Thursday, 16 February 2017

#027 Dark Peak Winter Report 2017 & Montane Flux Jacket Mini-Test

Thursday 16 February 2017

One thing's for certain, the annual Daily Express' doom laden forecast of the 'worst winter in 500 years' hasn't come true.

Here in the Dark Peak we have seen a fair amount of the white stuff, but it's character has been a sudden dumping, settling on high ground typically over 400 metres, followed by a fairly rapid thaw.


November 2016

In November, Ranger Ultras organised the inaugural Peak South 2 North Ultra over two stages. Saturday's White Peak trails stage was run under blue skies in crisp fresh air. The pin sharp light made a perfect showcase for the limestone dales and vales. Sunday's Dark Peak Challenge could not have been more different. Overnight, an un-seasonal early snowfall left the course covered in several inches of snow, with deeper drifting just off the trail.


Prior to the start Race Directors, Stu and Peter, took the decision to omit the more wilderness elements of the event. We considered the modified course (following the Pennine Way over Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill, then down into Marsden) difficult enough under snow. Most of the entrants were also Spine Race competitors, so they were very happy to have a route which gave them a complete reccie of the Dark Peak section of The Pennine Way as part of their Spine build up.

Supporting the Peak South 2 North, we had a superb team of friends and volunteers, many of whom are Mountain Leaders. Safety teams were positioned at each road head, with hot soup and food for racers as well as being ready to help any racer in need on the course. (We look after our volunteers equally as well as racers. So every volunteer in our events receives a personal free entry into one of our later races or stages) For additional safety monitoring, each racer carried a tracker from Legends Tracking:   http://www.legendstracking.com/



From a race director's point of view, it is always the wish for racers to be engaged in ding-dong battles all the way to the finish line. Indeed, just like what we had seen a month earlier on our Ranger Ultras, Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra, where Richard Lendon and Tom Hollins had pushed each other to the limit all the way up to the last 200 metres. At the final field, where there is a narrow path where to overtake would involve unsportsmanlike barging, they agreed that if they were within an few metres of each other they would rock into the finish at Hawes as joint winners. But this was no soft option joint finish. When I greeted them at the finish line they were truly a sight. Battered, bloodied and bruised, they sat down and like a double act, without pausing for breath, told me the whole story of their race. Their faces beaming with wide smiles.


http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/y3pu-2016-results/

A couple of months later, Tom went on to win the 2017 Spine Race in a inspired strategic, go big or go home, finish along the Cheviot, overhauling previous winners Pavel Paloncy and Eugenie. He would never describe himself as such, so I'll say it here. In those final miles, Tom became a Spine Legend.


The PS2N Stage 2 story was very different yet no less satisfying from a Race Director's perspective. Among the racers was experienced International Mountain Leader, Paul Gale, elite ultra runner Jenn Gaskell and several competitors who had joined our Ranger Ultras Complete Racer Training Days. By the time they had reached the A57 it became very clear that the race had become an expedition of attrition. The field had combined into two distinct groups, each with team members taking turns to break trail, navigate and check navigation. As they approached Snake Pass, it was a superb sight to see the bonds of camaraderie, forged out of adversity, with everyone working towards the common goal.


We had hired the Parochial Hall at Marsden until 22:00 on the Sunday, thinking this would be a very generous time for racers to complete the course. We were glad we had, as the second group took some 13 hours to complete. Every racer arriving felt it was truly an epic adventurous day out.

http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/ps2n-results-2016/

Looking to 2017, the Ranger Ultras races are now open for bookings with Si-Entries:
YORKSHIRE 3 PEAKS ULTRA: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/yorkshire-3-peaks-ultra/


PEAK SOUTH 2 NORTH: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/peak-district-south-2-north/



To help racers prepare for Y3PU and PS2N Ultras, our Complete Racer training is available:
http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/complete-racer-training/


September - December 2016

During the autumn and early winter, as official training provider for The Montane Spine Race, we welcomed many runners to our Ranger Expeditions Complete Racer events and one-2-one training. The courses look at all aspects of the Spine Race, drawing upon 6 years race history as well as remote expeditions and competitive racing. We investigate the factors contributing to success - i.e. finisher's medal - and the reasons why so many racers DNF across the whole spectrum of entries. Navigation is a major concern for potential racers, so we dedicate penty of time to skills and practice. Our courses have helped many Spiners journey with greater confidence and proficiency. The Complete Racer approach has raised awareness of important aspects of strategy which racers have often not devoted sufficient attention.



