The South East has a problem. Specifically, a rock problem.
It doesn’t have enough crags for the number of climbers in this area who climb, and the rock itself is incredibly delicate and prone to erosion. It is arguably the most climbed rock in the country, which makes it doubly unfortunate that it happens to be so easily damaged.
Was it ever thus. The boom in popularity of climbing in recent decades coupled with the amount of people who move to London for work and thus naturally gravitate towards the only realistically nearby rocks has only exasperated an issue that has been prevalent for years.
But hot on the heels of the news that vast sections of Eridge rocks are now closed to climbers due to excessive erosion is the fact that Bowles is considering preventing the public from climbing on their rock for the vast majority of the year.
Why? Anti-social behaviour by a number of climbers. People using the bushes to relieve themselves when there is a perfectly good toilet block on site. Climbers taking the micky and letting dogs roam free. Leaving litter. Not respecting the ‘Leave no trace’ principle that is part and parcel of belonging to the climbing community.
Southern Sandstone have written up a set of guidelines to protect the rock. Are they always followed? Sadly not. A combination of ignorance and selfishness leads many to practice poor techniques that leave lasting damage to many crags.
Add to which the fact that Bowles is actually a charity that is devoted to giving kids a safe place to enjoy outdoor activities, often for the first time. Do we really want their first experience of climbing outside to be such a negative one?
The threat is real, and if we all want to continue to enjoy the abundance of southern sandstone on our doorstep, we all need to act. Make sure we are behaving correctly ourselves. Point others in the direction of the code of practice so they are fully prepared before heading outside. Make it clear that anti-social behaviour isn’t cool and won’t be tolerated.
Climbing is fun. Being able to climb outside is brilliant. Bowles are not trying to spoil anyone’s enjoyment, simply protect the rock for future generations and ensure that their charity can continue to function. Let’s help them keep it that way.