June 2001

Mountain rescue drama

BBC Scotland is to spend £4.5m on a new mountain rescue drama, Rock Face. Filming is due to begin next month on the six-part series, which is understood to have a budget of around £750,000 per episode. It is BBC Scotland's most ambitious production since the sci-fi thriller Invasion Earth. The BBC has received financial backing for the project from US giant Columbia TriStar, which will secure international distribution for the series. Set around Fort William and Ben Nevis, the drama will centre on a group of nine volunteer mountain rescuers. The leader is a doctor whose wife is also a GP. His deputy works in a paper mill, and a policeman, a teacher, a mountain guide and a sports shop owner are among the other members of the team. The show will be made by Union Pictures and the BBC hopes to develop Rock Face into a long-running show. Rescue scenes will be filmed on location in the Highlands. ''This has to be done properly otherwise it's not worth doing, hence the significant level of the budget,'' said Tony Miller of Union Pictures. ''We would like to think that this was a British attempt to do an ER-type series. The script is very, very pacey, very character-led.'' Rock Face writers Nicholas Hicks-Beach and Shelley Miller, whose previous credits include the £20m Patrick Swayze thriller Letters From A Killer, have spent the last 18 months researching their scripts through interviews with Scottish mountain rescuers, in particular the team from Lochaber. The Bill, London's Burning, Soldier Soldier and countless hospital drama series have focused on the work of the emergency services, but this will be the first UK drama about a mountain rescue team. ''It's a completely untapped area in which there are stories by the hundreds,'' said Miller. Barbara McKissack, head of BBC Scotland drama, said she expected the show to be popular oversees. ''This is a new venture for BBC Scotland, a first collaboration with an international partner of the calibre of Columbia TriStar. This partnership just goes to show that a truly Scottish project and good storytelling can appeal internationally,'' she added. ''Scottish shows do travel. Monarch of the Glen is currently BBC Worldwide's top selling show.''

Scots mountaineerer flies home from Nepal

Dundee-based mountaineer and walkscotland.com correspondent Steve Page is back home in Scotland after flying out of trouble-torn Nepal. Steve arrived in the country's capital city, Kathmandu, last weekend for an expedition to the foothills of the Himalayas where he planned to undertake conservation work and enjoy some trekking. However he was stuck in the city - hit by unrest and rioting following a massacre that left 10 royals dead - until Thursday morning. Steve managed to send emails to family and friends to let them know he was safe and well while and both he and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteer - the organisation that organised the trip - made strenuous efforts to secure a flight back to the UK. With the airport closed for a period and a police curfew on the streets, he was confined to his hotel. Two people died and 19 were injured on Monday, June 4, in rioting, before police imposed a curfew in Kathmandu with a warning that those who ignored it would be shot. Earlier, troops and police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of angry mourners who threw rocks at baton-wielding officers, and raced around the streets on motorcycles. Back home, Steve said: "The Nepal government cut much of the communication with the outside world to try and control what news was given out - this included the TV transmitters and some phone lines. The end result was to anger people who thought they were being censored. ''I'm now back in Dundee having managed to get the flight out yesterday as things had quietened down enough to allow me to get to the airport. ''The country is still on a bit of an edge waiting for the statement from the new King as to what actually happened so it was best to get out as soon as possible, not because I was in any real danger but because the country is grinding to a halt with no prospect of lifting curfews and some foodstuffs running short because of the lack of transport,'' he added.

The trouble was centred mainly around the royal palace, but spread to other areas of the city. A keen walker and climber, Steve has travelled extensively throughout the world, visiting destinations such as the Alps and South America.

Crocodile Dundee to the rescue

A lesson learned from Crocodile Dundee came in handy when a mountain rescue team went up Ben Nevis to rescue an injured climber. John Stevenson and his colleagues went to the aid of an injured man on the mountain but they got more than they bargained for when they tried to get past the victim's protective Alsatian dog. The man had sustained a leg injury while out with a partner about 100 metres from the summit of Ben Nevis. When members of the Lochaber mountain rescue team reached the man, his pet became over-protective of his master and would not rescuers to get too close. Team leader Terry Confield said: "When we got to the man we had a bit of a problem with the dog who was, quite naturally, being very possessive. But John had been watching Crocodile Dundee last night and after a few minutes he had the situation under control and everything was fine."

