Speech: Mountain Rescue Teams (June 13th)

I welcome the debate and congratulate Liz Smith on bringing it to the chamber.

I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the crucial work that is undertaken by every mountain rescue team in Scotland, particularly with so many being operational in my region, the Highlands and Islands. I have occasionally seen team members as they have come back from a successful search and I know the work that they put in and how exhausted they can be after a search. Success is often theirs, and I have seen that too.

As anyone who has climbed a Corbett or scaled a Munro knows, the beauty of our natural landscape viewed from atop one of our peaks is breathtaking. For helping those who fall foul of the elements in that pursuit, our mountain rescue team volunteers deserve our thanks. In 2010, the Scottish mountain rescue team volunteers went out more than 500 times, frequently contending with rugged terrain and often in poor weather conditions or when it was dark. In total, volunteers were deployed for 26,000 hours in 2010, a figure that is made all the more impressive by their year-round commitment to their voluntary role. The Lochaber mountain rescue team in my region attended 72 of those incidents, occasionally in conjunction with other teams, displaying a blend of professionalism and commitment to community service that is an example to us all.

It must be remembered that we have a part to play in ensuring the continuation of such a vital voluntary service. The Scottish Government has given £339,000 to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland for 2011-12, increasing the general funding stream by £12,000 and providing a one-off grant of £12,000 towards communications equipment. That funding was welcomed on BBC Radio Scotland on Saturday morning by Jonathan Hart, the chair of the Mountain Rescue Committee, who hailed the support and the tremendous opportunities afforded to mountain rescue teams by the move to a single Scottish police force, while maintaining strong local connections. I was particularly pleased to hear him say that he sees the service working more effectively rather than less.

Responsibility for mountain safety must also be shared by the public at large. The Mountain Rescue Committee’s 2010 report points out that

“Summer Hill walking is responsible for more incidents than any other mountain activity.”

Therefore, although those of us who are not into winter climbing or rock climbing might think that they are the only activities that affect the mountain rescue teams, the majority of work is caused by people who just set out for a walk, sometimes, as I have seen, in high-heeled shoes.

The 2010 report also says:

“One third of all mountaineering incidents result from a slip or trip.”

Although it would be impossible to permanently eliminate human error and abnormal weather conditions, we can reduce the number of accidents by continuing to educate ourselves about how best to prepare and how best to take care of ourselves while we are enjoying Scotland’s hills and mountains. I hope that, with continuing support from the Government and the public, and the well-earned publicising of their work, we can help our mountain rescue teams to go from strength to strength. I support the motion.

Motion:

That the Parliament pays tribute to what it sees as the outstanding work carried out by Scotland’s 28 mountain rescue teams including Tayside Mountain Rescue, which it considers gives selflessly of its time to assist others; notes that Scotland’s mountain rescue volunteers went out over 500 times in 2011 to seek and rescue those in need of assistance, frequently in difficult mountainous terrain, poor weather conditions and often at night; recognises the pressure on what are largely voluntary funds and the new challenges facing Scotland’s mountain rescue teams in the face of public sector reform to emergency services, and would welcome a general public in Scotland that is educated about the responsibilities that it has to be well equipped and well prepared when heading to the hills.

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