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News UpdateThe CAL agreement with NRW has ended
The directors of Cave Access Ltd (CAL) were told on 24/11/21 without any notice in a Zoom meeting with NRW that NRW has unilaterally terminated CAL's mine access agreement with immediate effect.
CAL's scheme had been operating successfully for about 6 years without any concerns being voiced. But we are now told that NRW requires strong proof of compliance with statutory requirements across its estate. NRW said its main concern is ensuring that bats are not disturbed which seemed to revolve around the SSSI status of land. Essentially we were told that if the land was not an SSSI then bats are not an issue. This demonstrates a failure by NRW staff to understand bats protection is on a national basis and the SSSI status of particular pieces of land neither adds to nor subtracts from that national-level bat protection which applies no matter where the bats are located. There needs to be more clarity here.
Despite this massive quango being created to integrate environmental management, NRW has divided itself into six operational areas and so no longer has a holistic view of Wales. So sadly the all-Wales access agreement we have enjoyed will need replacing with up to six separate agreements that cover our mines of interest split up by NRW operational areas. We have agreed with NRW to work on a solution to their North West Wales area first and once that is deemed a success then to try to replicate it in other areas, but this requires cooperation from five other Land Management Team Leaders which is clearly not a given and we may end up with many different access agreements tailored to these employees.
NRW asked CAL to pay for mine surveys done by professional bat ecologists at various times of the year, to be repeated in future years as necessary. This is infeasible for a voluntary non-funded group like CAL to embrace. So we told NRW that if they held to this idea then we would not attempt to renew the access scheme, leaving them at a dead end.
We suggested to NRW that installing electronic footfall counters (to count all groups using the mines and not just CAL visitors) and electronic bat activity monitors running all year around provided on a voluntary basis would provide a clearer wider picture and be more accountable than infrequent visits by paid-for consultants writing snapshot style reports.
CAL is not the only organisation affected by this change. Outdoor Pursuits Centres will also be affected along with underground adventure companies. Unfortunately NRW is requiring each group to commission its own professional bat surveys even if the surveys done by other groups exist and are in NRW's possession. So, for example, if several local authorities want to use a mine then all will need to purchase independent bat surveys which concern the very same mine and the cost of this would fall on each local authority. NRW would then have multiple bat surveys for the same site. For NRW's purposes, CAL cannot utilise bat surveys commissioned by others and simply reference them as prior art.
Unfortunately there will be no access through CAL for explorers anywhere on NRW's estate whilst CAL endeavours to work with NRW to find a workable solution for their North West Area first. We think this may take a year if NRW is cooperative and flexible. If not, then CAL may wind up and NRW would then be left with no obvious lines of communication with mine explorers in the caving community.
Conversely mine explorers in the caving world would have no practical way to obtain permissive access from NRW resulting in a return to the status quo ante which was unregulated, unaccounted for and unconsented activity.
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