In the film, starring Paul Hogan, the hero uses his skills to pacify an angry water buffalo standing in the way of his vehicle. The police spokesman said: "The injured man has been flown off the mountain by helicopter and taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William." The dog was taken home by the injured man's partner.

Climber dies in Cobbler fall

A climber who fell 100ft to his death has been named. Mark Lewis (28), from Leeds, fell while on The Cobbler, near Arrochar. The accident happened on the afternoon of Saturday, June 9, 2001. Mr Lewis was flown by an RAF rescue helicopter to Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An RAF mountain rescue team from RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, who had been training in the area, helped with the rescue of the remaining members of the group, two of whom were taken to the Southern General suffering from shock. They were later discharged. The alarm was raised about 2.20pm. A spokesman at RAF Lossiemouth Rescue Coordination Centre said: "The party was up on The Cobbler, when one of them fell around 100ft and sustained major injuries. His colleagues raised the alarm when he fell and they made their way down where they found him unconscious with arm and leg injuries."

* A 41-year-old Aberdeen man was airlifted to Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, after falling from crags on Red Craig, above Glendoll in Angus, on Saturday, June 9. He sustained serious neck and back injuries.

Woman dies on An Teallach

A woman who was airlifted to hospital after falling 300ft down a cliff in the Scottish Highlands has died. Lynne Potter, from Norton, near Runcorn, Cheshire, was taken to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, with serious head injuries but died from her injuries. The 51-year-old had been hillwalking with her husband on An Teallach in Wester Ross. A helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth, which had been training in the area, airlifted her to hospital.

North Pole explorer returns home

Scottish explorer Dave Mill has returned home after setting a new record for walking solo and unaided towards the North Pole. He braved a polar bear and broken equipment during his 43-day trek before melting ice forced him to abandon the attempt. But the 33-year-old from Kenmore is already planning a third attempt to complete the journey next year. He had set off from Ward Hunt Island in Canada on April 12 and completed 287 miles of the 400 mile trek before taking the decision to stop. If he had succeeded he would have become the first person to walk solo and unaided from Canada to the North Pole. Dave endured temperatures as low as -40C as he trudged north - but ironically it was the warm weather that defeated him in the end. As temperatures soared to -3C, the ice floes on which he was walking became more and more unstable. On several occasions he had to stop to repair his skis, which had snapped in two. He spent four days confined to a makeshift camp before he took the decision to call in his back-up team to airlift him from the ice. He said: "The ice was playing a game this year. There was more bad ice and more bad ice and more bad ice. I was stuck in an area completely surrounded by water, and I mean big water, we're talking lakes twice the size of Loch Tay. I got my shovel out and cleared a 40m runway for the aircraft, then all I had to do was sit tight and wait for them. I told them the situation, that there was zero wind and good visibility, and they told me they would have to consider what to do and then call me back in an hour. It was a very long hour." But the moment the decision to send the plane in was taken, the weather began to deteriorate. For a second time Dave left his tent and cleared the runway. Dave continued: "It was a shorter runway this time, I angled it so he could come in directly into the wind. After one pass which he used to flatten the runway, the pilot, Paul, managed to put the plane down. His co-pilot got out and her first words to me were, 'Are you Dave Mill?' All Paul said was, 'That was a bit bumpy'." The explorer said that as he waited for the light aircraft to rescue him, he had only one thought on his mind - a cheese and tomato sandwich and a cool glass of beer. Dave revealed that he had been tracked by a polar bear for much of his trek. "I didn't actually see the bear, but I discovered he had been sleeping around 400 metres from me. He followed me for several days, but eventually I think he got fed up because he couldn't hack the pace!'' he said. "There was a wolf as well, which followed me for much of the trip. I eventually felt he was looking out for me, but I had to scare him off when he ripped my tent. I didn't want to shoot him so I fired a firecracker into the air." Despite the trials of his trip, Dave intends to try again next year. "There are a few areas to look at, taking a spare ski next time for one. It'll be good fun next year because there'll be a race on. I'm planning to set off between March 8 and 15 and there's a Norwegian guy going at the same time. So at last we'll beat the Norwegians at something." Dave was on the back-up expedition that followed Sir Ranulph Fiennes on the same route last year, when the English explorer had to abort his mission due to frostbite.

