More than a quarter of the current Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team (BPMRT), the organisation which carries out search and rescue operations around Lancashire are former Lancaster University students.
“Eight call-out and four support team members have Lancaster degrees,” says long-standing Bowland Pennine MRT member Nick Mattock, now a Hutton-based police officer who lives in Lancaster.
“There has always been a strong link between the University and the team.” The reason for the big draw, explained Nick, who studied HR Management and Organisational Studies, was that many team members were, at the time of joining, also members of the Hiking and Climbing Clubs. And, as a keen member of the University Hiking Club, Nick went on a Bowland Pennine MRT course at their Dunsop Bridge training centre.
“It’s almost like a grown-up game of hide and seek – someone gets lost and you find them,” said Nick. “I ‘hid’ for the team as part of the training exercise and then somehow found myself a rescue team member.” It was, he added, a natural progression to contribute back to an organisation that had helped and supported him and many other students.
“Lancaster is so popular with outdoorsy people as it is so near the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales for climbing and walking,” added Nick. “It also has a great reputation for Geography and Environmental sciences. Plus graduates seem to stay around the area due to this superb location. It’s a fantastic place - big enough to have everything but small enough not to be a big city. People really grow to love the area and put roots down.”
The team, formed in 1980 with the amalgamation of two other teams, has bases in Garstang, Penwortham and Smelt Mill in the heart of the Trough of Bowland. Members are on call 24/7 for 365 days a year and on average answer 50 to 60 call outs a year in both urban and rural Lancashire. The majority of ‘shouts’ are fell walkers and climbers who have ‘come a cropper’ but the team is also called on to assist the police in tracking down children and adults who have gone missing from home.
They also field their three Land Rovers to double up as ambulances in snowy and icy conditions – reaching the parts other vehicles cannot reach. In severe icy weather the team, many of whom are highly trained medical technicians, have been known to don crampons and stretcher someone to safety. They also provide support for the county’s Fire and Rescue Service from time to time.
The team played a significant part in various major incidents including the Morecambe Bay Cockling Disaster rescue operation in 2004, the Grayrigg rail incident in the southern lakes and the recent motorway incidents with hundreds of vehicles trapped in the snow. “There’s no pressure on you to be a member – if you didn’t like the work you wouldn’t be there,” said Nick. “Getting up in the middle of the night to help people isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But we have a good track record and it feels good afterwards when you have done a good job.
“And, of course, as you can imagine there’s great camaraderie and a good social side. We are a very close-knit group.” The team usually recruits in the autumn each year and, after the initial training, there is a two-year probationary period. New Lancaster University (and other) applicants are always welcome.
Team Officers may be contacted at www.bowlandpenninemrt.org.uk