21 December 2021

Birks Fell Access

Working towards open access to Birks Fell Cave

Over the last several years, the CNCC has been proactive in removing access restrictions from caves, particularly those on access land. The BCA’s CRoW campaign, and passionate volunteers have provided the opportunity and drive to allow this to happen, and today we enjoy ease of access to Fountains Fell, Casterton Fell, Leck Fell, Ingleborough and Penyghent, all of which were subject to extremely restrictive access requirements as little as 8 years ago.

Birks Fell Cave in Wharfedale remains, to this date, one of the few access land caves with a restrictive permit system in place. This is a shame, because it offers one of the finest adventures in Yorkshire, and it would be amazing to have permissive open access that would allow cavers to take impromptu advantage of settled weather. The cave is on access land owned by the National Trust and tenanted by Redmire Farm, reached via existing public footpaths from Buckden.

Birks Fell therefore sits in the bizarre situation that Leck, Casterton etc. did until few years ago, of groups being able to walk to the entrance freely, but only being able to descend the entrance with landowner consent if you have a pre-arranged permit. With this situation now addressed on most other major fells across our region, we have recently turned attention to Birks Fell.

As with elsewhere, the CNCC values good relationships with our landowners. We prefer to achieve open access (or an agreement that is near enough open access from a caver’s perspective) using a collaborative process. This is especially true with an organisation such as the National Trust, with who we share so many values, and who administer access to many (non-access land) caves elsewhere in the country.

Since August, we have been in communication with National Trust about Birks Fell. We have been encouraged by their proactive responses, and their understanding of our situation. They are keen to discuss the matter internally and also with the tenants, and have so far made encouraging suggestions that a simple ‘memorandum of understanding’ could allow open access.

Interestingly, it has come to our attention that the land of Birks Fell is actually part of 5000+ acres donated to the National Trust by the late Graham Watson, a caver.

Click HERE for the story from the National Trust’s own website.

Click HERE and HERE for two journals where you can find obituaries of Graham.

It is an unfortunate irony that caving is now one of the few recreational outdoor pursuits that cannot be undertaken on Birks Fell without advanced permission, when it was a caver who handed over the land in the first place!

We are currently waiting on a final response from National Trust on the matter.

We expect that by spring 2022 we will discontinue our facilitation of access restrictions for Birks Fell Cave, and we hope to have an open access agreement with the National Trust. If no agreement can be reached, we can still choose to withdraw from the current system and fall back on the BCA’s CRoW stance, and the above history to support further advice to cavers.

We hope to bring you more news early in the new year, but to those clubs and groups planning your 2022 diary, why not consider Birks Fell? It is an excellent trip for dry conditions only, presenting no severe obstacles other than a long adventure with well-watered pitches, large galleries, boulder chokes, river passageways, lofty avens, good formations and a real sense of journey.

A rigging topo and route description can be found on our website.

Photo: The entrance to Birks Fell Cave, best enjoyed on a lovely sunny day (by Gary Douthwaite)