Hillphones scheme to be extended

The Hillphones scheme will expand to cover two new areas this year. In addition to the 10 areas that took part in the scheme in 2000, there will be new Hillphones for Atholl and the Paps of Jura. The project provides information about the location of deer stalking activities during the main part of the stag stalking season, from August to October. Daily messages are recorded by deer managers and are available on special Hillphone numbers. Walkers and climbers call the relevant Hillphone number and plan their day around the information provided on the message. Details of the numbers for the two new areas will be confirmed nearer the time and will be carried on the walkscotland.com InfoCentre page. Hillphones leaflets will be circulated with the summer edition of The Scottish Mountaineer and it is also hoped the numbers will be shown on the weather page in the Saturday editions of The Scotsman and The Herald newspapers. The 10 areas already covered are Grey Corries/Mamores, Glen Dochart/Glen Lochay, North Arran, South Glen Shiel, Drumochter, Glen Shee, Callater & Clunie, Invercauld, Balmoral/Lochnagar and Glen Clova.

F-15 recovery put on hold

The operation to recover the wreckage of two American military jets from the Scottish Highlands has been put on hold until late summer. Two pilots died when their F-15 jets crashed near the summit of Ben Macdui at the end of March. Since then more than 95% of the wreckage and at least 250 tons of snow contaminated by fuel has been removed by US and RAF teams. But the operation to clear the remaining debris has been suspended because of environmental considerations. It was feared that now the deep winter snows are melting, there was a danger of disturbance to the site and wildlife by trampling or machinery. The ground will be more stable again later in the year, by which time birds will also have finished breeding. Meanwhile, hillwalkers and climbers are being urged not to drink stream water in the Ben Macdui and Loch Avon area of the Cairngorms amid fears it has been contaminated following the crash. Cairn Gorm ranger Nic Bullivant said: ''Following a report from a walker or backpacker who drank from Loch Avon and had a burning throat, the water quality in the Garbh Uisge Mor and Beag and the Feith Buidhe below their confluence, and also Loch and River Avon, should be considered as undrinkable. ''I am putting up signs at Cairn Gorm and have informed SEPA and Moray Council. Presumably the same may apply to the catchment of the Allt nan Taillear/River Dee and all the Luibeg catchment,'' he added. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency urged walkers to use common sense. A spokesman said: ''Throughout the recent period of warm weather the crash recovery team worked hard to remove as much of the debris and oil from the crash site on Ben MacDui as possible. The rapid thaw, however, has resulted in the snow melt flushing small quantities of oil from the hillside into the stream system feeding Loch Avon. The quantities of oil measured by SEPA in surrounding watercourses do not pose a significant threat to the aquatic environment. However, SEPA has urged hill walkers in the Ben MacDui area to take a common sense approach when considering drinking water from the streams below the crash site,'' he added.

Landowners told to re-open countryside

Scotland's deputy minister for environment and rural development, Rhona Brankin, has announced revised measures to improve access to the countryside. They are part of the package of moves to return the countryside to normal after foot and mouth disease. They aim to allow full access to the countryside where it is safe and call for the removal of all unofficial closure signs north of the Forth-Clyde line. Local authorities have been issued with new guidance which comes into effect from today. Ms Brankin said: "Our veterinary officers advise that public access throughout the Provisionally Free Area is much safer than before. We want to move to the next stage in returning to normal and I would urge farmers, crofters and landowners to play their part in rural communities by removing all unofficial closure signs. "Local Authorities in the Provisionally Free Area have played a key role in managing access to minimise risk. I want to thank them and the many landowners, farmers and crofters who have been helpful and co-operative throughout. It is now time to start returning to normal and ensure that all key routes, wherever possible, are open for the holiday season. "Access to the countryside is a major attraction for visitors and a key part of the rural economy. We need to restore that access to build confidence in the tourism industry so that it can start planning for the future. "The effective way in which the outbreak of foot and mouth disease has been tackled in Scotland has allowed us to take these measures as quickly as possible. I have to stress, however, that we must remain vigilant to ensure that the disease does not recur. I urge all those visiting the countryside to follow the basic guidelines laid out in the comeback code,'' she added. Local authorities retain the power to officially close land and footpaths wherever a risk is posed. Land managers who believe a risk exists and wish to keep their land closed should carry out a risk assessment to satisfy the local authority and the Divisional Veterinary Manager. It is expected that there will be relatively few cases where this can be justified. The situation in the At Risk and Infected Areas in Central and South Scotland is unchanged, although the boundaries between the areas are under review.