A few words from our Complete Racer participants....

"A big thanks for all the help and tips that made it possible for me to finish the Spine race...wow what a journey and at times it didn't seem possible but I did it. Cheers"

"priceless advice on your masterclass. Really helpful, thanks"

Bookings are now open for 2017, Ranger Expeditions, Complete Racer, Spine Race specific training.
http://rangerexped.co.uk/index.php/spine-race/


2017 also brings the first 'summer Spine' Fusion and Flare races, for which we have the following training event:
http://rangerexped.co.uk/index.php/spine-fusion-flare-training/

Sunday 12 February 2017

The mild winter had confounded my best efforts to match location and timing with a excursion into the white playground. During my annual stint on The Spine Race as Safety Team Coordinator I had arranged a few hours of down time with fellow Safety Team crew at the Auchope Refuge Hut on the Cheviots. But the weather up there was like summer. It looked like a planned trip to Chill FactorE in Manchester might be the only snow I would make contact with this winter.


So to my delight, last Sunday, the forecast looked promising. From my house I can't quite see Kinder, but by midday Mount Famine had a dusting. I threw some kit into my Millet ProLighter sack, pulled on a pair of salopettes and decided to test drive the Montane Flux Jacket given to me by the race sponsor at The Spine.


Worn directly over a base garment, the Flux jacket felt a generous enough fit so that if I wanted to wear another layer underneath it would still be comfortable. As I ascended Sandy Heys, the spin drift started to sting, so I swapped my wrap around sunglasses for proper ski goggles. Combined with a buff to protect my cheeks and nose, the Flux jacket hood made a good barrier and closure against the freezing ice crystal missiles. Cresting onto the Pennine Way wind gusted over the edge of the Kinder plateau blowing drifts across the trail. It was time to get a shifty on.


Moving at a brisk pace was sufficient to generate enough heat to feel comfortable in the Primaloft Silver insulated Flux. When blown against the jacket, it shed the snow without soaking into the fabric. Of course, this was a first excursion for the jacket so its water repellent surface treatment was at it's optimal newness. I fully expect to have to regularly renew with treatment products to maintain this level of performance. However, in these conditions a insulated jacket such as the Flux would never be my ultimate protection against weather - in my rucksack I also carried a shell jacket in case the falling snow turned to sleet or heavy rain.

As I progressed along the Pennine Way, I mentally ticked off the features memorised from the many previous walks on Kinder. Of course, map, compass and GPS, were carried in case of total white out, but I could see enough of the way ahead, through the flurries and greyness, as well as the contours to be confident I was on track.

A quick stop for hot black coffee and Eccles cake among the sheltered rocks above The Downfall. Past the Red Brook re-entrant. Taking care not to let the pull of gravity take me too far westward. The large cairn at Kinder Low, tick. Follow the faint flat impression of the trail in the snow in a southerly direction looking for the slabbed branch to Swine's Back. West of Swines back a drift had accumulated nearly up to the top of a dry stone wall. I chuckled at the enjoyment of being the first person to wade through it.

Descending down the Oakden Clough bridleway, I reflected on the micro-adventure with satisfaction. I hadn't seen anyone since ascending Sandy Heys. The experience felt visceral and good for the soul. The Monane Flux Jacket had done everything I wanted from it. At 400 metres ASL I dropped below the snow line, pulled off my goggles and unzipped the hood.

No time to pause though, there was a fresh black coffee with my name on it at The Sportsman Inn, Hayfield.

Stu Westfield
Mountain & Expedition Leader
Ranger Expeditions:   www.rangerexped.co.uk
Ranger Ultras:   www.rangerultras.co.uk




Monday, 30 January 2017

#026 They Were Legends

On the first weekend of March 2016, the first edition of The Legends Trails was held in the historic Belgium Ardennes.



The 250km course was over constantly undulating terrain. A wet winter had turned the trails into a muddy quagmire which had been covered with slushy spring snow. The temperature hovered around freezing, with more snow falling on the higher hills and sleet lower down. This chilling, wet environment made an almost perfect recipe for hypothermia and immersion (trench) foot.

