Ha ha, like all things, things are not what they seem to be. I noticed this sign up in the waterfalls area of the BBNP and I wholeheartedly disagree with it’s assertions.

I evidenced multiple companies delivering unsafe gorge walking activities in the waterfalls area on multiple occasions and over multiple years with no authority or group taking action or seeking improvement in the management or delivery of adventure activities in Wales. Quite the contrary, the authorities closed ranks and attempted to damage my business for speaking out – that is the reward for whistle blowers.

It was my groups work, the Outdoor Professional Co-operative, that led to the Brecon Beacons National Park Authorities intervention in the Sychryd Gorge which in turn led to the development of SWOAPG. This membership organisation, effectively my baby and proposed way, way back in 1995 or thereabouts, however, and despite it bringing together the authorities and providers, has never been about the environment or safety. Had it been it would have listened and would have pressured the landowner, Natural Resources Wales, to ban certain providers. It was always about management by and for the larger more commercial providers. This is evidenced by the limit per company of numbers in the Mellte, a river I would never work in for both safety and environmental reasons. The group set a figure of 50 clients at any one time. Totally unacceptable and unmanageable and agreed as such by many of the owners of the smaller activity business’ in South and Mid Wales.

Interestingly, the group has protocols for working in the Sychryd and these I reported were not being followed by multiple business’ some of whom sat on the SWOAPG steering committee. Again, tumbleweed…

Then the group caved into NRW and agreed to charge for membership in order to ‘manage’ access to the great outdoors. This runs counter to access ideals and the work of many in the past to ensure that the open spaces and publicly owned land remain free to use. I refused to renew my membership and decided enough is enough. Effectively I was pushed out of delivering gorge walking in Wales because I have ethics, I refuse to sign up to protocols that are universally ignored and I refuse to pay for countryside access.

I would contest then that membership of SWOAPG infers ownership of a badge of honour. I believe the converse, that not having a SWOAPG card as being that.

Finally, the legality of enforcing a landowner permission upon a location that has been historically used for gorge walking without the requirement for this consent, for perhaps 50 years or more, is very suspect. Likely illegal. Certainly bullying. And shame on the collective outdoor activity providers for collectively being bullied into ‘paying’ for the use of a once free venue and a venue that is owned by the state at that.

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Andrew Lamb avatar

Walk leader @ Wales Outdoors, life model @ Cardiff Life Models and poet @ Self Published I opened the first mountain bike hire business in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 1995. Since then my business, Wales Outdoors, has grown and morphed and is now the most active and most popular guided walks and adventure travel provider in Wales. Andy has been a volunteer co-ordinator, guided walks programme organiser and part time central area warden for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, chair of Brecon Beacons Tourism, a Duke of Edinburghs area co-ordinator, a Princes Trust social inclusion manager, the catalyst for the Brecon Beacons National Park Environment Charter and a key motivator for the inception of the outdoor activity peer group, SWOAPG. Join Me! for a walk or two :)