Hydro scheme under threat

The viability of one of the largest hydro-electric generating schemes in the UK for 50 years is under threat from construction delays. The project - to build four dams in the Flowerdale and Sheildaig deer forests in Wester Ross - have been fiercely opposed by conservationists and mountaineers. Dundee-based Highland Light and Power has submitted plans that will be considered by the Scottish Executive later in the year. Any delays could eat into the 15-year generating contract that started in 1999. There was a five-week public inquiry in 1997 but the plans were withdrawn by the company before its findings could be published. Highland Light and Power is now preparing to submit an expanded and revised application for four dams that it believes addresses all environmental concerns. Any further hold ups - possibly including another public inquiry - could call the entire development's economic viability into question. When the contract was awarded it comprised 12% of the anticipated new hydro-electric schemes aimed at contributing to Scotland's renewable energy targets by the end of the decade. Jock Robertson of Highland Light and Power said: "We feel we have more than met the demands of our opponents and we are grateful for this opportunity to air what it is we have done. There already exist, in that area, two hydro schemes already. One resembles our scheme and one manifestly doesn't. The second is one of the old hydro schemes built 50 years ago on the Kerry River. A massive concrete monolith disfiguring the countryside with a huge pipeline running down the road. The other one was built by our company eight or nine years ago on Loch Garbhaig. It is inconspicuous. Everything is buried and the turbine house has been hidden in a wood near the road. Nothing is visible. "Hydro schemes are inconspicuous. They are extremely small. This scheme is big only in the sense that the output is big," he added.

Conserving Bennachie

Conservation work on the path network at Bennachie took place at the weekend with volunteers lending a hand to organisers of the session. Co-ordinated by the Bailies of Bennachie and Forest Enterprise, the team met up at the Bennachie Centre, Chapel of Garioch, for the event on Saturday afternoon. Deputy Senior Bailie Owen Vaughan said the event ' the first session of the year ' was part of a rolling scheme to keep the network in a good condition. "We're running them to encourage people to come along and do some easy, straight-forward conservation work," he said. "It's the sort of work we often do because, if we don't it, it tends to lead to a bigger job." Volunteers range in age from 14 to over 60, with the work mainly being light and not too technical, he added. The team headed up Bennachie to unblock a culvert, removing fallen stones and partially rebuilding a section of the structure to prevent flooding of the paths. They will return to the hill for a more ambitious project next month, when they aim to lay a 40-metre stretch of boardwalk on the hill. The walk covers a boggy section of land leading to cairns, and it is hoped to have it completed in a single day. Away from the hill, the Bailies group is currently in the process of setting up its own website. Members hope that the site will improve communication with members, some of whom live overseas, and provide a source of information about the group to Internet users. It is planned to have the site up and running within the next few months.

Harris walkway to open

A new network of paths on the island of Harris is to be officially opened later this month. The Harris Walkway - Frith-Rathad na Hearadh - will be formally launched on June 28 by outdoor writer and broadcaster and president of the Rambler's Association Scotland, Cameron McNeish. Weather permitting, several hundred local people will stride out. The completion of Harris Development Ltd's 18 month project means that walkers are now able to walk 25 miles on footpaths, tracks and side roads from the hills of north Harris down to the Bays and across to the machair of the west coast. The work was undertaken by the Community Employment Initiative which provides work and skills training for people who have been out of work for six month or more. The scheme is aimed at boosting tourism in the area.