The Legends Trails is the creation of Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans. Both have raced in the Spine Challenger, a 108 mile expedition style ultra race along the Pennine Way in the UK. Taking their inspiration from the Spine, they developed The Legends to be the longest and certainly the most arduous ultra race in Belgium.



Like the Spine, there are fixed checkpoints with hot food and drinks for the runners, who may also bivvy outside to rest. But the race is non-stop, in so much as the clock is always ticking towards intermediate and final cut-off times.

Many Legends racers have written engaging and captivating first had accounts of their varied experiences in the atmospheric forests of the Ardennes. These blogs should serve as an essential reference for future Legends racers. They give insights into kit and clothing selection and also indicate what strategies worked well. 

With 15 finishers from 47 starters it is also very worthwhile to read the blogs of racers who did not finish. (Race Director, Stef Schuermans, suggested that on the Legends there should not be "DNF's and Finishers", rather "Myths and Legends.")



But as always there should be a word of caution regarding using information, research and social media: What works, or indeed does not work, for them will not necessarily be the same for someone else. The only way to develop a robust strategy and select kit that works for you, is to personally test, review, develop and improve. Its a mantra we encourage on Ranger Ultras 'Complete Racer' training courses, along with the skills and shared knowledge for racers to make informed decisions regarding their personal racing strategies.

The ability to independently navigate is an essential skill for the Legends. With frequent changes of direction along the whole course, racers cannot afford to mentally switch off. 
Some sections do follow GR way marking which helps. But racers still need to be aware of their location identify where the course leaves the GR trail. Also there are numerous local 'promenade' trails intersecting and crossing the course, adding to the opportunities for navigation error.

GPS with uploaded GPX files was the navigation tool of choice for many racers. However, the environmental conditions contributed to several units failing. In previous blogs, I have recommended that GPS units are used inside a protective, transparent bag, with a silica gel sachet added for good measure...no matter what the manufacturers claims as to water resistance.

But slavishly following GPS, with 'heads down' is surely not necessarily the most efficient or engaging way to run a trail race. With some basic navigation techniques, such as orientating the map, contour awareness, timing and an understanding of location grid references, a racer can journey with greater efficiency. Also with a paper map it is easier to read ahead and anticipate upcoming route finding challenges. 

That said, I'm not anti-GPS. When a ultra racer is fatigued, sleep deprived and up against time cut offs, the ability to dial up a grid reference to relocate position can save vital minutes. Whether GPS, map or compass, your ability to observe and understand, all are legitimate navigation tools, so why not have a range of tools and techniques at your disposal.



I was delighted to help run the Legends Safety Team, along with fellow coordinators Wim Bastiaens and Dieter Van Holder, plus Joop De Wel managing the racer tracking system. Using the successful model I developed for the 2016 Spine Race, the team quickly picked up the simple reporting and monitoring system. 

The safety teams on-the-ground did a superb job of recovering racers from the course and bringing them to warm checkpoints to recover from their ordeals. It was interesting to note that racers tended to self select out of the race before their condition seriously deteriorated into hypothermia. Perhaps this was due to the Legends being a new style of endurance race of a distance previously unheard of in Belgium. 



In my past life, I worked as an aerospace engineer. Often reporting and investigating failures, quality escapes and non-conformance. I apply this process orientated approach to race safety. The aim is to have the simplest, easiest to implement solution which has capability and capacity to suit the event. Events such as Legends rely upon volunteers, many of whom are working together for the first time, so the safety system had to have minimal training and the best possible communications.

The inaugural Legends Trails was a huge success, both from the perspective of the racers and the race organisation. In the final kilometers of the race, we were treated to an incredible chase down of Belgian elite runners by visiting ultra racer, Michael Frenz and local lad Joris Jacobs. One by one Michael and Joris overtook the lead runners. It became a edge of seat 'will they, won't they' spectacular!



In the final metres, Joris ushered Michael forward to claim the win. Later saying that he would not have made it as far as he had without Michael's navigation skills and strategy. It was a gesture which of a true sportsman, emotionally appreciated by everyone watching and garnering both athletes with the utmost respect.



Every racer following into the finish was given equal applause and rousing welcome to the finish. They were presented with their finisher's medal by Tim and Stef along with a sponsors gift of La Chouffe beer.

On the first weekend of March in 2016, Legends were made.
In 2017 we look forward to making some more.

