Dorset Search and Rescue Volunteer Dave tells us how to stay safe in the outdoors
A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of talking to Dave Lloyd who volunteers as a Search Technician, Team Leader, Navigation Lead, Lowland Rescue First Responder and member of the water rescue team with Dorset Search and Rescue. Dave tells us how to stay safe while exploring. These helpful tips can be used throughout the UK too :)
"Staying Safe Outdoors in Dorset
Dorset is a stunning county and we are blessed to live and work here. We have a huge variety of countryside from the North Dorset Chalk Downs, through the rare heathland that sits on ancient river sediments, to the stunning folded and twisted limestone geology of the Purbeck Hills and Portland. There is something for everyone here – gentle open farmland rambling on sweet scented summer evenings to dramatic, world class, high-grade sea cliff climbing, some caving, river fishing in chalk streams and all the water sports you can think of in the world’s second biggest natural harbour at Poole. That and many miles of stunning golden sandy beaches where we even sometimes get sun and surf!
Whatever you are involved in and wherever you are going however, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you remain safe and its those I’d like to talk about today with you.
Firstly, I guess its about being aware – being aware of possible dangers and hazards – and knowing where to go to enlighten you in that regard; and of course, being sensible enough to take reasonable precautions. All sounds very dramatic right? Actually, most of it is common sense. Have a map and compass with you, but that also relies on you having a basic understanding of navigation – and the internet has some great offerings from people like Ordnance Survey for example, or taking an introductory navigation course will see you right (and you’ll get to learn about 6D navigation!). Don’t be afraid of maps; they are your friend and they paint a picture of what’s out there from terrain (we have some spectacularly boggy bits of heathland), topography (some of our hills are “challenging” to say the least) to hazards (we have some pretty spectacular cliffs and many, many quarries) and routes. Same goes for marine charts – although getting to grips with marine navigation can be more challenging: don’t forget there are some pretty strong tides around even in Poole Harbour: despite its appearance it isn’t a sheltered lake. By all means use a GPS – but don’t rely on it solely, because I absolutely guarantee that at the one point you need it, it dies (and while we’re on the subject of technology, be aware that with the complex geography and rural nature of Dorset there are many places like Cranborne Chase and the Purbecks where mobile phone signals have yet to reach). Learn to use the OS grid referencing system: it really is not difficult and all outdoor professionals and rescue services work off it. Its worth also noting here that Dorset does have several military danger areas, so familiarise yourself with the red flags and information boards, and how they are marked on the map. (Your best maps for Dorset are OS 1:25,000 series numbers 116, 117, 118, 129, OL15 and OL22 depending on where you are.)
The weather is another favourite topic in this country, we all love a rainy bank holiday right? But seriously, expect the unexpected – check the forecast and carry appropriate kit: that’s not at all hard with an internet in your pocket and the TV these days. You need only a very basic knowledge to stay safe. And let me be clear – stay away from the cliffs and beaches when its been super rainy or is stormy – you’re asking for trouble. In fact, take much care along our beautiful coast path anyway – some of it is properly close to the edge and properly slippery and windy a lot of the time. Watch out for erosion and be sensible, especially with dogs and stay out of old caves and quarries. One of the phrases I teach is “keep an eye on the sky”; coupled with a basic handle on navigation, knowing where you are, where you’re going and how to escape if things go pear shaped is the basic crux of it all. Sometimes the sun shines here and who doesn’t enjoy a day of chips and ice cream on the beach? But, be sensible and take shelter and sun cream, keep hydrated, watch out for rip currents (some good videos online again) and please, please, please take ALL your rubbish home.
Some people have not been at all sensible during the hot summer of 2020 and we have had some very damaging heathland and woodland fires. Please – no campfires, no disposable BBQs, no Chinese lanterns and please, please, please take ALL your rubbish home. There, I’ve said it twice now. A lot of Dorset is SSSI and/or AONB so please respect the countryside and leave it as you’d wish to find it. It takes two seconds to download the Doggy Code and Countryside Code from the internet – please read them. The vast majority of Dorset is mixed arable and dairy farmland (with a few exotics thrown in for good measure like llamas, goats and opium poppies), so please respect crops, herds and wildlife margins – they are there for a reason. We do hear horror stories of (especially dog) walkers versus cows from time to time. Be confident, carry a walking stick to make yourself look big if you need to; be prepared to let your dog off in the face of a stampede and for goodness sake don’t run, because cows are super inquisitive – and faster than you. Our farmers are brilliant and they use signs notifying you of stock presence, so return the favour and don’t cause any disturbance – keep your pooch under control and on the lead through pheasants and sheep for example.
Blessed as we are with the wide variety of habitat, we are graced with some of Britain’s rarest species of plants, animals, birds and bugs. There are loads of useful resources you can tap into with a quick Google, and remember to forage with care and only with permission. Be sensitive as to where you stomp and read any local notice boards.
Dorset has the second longest road network of any county in Britain I am led to believe, which means there are a lot of winding country roads (but no motorway!) which are very popular with all forms of transport from DofE groups linking ancient footpaths together, horse riders, cyclists tackling the hill climbs and Sunday drivers. Please drive and park sensibly (I’m sure you all read or heard the “fly parking” news reports from Dorset this summer) with care and respect – we’re all in this together. It can get very, very busy in the “honey pot” areas (again I’m sure you heard the news reports form the post-lockdown carnage) – so pick your time and destination: you are part of the problem – it isn’t “everybody else”!
What we don’t have a lot of is “Access Land” (land free for roaming under the CROW Act) in Dorset, so please respect the footpaths, gates and private land. We do have quite a lot of managed forest where navigation can be challenging and there may be logging operations in progress – follow any directions on signposts for you own safety. Remember that fishing is generally controlled and you will almost certainly need a permit – again nothing a quick Google and a phone call can’t resolve for you.
I guess that’s about it really – as I said at the start, there’s nothing unusual or difficult to staying safe outdoors in Dorset. Be knowledgeable, be sensible and enjoy our beautiful county. There are LOADS of brilliant outdoor centres in Dorset as well as foraging, geology and all sorts of special interest groups (we haven’t even mentioned the phenomenal array of historic and pre-historic sites in Dorset!), and some amazing campsites (there is no wild camping permitted here).
If it does go wrong, then there’s Dorset Search and Rescue, Somerset and Dorset Air Ambulance and we have the national HQ of the RNLI – but you know what? We don’t actually want to meet you – at least not with our uniforms on."
Dave’s day job is an outdoor professional based in Dorset, specialising in walking, navigation and leadership training and assessment, although active across many activities. You’re most likely to come across Dave if you’re involved in DofE or taking a first aid training course. He has a decade’s worth of experience in centres and has lectured internationally in the corporate world before becoming freelance and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. [https://www.facebook.com/davelloydoutdoors]
Find out more at https://dorsar.org.uk/