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Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation

Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation

18th June, 2024

Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation (SCRO) was established in 1966 to provide a service to search for and rescue people and animals underground across Scotland. This obviously includes caves all over Scotland, but also the widely distributed disused mines – except coal mines. Though Scotland may not hold the renown for caving as some other parts of the UK, there are over 3000 known caves in Scotland, and the area is vast. 

Assynt is probably the best-known area in Scotland for caving, and some of the largest Scottish caves are here, but there are caves the length and breadth of Scotland, including many around the coast which is over 6000m long on the mainland and other notable caving highlights such as Applecross and Skye. 

The scale of the area brings challenges for SCRO: with such an area to cover, getting to a call out for most of the team is a lengthy affair. Our members are split across Scotland from the central belt to Skye which aids response time, but with inevitable fragmentation. As a result, SCRO use a flexible approach to personnel in preference to a more rigid team structure which works well elsewhere. SCRO aim to keep healthy working relations with MRTs and several of our members are members of an MRT as well as SCRO. We have used joint exercises to increase familiarity between teams and the cave knowledge of teams such as Assynt; it’s very likely they will be able to respond more quickly than SCRO. 

In recent years SCRO invested in a van. This allows an identifiable point of contact vs the old solution of members own vehicles and is fitted to carry the majority of our rescue equipment and surface digital radio equipment as used across SMR. SCRO also use sub-surface radio to allow communications between underground sites if required, or a suitable underground location and the surface. Some practice is required to get useable signal underground, and as many Scottish caves are comparatively short by the standards of some southern areas, SCRO have also recently gone old school with the addition of a field telephone to the communications kit. This allows simple, reliable comms underground, constrained only by the length of cable carried. In practice, it can be much quicker to set up than sub surface radio and take away the need for comms by runner when the radio has not been successful. SCRO have no base, but have been gratefully adopted by Ochils MRT: we are now able to keep the van ready for use at their Post, which has an accessible location and is fairly central. 

The SCRO year includes about 7 large training events and exercises, set across Scotland and include medical, communications and technical training, area searches and the use of specific equipment such as the Slix stretcher which is suited for use underground and Larkin frame which .allows safe hoisting over difficult edges. Additional external training is used for Single Rope Technique, rigging and medical skills. 

Call outs in recent years have been low, though after many years of waiting for a guide to be available in print, the recent publication of ‘Caves of Assynt’ is likely to bring more attention to the area. This is welcome, but brings an air of trepidation that probability of SCRO being called upon might also increase. 

In common with other teams, recruiting and keeping members and a full committee can be a challenge, though numbers are healthy at present. SCRO have been remarkably well-served for many years by an old guard of very experienced, knowledgable and dedicated Scottish cavers, some of whom have been a stepping back from hands on rescue duties in recent years, but generally have remained available to offer the benefits of their experience or take on surface roles. We are always happy to hear from cavers interested in joining SCRO – anyone keen or curious should contact the Secretary 

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