Stu Westfield

Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator



Thursday, 22 December 2016

#025 Kinder "Upfall" & Story Of A River, John Muir Award and Millet Prolighter 30 on test.

KINDER STORY OF A RIVER

The weather man said Storm Barbara is approaching and will hit over Christmas. Meanwhile, looking out across Hayfield village this morning, the winter sun lit up the rooftops. A fresh clear blue sky above, pin sharp, saturated colour. Just time to head out into the hills.


My proposal, for the first 'Discovery' level of The John Muir Award, had recently been approved. In a few months time the outcome of this project will be a short film (working title: Kinder - the story of a river). The film will showcase the geology and flora of the river, discuss current conservation issues and highlight my home village of Hayfield as a great base for outdoor enthusiasts to begin their Peak District adventures.


I saddled up my new Millet Prolighter 30 and took Rafa on a preparatory walk along the course of the River Kinder, from Bowland Bridge to just below The Downfall waterfall. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon, gradually ascending, until we reached a point just below the cascade of the Downfall.


Along the way, I took some a selection of photos from which to build a shot list and narrative for the film. I was also luck enough to get to the Downfall on a day with a south westerly wind, which turns it into Kinder 'Upfall'.

The ground was quite broken and the rocks slippy so I decided not to traverse below the waterfall this time. Rafa had been a good boy following my route, but was looking tired. We retraced out steps and meandered home where I had a nice cup of tea and the boy fell fast asleep on his bed.



MILLET PROLIGHTER 30 - ON TEST

With over 15 years of service on overseas expeditions and in the UK, my old Berghaus Extem Guide pack is looking a bit frayed. I'm not quite ready to retire the old workhorse, a few stitches here and there will see it right for a while longer. For a while I've been looking at what's new on the market and to have a replacement in reserve just in case the Extrem Guide fails beyond repair.

Working as a Mountain Leader means I am more concerned about longevity than ultra light weight kit. Also, whilst I do generally believe you get what you pay for, I'm not going be shelling out thick wedges of cash either. I like the un-fussy alpine style packs with a single compartment. I never did use the lower zip on the Berghaus or the two compartment divider.

Features I look for are:

  • A couple of attachment points for ice axe, or more frequently walking poles
  • Small compartment in the lid for quick access to snacks and possibles.
  • Reinforced base to stand up to 'sit down, packs off' routine (after all, any fool can be uncomfortable on safari!)
  • Comfortable back design and stable pack when loaded.
After a lot more searching than I had expected to do, I came across the Millet Prolighter 30. I actually saw it first on another walker, while I was guiding clients on Ben Nevis. I thought that it looked good and was a tidy design. A internet trawl and I acquired a red one from Tiso, reduced from £99 to £79.


Today was the first test of my Millet Prolighter 30. Loaded with the usual items of emergency kit, water bottle, my food, Rafa's snacks and his spare coat, the pack felt comfortable and stable. From our fast walk in, along established trails, to following the upper reaches of the River Kinder across rough country and a spot of rock hopping near the Downfall, I was very pleased with its performance. Time shall reveal if it lives up to the apparent durability. But for now, if its good enough for the Chamonix Guides Company, its good enough for me.

Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year
Stu Westfield

Ranger Expeditions & Ultras
www.rangerexped.co.uk
www.rangerultras.co.uk

The Montane Spine Race Safety Team & Training Coordinator
www.thespinerace.com



Monday, 17 October 2016

#024 Spine Race Training Weekend (14-16 Oct 2016)

This weekend, The Spine Team hosted Spine Racers and Challengers for our annual Training Weekend (TW), at the Hebden Hey Scout Centre. The event is a great opportunity for racers to gain skills, knowledge and insights into what it takes to finish The Spine and Spine Challenger. 



For the TW we run a reduced Safety Team sufficient to provide hq, checkpoint, safety ops room and on course safety roles. Its a chance for us to welcome new volunteers as well as catching up with old friends on the team. Its also important that the TW is fulfilling for everyone that supports the Spine and to gain experience in different roles. 

To quote Jon O'Connell, regular Spine Safety Team volunteer:
"The Spine is a great opportunity to work with industry professionals. Where else could you gain this level of knowledge and experience in exchange for a little spare time?"



Friday evening began with speakers sessions. This year we were treated to four entertaining and quality talks from: Andy Mouncey (Cracking The Spine), Pete Wilkie (First Time Spine, 3rd Place Finish) Richard Lendon (Multiple Spine Finisher) & Tom Jones (Spine Racer & Spine Team). 