Man dies in Sutherland fall

An elderly man is believed to have fallen to his death while hillwalking in the Highlands. His body was found by mountain rescue teams on Friday, June 29, at the foot of 500ft cliffs at Ben Klibreck, near Altnaharra, Sutherland. The man had been reported missing from a campsite in Tongue that morning. Details of the deceased were not being released until the man had been formally identified and next of kin informed. Police co-ordinated a search involving Assynt Mountain Rescue Team and an RAF rescue helicopter.

Monarch heralds tourism boost

Stars from BBC Scotland's Monarch of the Glen have given their support to an initiative which aims to capitalise on the success of the series by boosting the vital tourist trade in the area. Monarch Country, a new partnership between local and national organisations, was launched by visitscotland Chairman Peter Lederer at Ardverikie House, near Laggan, on the fictional Glenbogle Estate. The aim of the marketing initiative is to brand the Badenoch and Strathspey area as Monarch Country so that it is immediately identifiable to potential visitors with the hit series. With more than 50 million people world wide expected to view the first series, Monarch is the latest TV production to give Highlands and Islands tourism a much needed boost. Encouragement and support for the campaign, which is being led by Cairngorm Chamber of Commerce, has been given by the production company, Ecosse Films, and cast members of the series. The first phase of the initiative is to distribute 100,000 brochures about the area, highlighting locations within the series and some hidden gems that are worthy of a visit. A web-site, www.monarchcountry.com has also been created giving full details of Badenoch and Strathspey with stunning images and descriptions of local attractions, fast-tracking internet users to the area. All eleven villages in Monarch Country have co-operated in the project and have their own web-sites linked to the main site. Monarch of the Glen's third series is currently being filmed in the Highlands by Ecosse Films, for transmission later this year on BBC. Each episode of the last series attracted eight million viewers. Launching Monarch Country, Peter Lederer said: "The success of the series has been massive and it gives this area of the Highlands and Scotland huge potential for attracting more visitors. We commend the local community for coming together to lead this initiative to enhance the visitor experience and to improve their product. visitscotland is pleased to have played its part as partners; and along with Scottish Screen in the Scottish Film Tourism Group, we have always recognised the potential of Scotland's role as 'best supporting country' in film and television productions to boost our marketing potential and visitor numbers." Jim Coyle of Chairman of Monarch Country Marketing Initiative commented: "This is only the start of what we are planning. The area has already seen a benefit from Monarch of the Glen and we know that we can maximise further on the potential this has for Badenoch and Strathspey. We have been heartened by the support we have received for Monarch Country and from the back-up the series producers and cast members have given to the initiative."

New controls on mobile phone masts

Tough new controls have been announced by the Scottish Executive to end the mobile phone mast "free-for-all". All ground-based masts will be subject to full planning control under the new regulations and there will be a limit placed on the numbers allowed on buildings. The regulations, which will come into force in late July, mean Scotland will have the tightest controls over mobile phone masts in the UK. Until now only masts over 15m tall have required planning permission. There have been some angry protests over masts close to buildings, with communities mounting blockades. Deputy Transport and Planning Minister Lewis Macdonald laid the new controls before parliament on Monday. He said: "These planning controls will stem the free-for-all on the erection of mobile phone masts in communities across Scotland. I believe we now have rules that give more say to ordinary members of the public. No longer will companies be able to plant masts indiscriminately. These regulations will remove the feeling of powerlessness and frustration experienced in towns and villages in all parts of the country." He said the executive would monitor the effectiveness of the regulations in the coming months. "Throughout this summer I will meet with the telecommunications industry to discuss the implementation of the regulations," he added. "I will also seek to gauge to what degree the regulations will influence the future direction of mobile phone mast technology in Scotland. We have sought to achieve a balance between differing viewpoints on the issue of planning controls on mobile phone masts." Consultation on proposed guidelines giving councils more powers over the building of masts was launched by the Scottish Executive last year. Mr Macdonald said the executive had gone a long way towards adopting the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament's Transport and Environment Committee. However, he said it was important that telecommunications companies could still develop their networks and continue to serve the growing demands of customers. "We will no longer allow the mobile phone industry to continue unfettered, peppering neighbourhoods with masts, but we recognise that to require planning applications for every antenna would risk clogging up the planning system," he said. "Many people expressed concerns about masts being placed close to schools. These new regulations will require companies to seek full planning permission for any plan to site a mast on ground near a school."