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Chairman’s Report for the Year 1985 - 1986

COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN CAVING CLUBS

The past year cannot be considered a happy one for the CSCC - in many ways it became worse as the year progressed.  On the positive side however, the organisation has been revitalised by new faces in the various official positions and the minutes and communications as now being sent regularly to member clubs.  It is vital to an organisation such as ours to ensure too, that Clubs regularly send delegates thus enabling the Council to state clearly the views of its members.  If clubs do not undertake their responsibilities how can the Council reflect the views of the "grass-roots"?

REVIEW OF THE FEDERAL STRUCTURE OF HCA AND CSCC

The thorny problem of the merger between BCRA and NCA has reared its head yet again and no doubt will do so again in the near future.  The Officers have decided to prepare a discussion document proposing methods of improving the efficiency of the NCA network and why it believes that the federal system that currently exists must remain to reflect the views of the caving clubs.  Draft copies of this document  will be circulated to clubs as soon as it has been prepared for comment and discussion. At recent BCRA conferences cavers have expressed a wish that the BCRA merges with the NCA and that they felt it, the BCRA, is best suited to reflect the views and opinions of the British caver. This is simply due to lack of knowledge of what the NCA does on a day to day basis.  The BCRA, a constituent member of the NCA, does what it has always done for the last couple of decades (including the years before the merger between BSA and CRG) - that is to produce a national magazine and hold conferences and symposia.  There is no need for the NCA to duplicate or take over what the BCRA does well.  The NCA should be left to be the umbrella organisation to negotiate and fend off external pressures that is closing in on the caving scene.

At the same time there is a clear need for the CSCC to review it’s activates and procedures. The Fairy Cave Quarry problem has highlighted a problem where an officer of the CSCC is also an officer of NCA and his club.  This has caused problems, not necessarily of his own making, attempting to wear several caps at at once.  I believed for a long time that an officer of the CSCC should be able to represent the collective views of the member clubs without having to look over his shoulder to see what his club at the NCA would feel about his actions.  There is clear need for this situation to be resolved: by amending the CSCC Constitution if necessary.  If the meeting agrees then the Council's officers should investigate the situation in the coming year and propose any amendments necessary to the constitution.

Secondly, the CSCC should make clear its role in the federal system.  Apart from receiving information from the NCA for distribution to member clubs it also has a role in the reverse direction.  Should a Club have a problem of access or require the help of an outside organisation such as the Nature Conservancy Council or the Sports Council then the CSCC is there to give guidance and help should it be required. If the Council feels that it requires the assistance of an outside organisation then the NCA can be simply and quickly brought into the discussions - the approach being made by the CSCC in the first place thus ensuring that the NCA is aware that the council has fully approved the NCA action.  Whatever help is required by a Club they should formally approach the CSCC in writing to ensure that approach is fully documented in the council's minutes and enabling a full discussion to take place.  The CSCC Officers should be empowered to take decisions on behalf elf that Club for the CSCC prior to action being taken by a Council meeting if they feel that this help is justified.

SSSI's

The re-scheduling of the SSSI's for the Mendip sites has been in the pipeline since NCA accepted a work package from the Nature Conservance in 1977.  A sub-committee was set. Up to define and write up the sites under review and felt to be included within the revised schedules areas.  Work for this revision here on Mendip was completed by 1980 and submitted to NCA at that time, NCA collated all returns from the caving regions and submitted the whole compilation to the Nature Conservancy Council in 1980.  Since that time the NCC have been preparing the necessary documentation and have only recently contacted the landowners and farmers in Eastern Mendip and the Charterhouse areas (1984) and here at Priddy (1986) who are affected by the re-scheduling exercise.  The actual scheduling for the Charterhouse area was postponed for nearly two years and hence the earlier date.  The action is also unique in that this small area of Mendip is one of first to be scheduled out of seven sites; indeed Mendip appears to be the first area of all the caving regions and no doubt will be a test case for the caving community.  SSSI's were initially introduced in 1957 and several important caves were included, e.g. Swildons, Eastwater, St. Cuthbert’s and Stoke Lane etc.  So in 1977-78 the policy of the CSCC was to include as many sites as possible located in the same locality of a larger system to enable them to have the limited protection that the SSSI offered them at that time. Since the completion of this work package by NCA the present government in 1981, passed through Parliament the Wildlife and Countryside Act which stated, in so many words, that there would be a list of damaging activities added to the conditions of an SSSI.   The addition of a list of damaging activities to the SSSI requirements give full protection to the scheduled caves.  This poses a dilemma for Mendip cavers; it satisfies those cavers who believe that the SSSI never had any real protection - now it has.  On the other hand the whole change has upset the relationship between landowners and farmers and the cavers.  The CSCC was not aware of this new twist until earlier this year, though letters referring to these activities were sent out as early as 1984, when farmers and landowners were being contacted by the NCC in the East Mendip area; the CSCC wasn’t aware of this action.  Inevitably this was a considerable shock to both landowners, farmers and cavers generally here on Mendip.  The CSCC immediately requested the NCC to attend a meeting between the landowners and farmers in the Priddy area to enable a dialogue to take place. The meeting was attended by the C & A Officer and myself.  The end result was that the villagers went away discontented with the answers given by the NCC Officials.  The situation is now is one that requires the most delicate handling and the officers are currently attempting to resolve the situation.  Until cavers are fully aware of the situation there cannot be a useful dialogue with the local villagers, bearing in mind that the whole of the Mendip caving is firmly cased upon the goodwill and confidence of the local residents; it must remain so even if some of the caves an Mendip eventually have to be stripped of their protection afforded by the current SSSI.  The whole situation will be discussed at the Annual General meeting on the 17th May 1986.  A full investigation of the background to the reassessment is being carried out by myself and hopefully more information will be available at the Annual Meeting on May 17th.  The Council can be sure that this problem will be placed as top priority of the actions the CSCC in the forthcoming year.