Each discussed their personal approach to developing a race finishing strategy. All the audience particularly appreciated the speakers sharing their stories of when things did not go to plan and self-less analysis of why this happened. Every session was delivered with great humour accompanied by a lot of laughter too. 



Saturday began with a quick safety briefing from Training Coordinator, Stu Westfield and then a kit check before participant headed out onto the 47 mile Mary Townley Loop (MTL) for a day out on the trail.


For 2016 we added several scenarios designed to get racers thinking about their use of kit, skills, route finding ability and preparedness for The Spine Race and Challenger. Each scenario was at a location where Spine Safety Team were on hand to provide support and guidance to help racers in their approach and solution to the task.



Back at the Hebden Hey Scout Centre, members of the Safety Team worked in rotation to manage the Ops Room; Receiving updates from on-course safety team checkpoints, monitoring racers as they progressed around the MTL. Occasional interventions were made to recover participants from the course who had injuries, or moving participants up the course so they could benefit from a mini-reccie of the Pennine Way approach to Hebden Hey from Stoodley Pike - a section of Spine route which has often caused route finding difficulties.



Race Director, Scott Gilmour cooked up a tasty spaghetti bolognese for participants returning to Hebden Hey. And, once everyone was safely off the course, a few tinnies of beer made an appearance.




The Spine TW concluded on Sunday morning with three speaker sessions: Tom Jones (creative footwear solutions), Matt & Ellie (Spine Film produced by Summit Fever), Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones (Cognitive fitness for the Spine Race).



The quality and number of speakers this year has been outstanding, thank you all. 
To illustrate this and as a sample of the breadth and depth of shared staff knowledge at the Spine Training events, here is a link to Fiona's presentation: 

http://www.cognitivefitness.co.uk/resources.htm


Also huge thanks to the dedication of The Spine Team out on the 47 mile training loop, implementing our training 'scenarios', sharing knowledge and ensuring racers welfare. Equally the Spine Team members at Hebden Hey were safe hands in the Ops Room. 



Feedback from racers on each of our TWs continues to be very positive, with many comments as to how much the training has helped them focus (or indeed re-focus) their race strategy; the knowledge they have learnt that they were not aware of; what great value the TW is; the camaraderie within the Spine Team and how we welcome and work with racers to help them achieve the best possible outcome. 

Also, a date for your diaries. After thorough planning, the Spine Team announced the first edition of the Summer Spine will be in 2017. This will coincide with the Summer Solstice. (Remember, if the race doesn't have 'Spine' in the title, its not the original and best). Just like the Spine Challenger, the Summer Spine is a superb race in its own right, as well as a progressive stepping stone for racers building up to the winter Spine. 

Our programme of Official Montane Spine Training events continues with Open Group Training at Spine Advanced Skills (4th December 2016), Spine Masterclass & Spine Challenger Masterclass. Plus 1-to-1 training available. See http://thespinerace.com/complete-racer/ for more details...





For the Summer Spine we will be offering similar group and 1-to-1 training opportunities. To stay in touch with the latest news see Join the Official Spine Group on Facebook and updates on The Montane Spine website. 

Meanwhile sincere thanks from myself, and Race Directors Scott Gilmour & Phil Hayday Brown.  

Stu Westfield 
Montane Spine Race 
Training & Safety Team Coordinator





Wednesday, 31 August 2016

#023 Expeditions, Projects & Extinctions

'Anthropocene Extinction', 'Poaching Crisis', 'Marine Destruction'.

A reading of the September 2016 'Extinction Special' edition of Geographical magazine, leaves a sense of dismay at how desperate things have got for many of the living things on our planet. There's nothing new about the message, our most well known and respected naturalists have been broadcasting it for years. David Attenborough's State Of The Planet address at the turn of the millennium made for hard viewing.

As Homo sapiens relentlessly encroaches on the natural world and its inhabitants, the viewer is presented with a choice: leave behind a flourishing planet or a dying one.

"The future of life on earth depends on our ability to take action. Many individuals are doing what they can, but real success can only come if there is a change to our societies and our economics and in our politics. I've been lucky in my lifetime to see some of the greatest spectacles that the natural world has to offer. Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species".
                                                                                    David Attenborough - in closing.



