs are known to damage the immune and reproductive systems in fish, marine mammals and seabirds. The Marine Conservation Society is concerned that raw industrial plastic pellets can act as magnets for toxic chemicals. Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said sewage items - including many products which were flushed down toilets rather than being disposed of properly - accounted for 12.7% of the debris on Scottish beaches.

Climbers caught in avalanche

Five climbers were swept 100ft down a mountain side after being caught in an avalanche in Wester Ross. A 43-year-old man was airlifted to hospital with head and chest injuries after the incident, which happened in The Fannichs on Sunday, February 24. He was detained in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, for treatment, where his injuries were said to be serious.

Mobile mast controls don't go far enough

Scottish Executive plans to contain the spread of mobile phone masts in Scotland do not go far enough, MSPs have warned. Members of the Scottish Parliament's environment committee have said they want to see tighter controls on developers. Communities round Scotland have been lobbying for a change in the regulations because of fears over siting masts near to homes and schools. Their arguments have been based on safety fears and the impact on the landscape. However, an independent report commissioned by the UK Government and released in May said there did not appear to be a general risk to the health of people living near base stations. Former environment minister Sarah Boyack promised to tighten the planning controls. That job has now been taken over by Sam Galbraith, who has been gathering opinion on how to close a loophole which means that only ground-based masts of a certain height are subject to full planning control. Communities are also to have the right to be consulted and there will be careful scientific monitoring of masts sited close to schools and hospitals. The parliament's environment committee has warmly welcomed those steps, but warned that the clampdown does not go far enough. In a letter, the committee convener Andy Kerr urged that all masts - including sizeable antenna sited on top of buildings - should be controlled. He warned against allowing developers to replace existing masts with higher structures. Ministers have been under pressure to act swiftly in the light of reports that mobile phone firms are speeding up development in an effort to pre-empt the planned new law. Last month, lawyer Alastair McKie warned that changing the guidelines could bring the planning system to a grinding halt. Mr McKie said that the number of masts may need to quadruple to meet the demands of the third generation of mobile phones. He said that, if they are all subject to full planning procedures, the system may not be able to cope.

Climber dies on Ben Nevis

A young climber has been found dead on Ben Nevis and his companion is believed to be suffering from severe head injuries. It is thought the men fell around 700ft down Glovers Chimney on Saturday but were only found by hillwalkers on the morning of Sunday, February 24. The dead man appears to have been killed instantly. The other climber was found unconscious and was airlifted to Belford Hospital in Fort William where he is being treated for severe head injuries.

Missing plane found on Torridon peak

Two bodies have been found at the crash site of a light aircraft which came down on a mountain in Torridon. They are thought to be the two Scottish businessmen who were on board a Cessna 152 which went missing at the end of last year. Robert MacLean (36) and Ewan Spalding (39) took off from Dalcross airport near Inverness in December but their flight, bound for Benbecula, never arrived. After extensive searches the hunt for their aircraft was called off. But it was relaunched at Liathach, in Torridon, on Saturday, February 24, after a hillwalker spotted debris in the snow. The search was resumed on Sunday and police have confirmed that two bodies have been found. Northern Constabulary say they will not be easy to identify - but it is expected they will be confirmed as the pilot of the Cessna 152 and his passenger. The Air Accident Investigation Bureau will be making further enquiries into the incident. The plane disappeared somewhere west of Dingwall on December 13. Mr Spalding, from Dingwall, was the pilot of the plane which also carried fellow company director Mr MacLean, from Marybank, near Dingwall. The men were heading for a business meeting in the Western Isles. A massive search was launched, with mountain rescuers scouring a vast area of the West Highlands. A Royal Air Force surveillance aircraft joined helicopters from Kinloss, using night vision equipment in the hope they could detect some sign of the plane. At one point earthquake specialists were drafted in to study seismological charts of the area to look for some sign of a sudden impact. And Mr MacLean's wife Trish launched appeals for the public's help, asking walkers and climbers on the hills to provide vital clues. Finally, on Friday a hillwalker contacted the police after stumbling across pieces of what appeared to be aircraft wreckage. Mountain rescue teams set out from Torridon at 9am on Saturday. Ferocious winds and heavy snowfalls hampered their efforts, but they were able to find some debris and a liferaft which is believed to have belonged to the Cessna.

Path project takes step back

Proposals to restore a walkway to one of the most photographed harbours in Scotland have been dealt a blow. Fife Council had submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the hope that the grant would help pay for a new wall and footpath programme at Crail's Bankhead Brae, also known as Hens' Ladder.

However, it has now been confirmed by the Heritage Lottery Fund that the application is being refused on grounds that the application has been deemed unsuitable for their funds. They have made it clear that the money can only be used to patch old buildings up rather than reconstructing any collapsed development, such as Hens' Ladder, from scratch.

