Slideshow: Mountain rescue team in action

Share this article

The search and rescue team covering Nidderdale and Harrogate district attended a record number of call-outs last year.

The volunteers of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA) racked up some impressive figures in 2013.

Image supplied

Image supplied

Spending 1,915 man hours in the wilds of North Yorkshire, the association dealt with a total of 44 incidents, averaging a rescue every eight days.

14 of the 80 trained and well-equipped volunteer cavers, climbers and mountaineers who make up the team live across Harrogate district, and are on call every day of the year.

They use state-of-the-art rescue and communication equipment ranging from GPS to a control vehicle packed with technology including a Mountain Rescue digital mapping system that can even track individual members on the rescue with this instant information giving their location and tracks created being overlaid onto the digital mapping. That’s not to mention the three vital canine search and rescue members.

The majority of the association’s work involves attending incidents involving people or animals in difficulty in caves, potholes, mineshafts, on fells, crags or anywhere not accessible to the normal emergency services.

Member David Dennis said: “Rescues are identified as surface, underground and animals with the latter category highlighted during the year with the remarkable story of the rescue of the lurcher-saluki dog found on Buckden Pike in a near death condition.

“‘WUFRA’ as the dog was named by the team, made an amazing recovery and repaid his rescuers by becoming a superstar, gaining enormous publicity on a global scale for Mountain Rescue as well as the Upper Wharfedale team who saved its life. The latest count showing that the story reached over 26 countries!”

Surface Controller Phill Nelson estimates the high level of professional training undertaken by members as well as the many hours looking after their team’s headquarters, vehicles and high-tech equipment adds a further 5,000 man hours a year given by the volunteers.

He said: “New techniques as well as new situations to deal with always mean that even the veterans of the team still need to keep their training up to date, a new need in recent times is training to cope with fast water rescues and flooding situations.”

The team never know what incident they will be tasked with next. David explained some of the missions they have recently faced.

He said: “Many call outs were for people with lower leg injuries ranging from broken legs to open wounds.

“No doubt these high figures attributed in the main to the wet year and with it slippery conditions under foot.

“Mountain bikers featured with head and neck injuries and several with serious back injuries.

“There were also climbers with back injuries.

“A major caving rescue was at the notorious Dow Cave system near Kettlewell where the team sent 30 rescuers who took a combined 245 hours to rescue two cavers trapped underground.”

In separate incidents, there were two fatalities during the year, which the association reports is a significant reduction on recent years.

David said: “Searching for missing vulnerable people reached a record level of 14 but thankfully all were accounted for.”

The total number of incidents are in addition to a further seven where they were stood down before leaving headquarters.

David said that, while callouts may occur on the same day or within a cluster of days, the manhour total constitutes a considerable commitment by the team members who are all volunteers.

He revealed that almost half of all callouts take place during the working week.

He said: “Not all members can or indeed need to attend every callout but as they are all on call every day of the year and with a fast growing trend showing nearly half of all rescues happening during the working week, the skill base needs to be spread throughout the entire membership to ensure that team members who are in attendance can perform the specific tasks required.”

The team began its life 65 years ago when half a dozen Grassington men were asked for support by police in the search for a missing walker.

The walker had lost his life but his death and the circumstances prompted the men to form a rescue team.

They operated from a disused cell at Grassington Police Station using borrowed, self-made rescue equipment.

Now, more than six decades on, the association has a healthy membership, but will always welcome those interested in joining or fundraising ideas and donations.

Phill added: “We clearly recognise the growing demand on our services and indeed our finances.

“We have to raise our own finances, and we are actively seeking publicity opportunities to further educate the general public on the potential dangers of the countryside.

“The key messages being to take responsibility and be well prepared when venturing out in the Dales.

“Several years ago we produced a card ‘Calling for Help in the Yorkshire Dales ‘ giving information not only on what to do in an emergency but some tips on how to avoid the situation in the first place.

“This is an ongoing campaign with cards available at many retailers in the Dales or direct from us.”

Phill predicts an ever-increasing role with more and more people spending leisure time out in the Dales and with more people seeking ways to stay fit.

The association has also noted a growing demand from the police in assisting them to search for vulnerable people who go missing from the community as well as climatic influenced changes with Mountain Rescue teams being relied upon as a civil contingency measure by government where they will be called upon to work alongside the other emergency services.

Those interested in joining the association or helping raise funds should visit

See more dramatic rescue pictures online - watch the picture slideshow at