So what is meant by the Anthropocene (or Holocene) extinction? Without putting shoe shine on it, we are currently living in the middle of a mass extinction event, which is principally down to the proliferation of modern humans. Not since the Cretaceous, 66 million years ago, has the rate of extinction been so high, some estimates have it currently running at tens of thousands of species per year! The Anthropocene epoch covers many thousands of years, but lets look at just a few examples of the iconic mammals and marsupials we have lost forever in the past 150 years: Quagga, Thylacine*, Pyrenean Ibex, Javan Tiger and the Western Black Rhino, in 2011!

(*Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, if ever there was a film dramatising the madness of extinction, The Hunter is that film. The ending...!)


Then add to this the locally extinct mammals, birds, amphibians and collapse of marine ecosystems. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to see that things are set to get much worse:

"If you're an animal bigger than a breadbox and not more than a day, or half day's walk from a road, your days are numbered"
                                                               William Robichaud - Global Wildlife Conservation



Most of my personal wildlife experience has been focused upon sub-saharan Africa, and in particular East Africa. The current poaching crisis occasionally makes the television news, so its safe to say most of us are aware of the problems facing elephant and rhino. But to couch some numbers against this: In March 2016, The Guardian reported that African elephants 'are being killed faster than they are born'. Statistics from Save The Rhino indicate that, in South Africa alone, over 1000 rhino have been poached each year in 2013, 2014 & 2015. This has risen from just thirteen in 2007.


However, fewer people know that since 1900 the African lion population has dropped from one million to just 20,000 by current estimates. Rather than poaching, it seems the cause is down to human encroachment. The area which wild lions are now known to cover has shrunk to just eight percent of their historical range. How could the fact that the king of beasts is in serious trouble have dropped off the media radar?


The reason could be to do with our perception of time. Conservation, by definition, tries to protect what is here today. If encroachment and degradation of habitat happens over a long period of time, several decades or more than a human lifetime (in the case of African lions) then the animal population is managed to fit within its slowly depleting range. In his thought provoking and illuminating book Feral, George Monbiot describes this as 'shifting baseline syndrome' where species are being managed into extinction.


The evocative and sometimes controversial remedy to baseline shift is to reinstate the extent and diversity of habitat by 're-wilding'. Several years ago, before many people had come across the term, I made this the subject for one of my discussions during my Mountain Leader Assessment. I started off with management of chalk grassland to facilitate the re-introductions of the rare Adonis blue butterfly, which had gone locally extinct in some regions. Without exception, the group nodded in approval.

Next I moved onto the white tail sea eagle programme in the Western Isles of Scotland. The group listened to this with even more enthusiasm. Anecdotal proof that people readily engage with iconic species. If these animals are protected and are thriving, it is an indicator that the trophic pyramid of life supporting their existence is diverse and healthy. The reintroduction on beaver was next up. Here there were some questions and curiosity, especially from the paddlers in the group, as to their effect upon river systems.

Lastly, I revealed my trump card. The wolf. I don't think anyone expected it. There was a moment of silence, before the thought of this apex predator, extinct in the UK since the 18th Century, once again roaming the wild. But also bringing much needed balance to an environment suffering from over population of deer (there are more deer alive in the UK now that at any other time and their presence is suppressing growth of young trees). The conversation ignited with interest. Although, there remain many hurdles to overcome before wolf reintroduction becomes a reality.

Of course, it's much easier to sell the concept of re-wilding to outdoor leaders who are already enthusiastic about nature and wilderness. But, there are other people who's livelihood and careers come from the land. Re-wilding will attract resentment and hostility if schemes are railroaded without consideration to other land users.

In August 2016, in an interview with The Sunday Times, bushcraft expert, Ray Mears' thoughts illustrate that there is is still much work to do regarding attitudes to re-wilding.

"Plans to reintroduce lynx and wolves should be put on hold until people learn to live with the predators already in Scotland." 

Recently, (amidst the tawdry and shabby politics) a less publicised result of Brexit is the danger that we may lose much of the European legislation which aimed to protect wildlife and habitats. Also there is uncertainty regarding the continuation of scientific funding which underpins this legislation. Unless this is re-routed, rather than appropriated by government, there could be dark times ahead for conservation projects in the British Isles.