FAIRY CAVE QUARRY

The problems associated with the Hobbs proposals to converts Fairy Cave Quarry into a recreation site has been met here on Mendip with very mixed opinions – or so it would seem.  By the time of the Annual Meeting this subject will have been fully discussed by CSCC at the emergency meeting on the 10th of May.  But it might be prudent of me to include some of the facts in this report for the record.

Hobbs Holdings Ltd closed Withyhill and Shatter Cave to cavers in 1981 and they informed the Cerberus Spelaeological Society of their action.  The Cerberus S.S. then informed the CSCC.  The CSCC response was simple: they requested that the Cerberus wait for the appropriate moment to negotiate with Hobbs to get the caves re-opened as soon as possible. The CSCC couldn’t take any action as the autonomy of the Cerberus would have been affected and they could well have applied the veto.  The Cerberus then published their document proposing that Shatter Cave would be best preserved by converting it into a limited "show" cave.  To back up this report the Cerberus requested the NCA for support to their plan and told the CSCC of their intentions.  The NCA gave this support through the NCA Conservation and Access Group and it’s Executive.  Though the Hon, Chairman and Hon Secretary of the CSCC were aware of the Cerberus action and approved their approach to the NCA, it did not formally become policy of the counci1 as the Cerebus made it quite clear that they were quite capable of handling the situation.  The matter rested there for nearly five year’s, the Cerberus reporting the latest situation for information only to the CSCC at each meting.  As far is the CSCC was concerned it did not have any formal policy regarding the quarry.  The first time that it did have a policy was when the report was tabled at the CSCC meeting on 15th February 1985 but it was not discussed and it was not highlighted for discussion; merely being noted in the minutes by the Hon. Secretary.  Later the same report was circulated to members of the Planning Committee with a covering letter from Mick Day, Chairman of NCA. This was done without any consultation with CSCC as the NCA believed what they were doing was with the full knowledge of the council.  Consequently the CSCC now has a policy.

At the time of the Planning Committee’s Site Meeting I wrote to Graham Price stating that I was unable to attend and wrote “I think the point ought to be stressed that the CSCC is not adverse to the principle of Shatter Cave being converted into a show cave provided that it is carried out in a controlled manner so that it’s intrinsic beauty is not harmed.  This I understand is to be monitored by the NCC and Dr. William Stanton, who is well known for his views in the conservation of caves”, a letter from himself or Mr, Jeremy Hobbs, stating their policy regarding the conversion and exploitation of the cave.  This has yet to arrive, though from a letter sent from Hobbs to the Planning Committee (8th April 1986) would appear that our conditions set down in my letter would be met and many of the conditions set down in the submission to the Planning Committee would be met. Since that time the Planning Committee has decided not to extend the outline planning permission that ran out at the end of April.  Should Hobbs take the matter to Appeal or just leave the matter to rest, only the future will tell.  Whatever happens the CSCC must have a clear outline policy.  As I understand the situation at the time of writing, Hobbs have requested that all caves including the two caves, Shatter and Withyhill, remain closed.  Hence the meeting on the 10th May 1986.

FINALLY

There are a number of difficult tasks facing the CSCC in the coming year and for this reason I’ve withdrawn my intention to resign as Chairman of the CSCC and am now prepared for my name to be put forward for re-election.

Dave Irwin, Chairman CSCC, Priddy, Nr. Wells, Somerset
28th April 1986.