Hopes now rest with the council's east area co-ordinator Jim Findlay who is investigating a fall-back funding package should any appeal on the decision fail. Site works were to commence in June, funding permitted.

The issue was raised at last week's meeting of the Fife Council east area development committee when members were told by council officials verbal notification had been given to the local authority that the application had failed.

Fife councillor Peter Douglas, who represents the Crail, Cameron and Kemback ward, confirmed that a letter was received by the community council and this confirmed that the application had been rejected. Having campaigned for many years to have the walkway repaired, he said he was "very concerned" at the news.

Councillor Douglas said: "One way or the other, we are determined that the repair work will be done and that Hens' Ladder will be able to re-open in the not too distant future. There is a definite determination at Fife Council to get the job done and east area co-ordinator Jim Findlay has been working very hard to investigate a fall-back funding package. It is not easy to get money together to pay for something like this. We might have to look at other sources or get more funding from Fife Council, if possible. But we remain hopeful that the original timescale for work to begin in the summer can still be adhered to."

Hens' Ladder has been a popular walk for locals and tourists alike in Crail, providing access to the harbour but also offering spectacular cliff-top views out over the Forth estuary. Repairs have been needed for years, culminating in a situation last year when a section of brick retaining wall supporting the Bankhead Brae walkway crashed 40 feet to the ground below. Around 10 metres of the walkway was affected following heavy rain and this eventually led to its complete demolition on the instructions of Fife Council amid further fears of collapse. The cost of restoring the path has been estimated at around £160,000. The council has agreed to provide £66,000 while Fife Environment Trust has awarded £28,000, leaving a shortfall of £56,000.

Tayside Mountain Rescue Team's lifesaving work has been boosted thanks to a new £20,000 multi-purpose vehicle. The organisation is replacing its 12-year-old workhorse with a Land Rover which acts as ambulance, control centre and carries personnel and equipment to emergencies. News of the vehicle, made possible with major funding from the Order of St John, was revealed at its annual meeting in Coupar Angus. Rescue team leader Alfie Ingram said: ''This is an important piece of equipment for us and we expect it to arrive during the early part of this year. We are extremely grateful to the Order of St John, who have become supportive of mountain rescue in Scotland, for its assistance.''

The meeting heard the team had been called out 12 times over the year on rescue missions across Tayside - an average number for the organisation. Members managed to trace 11 people safe and well and one other with a broken leg. However, on two occasions the team was scrambled for operations that resulted in deaths on the mountains. One involved a climber from England who plunged 300 ft to his death in Corrie Fee, Glen Doll, in December and the other came last month when two Dundee men perished after being caught in an avalanche in the same area. Mr Ingram continued: ''The fatalities are certainly higher for Tayside for the year. On a positive note, from the number of incidents we attended we had 11 people who were safe and well.'' The meeting heard that, on the financial front, Tayside Mountain Rescue was keeping an even keel, with money coming in meeting expenses. Fund-raising to keep it going during the year included a theatre evening, flag days, sponsored walk as well as collecting cans and sales of its guide book. On the training side, in addition to the team's in-house work, it held joint exercises with Tayside Police Search and Rescue Unit, RAF mountain rescue teams, RAF and Royal Navy helicopters and work with lifeboats.

Speyside Way extension planned

The Speyside Way - which runs from Spey Bay on the Moray coast to Aviemore - could be extended to Newtonmore. Scottish Natural Heritage is consulting on proposals to push south following calls from walkers and community groups in Badenoch. The long distance path was launched in April 2000 following prolonged negotiations with landowners along the 65 mile route. Now the Speyside Way Management Group believes the time is right to develop it further. As yet there is no set route to Newtonmore, but a feasibility study undertaken in 1995 for Highland Council suggested a line on the eastern side of the River Spey. Newtonmore has been selected as a possible southern terminus due to the availability of accommodation and public transport. SNH is currently open to public comment on the plan. Once the agency is satisfied that a suitable route has been identified, approval will be sought from the Scottish Executive to enable Highland Council to begin work on the ground, possibly within the next year.

SNH area officer Cattie Anderson said: ''It has long been one of our goals to see the route extended further south and I'm delighted that we're moving forward on this at last. I think a lot of people were a little bit sceptical about the route at first, as it lacks some of the rugged challenge of the West Highland Way. However, that is definitely proving to be one of the plus points. I'm hearing of people who have never walked a long-distance route before and are now inspired to try others.''

Calls have already been made to extend the way towards the source of the River Spey, and to link it into the Corrieyairack Pass, leading walkers through to Fort Augustus. It currently has spurs to Dufftown and Tomintoul.