But all the legislation, multitude of NGO's, charity campaigning, 'raising awareness', CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) blocks on trade in animal products, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red Lists, is obviously not working well enough. Since I was very young there has there been fundraising efforts to 'save the Amazon rainforest'? What happened to all that money? It should have the whole ecosystem protected by now with local people employed as custodians of it.

But, this is not a blog written to 'raise awareness'. Recently, Observer correspondent Peter Ross eloquently wrote on a unrelated subject:

If there is one thing that we need to stop doing as citizens of social media, it's raising awareness. We have more awareness of what is going in the world right now than at any point in human history thanks not only to the internet, but to the instant connectivity that social media provides. Unfortunately mere awareness of any issue actually does nothing.
 
So instead of this just being a useless rant, I'm going to make one proposal that has the potential for wide reaching and long term good on a global scale.

I'm not going to pretend that there is one magic answer to the issues facing wildlife and habitat. The answers to conservation issues are multi-faceted. But primarily it all comes down to money, the will of governments and of people to care enough to lobby their leaders to take action. Crime, corruption, poverty, access to education and healthcare are all blockers to making change happen.

Indeed, why should a hard working family in the UK, who are having to rely upon food banks to feed their kids, care about what happens in Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) when they are living in a dystopian country seemingly intent on sending whole sections of society back to Dickensian times. If this seems like a hard sell, then next try convincing the subsistence communities in developing countries.

Conservationists often speak of ensuring wildlife is here for our children and future generations. Talking about tomorrows generations is too abstract, too easy to think of as less immediate. Well here's the wake up, those children and teenagers are already here and they're growing up fast. They are the upcoming entrepreneurs, leaders and influencers of opinion and policy.

On the expeditions I lead, I'm frequently surprised at how disengaged many young people feel about environmental issues. It's as if the last 30 years of blue chip BBC Natural History Unit films and the message they carry hasn't yet made it onto the national curriculum. One complaint I do have about wildlife programmes is that they 'raise awareness' - that phrase again - but rarely go on to suggest what difference the viewer can make (other than simply coughing up money).

If our natural world is going to survive the Anthropocence, isn't it about time to inspire and engage a whole generation in a practical way?


I have been a leader for schools expedition company World Challenge, for six years. During this time I have worked alongside Challegers on some superb community projects: Helping local laborers rebuild the house of a genocide widow in Rwanda has to be the most poignant. On every project I am extremely proud of the Challengers and what they have achieved with just hand tools and a lot of hard graft.

When on World Challenge in Namibia, the trekking phase was in the Gondwana Concession section of Fish River Canyon. The custodian of the base hostel was also a biologist. She had worked with school groups conducting ecological surveys and suggested that school's expedition companies could make a useful contribution to this kind of data gathering. Since then, this topic has arisen regularly in conversations with fellow expedition and outdoor leaders.


The ethos of schools expedition companies can include environmental awareness alongside the experiential development of the participants. There are other companies which focus on selling conservation tourism, but these tend to be the sole focus of the trip. It seems that there remains an untapped resource and opportunity available to schools expeditions to move beyond awareness and into significant action.

Offering conservation projects as a part of the developmental ethos would have a far reaching positive legacy as well as a new business growth opportunity.

The traditional type of expedition projects are already providing subsidy to communities, so why not take this principle and apply it to conservation and ecological assignments. Science and research is data driven. The immediate benefit would be the contribution made by participants to this at grass roots level. The participants would gain training and skills for example in species identification, surveying, sampling, statistics, tracking methods and technology. To ensure that the activity yields useful results, it might include a training phase in advance of the project, possibly even in the home country.


Participants benefit in gaining skills, experience and real world context to their studies, making their portfolio more attractive to higher education applications and employers.
Science and conservation benefits from a subsidised workforce to achieve faster conclusions.
Wildlife benefits from more action in reversing habitat destruction and the rush to extinction.

Careful selection of projects would ensure participants believe and know what they are doing is important and that it will make a real difference. It's an litmus test which is already being applied to community type projects by reputable schools expedition providers. If we look at the schools expedition providers in the UK alone, if just half of the projects shift towards a conservation emphasis, there would be hundreds of expeditions each year with thousands of participants, providing the potential for enormous and far reaching positive change.

It is only by winning hearts and minds of this generation that we will win the battle against the Anthropocene Extinction.



STU WESTFIELD
EXPEDITION LEADER
HAYFIELD 
AUGUST 2016