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Playing it Safe

Logo: Adventure Smart

The lure of the great outdoors has never been greater. After months of lockdown people are heading to the coast and countryside for outdoor adventures in ever increasing numbers. This has to be a good thing - the much cited mental and physical benefits don’t need reiterating to us outdoor professionals. Hopefully there are additional benefits to come from greater numbers with a love and respect for our environment. However, at the moment that’s hard to appreciate with social media full of images of litter strewn mountains and beaches and the RNLI / Mountain Rescue / H M Coastguard inundated with call-outs to the unprepared and ill-informed. Which brings me to the question which we have been pondering for the last 4 years - how do we communicate safety in a way that people will take notice?

Walkers in the Snowdonia mountains Copyright Nigel Shepherd
Copyright Nigel Shepherd

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at how UK organisations provide their safety information and we’ve looked further afield to see how they do it in Canada, New Zealand and Scandinavia. There is no doubt that the prospect of coming face-to-face with a cougar or grizzly bear tends to get peoples’ attention but unfortunately that is not a card we can play in the UK. Some organisations use number of call-outs and even number of fatalities to encourage people to plan for their trip but there is little evidence that this works - their teams are busier than ever. The truth is that many people are unaware of the potential hazards, unable to assess the risks associated with their chosen adventure and therefore clueless when it comes to knowing what action to take to stay safe. The ‘fear of death’ approach to safety comms can also have the unintended consequence of scaring those who might benefit from it most, into not heading out at all.

Two people riding mountain bikes in the countryside Copyright Tom Hutton
Copyright Tom Hutton

Out of all this pondering AdventureSmartWales was born. With the support of Welsh Government, many of the organisations with an interest in outdoor recreation put their combined heads together to take a fresh look at how we talk about safety. Our aim was clear; to reduce the number of avoidable call-outs to emergency services. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel we shamelessly cherry picked the best from the best and together we put together a set of messages which everyone could dip into to ensure that we gave consistent, good advice.

Word got around and in 2018 the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association offered to fund the expansion of AdventureSmart Wales into AdventureSmart UK. AdventureSmart UK isn’t an organisation, it’s a campaign driven by a small team of enthusiastic people, supported by a growing (currently 70+) partnership of outdoor and tourism organisations. Our ask is that our partners work with us to re-think how we talk about safety in the outdoors and adopt the AdventureSmart ethos in their safety comms. Our ambition is that AdventureSmart achieves awareness at a level similar to the Countryside Code, owned by no-one but used by all!

A group of walkers waling along a road Copyright Alun Disley
Copyright Alun Disley

Over the years, clarity has begun to emerge from the fog of safety messaging and AdventureSmart UK is built around the basic premise of whatever your adventure ask yourself 3 questions before you set off......

Do I know what the weather will be like?

As we are all used to in the UK, the weather has the potential to make or spoil your day. This doesn’t have to mean that a spot of drizzle or even a howling gale has to stop us in our tracks. Like a good Scout, being prepared and adapting your plans is the key to being in control of your day. Check the weather forecast – the Met Office is a good place to start.

PS Remember that most unusual occurrence of a cloudless sky can also cause problems (take care to avoid heat stroke!).

Do I have the right gear?

If that question prompts you to ask ‘what is the right gear?’ then you need help! Kit doesn’t need to be expensive but does need to keep you warm and dry and, in the case of boots, needs to fit well; there is nothing like a blister to ruin a good day’s walking! If your adventure involves heading out on the water then a well-fitted and well-maintained buoyancy aid is essential.

Do I have the knowledge and skills for the day?

Adventure allows us to step outside our immediate comfort zone and is a great way to repeatedly rediscover a zest for life. Being AdventureSmart simply means that you are thinking about your own experience and skills. Choosing an adventure that you know that is within you and your companions skillset is part of the fun – and if you want to do something that pushes beyond this, there are many ways to find a guide or instructor to help you.

Personal gorge scrambling Copyright Ray Wood
Copyright Ray Wood

If you score 3/3 on these questions, off you go, have a fantastic day! If not, go to AdventureSmart.uk to find the answers you need to be kitted up and in the know to be safe!

The benefit of all our partners singing to the same ‘safety hymn sheet’ is that the public gets consistency of messages, delivered in a friendly and positive manner. Another major advantage is that by working with AdventureSmart and by using the #beadventuresmart in your social media, other organisations will help share your messages, potentially reaching new audiences. From Oct 2019 to Feb 2020 #beadventuresmart had a reach of 1.76 million.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Currently we have two regions (Wales and Lake District) who have their own geographically specific information on AdventureSmart.uk; we would love to have other regions join so that we offer a one-stop-shop for safety information in the UK outdoors. We need to look at the data and become more evidence based. At present we take a common sense approach to matching messages to issues but that doesn’t always mean we get it right, for example people might be tripping due to low blood sugar levels rather than inappropriate footwear. Perhaps most importantly of all we would love to see an end to the ‘Safety Information’ tab. Chances are those who need the information most won’t click on it. Let’s work together as an industry to integrate our safety information into our online and printed materials.

If you would like to know more or are interested in becoming an AdventureSmart partner please contact Paul Donovan (escape.routes@btinternet.com) or Emma Edwards-Jones (emma@snowdonia-active.com)

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