It’s been a record year for Grassington based Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association - despite lock-downs imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Here, UWFRA controller Derek Hammond gives us an insight into the work of the mountain rescue team.

DESPITE the ongoing lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions during 2021, it has been the busiest year on record for the Grassington based Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA).

With Christmas and a week to go before the end of the year, there have been 73 callouts , beating the previous record of 56 in 2020.

The team is one of the few mountain rescue teams that covers underground rescues as well as the more traditional surface and water incidents.

To maintain its capabilities, raise funds and carry out our rescues takes a lot of commitment from the 60 volunteers who make up the operational team.

This year, they have contributed 2,690 volunteer hours to rescues - up from 1,924 last year; 2,513 volunteer hours training, and 2,475 hours doing management and fundraising.

These figures only include the formal training and events with many more spent in the background.

We never know when we are going to get a callout and even looking back from year to year does not help the planning.

Last year’s busiest month, July, only made third spot this year tying with June with nine callouts. April came second, with 10, and May hit the top spot with 11 incidents, three of them on the same day.

Our regular hot spots of Brimham Rocks, near Pateley Bridge, and Ilkley Moor, have featured again this year though they were not as busy as in 2020 with only four calls to each.

It is not that these locations are more dangerous than anywhere else they just get considerably more visitors.

We have had eight callouts to assist with searches, the majority of these have involved either dementia or mental health issues with most of the missing being found either by the rescue teams or police during the search.

One was for a spot beacon that had been activated and, with the Coast Guard unable to contact the registered keeper, we were called to search the area where the beacon had been activated. As we were mobilising the keeper called in to state all was safe and the team stood down.

At the end of October we were called to assist in the search for a walker who had failed to return and whose car had been found in Kettlewell.

The teams were deployed to meet at first light and spent the day covering the likely routes on Great Whernside along with other paths in the valley.

Day two of the search covered the flanks of Great Whernside with areas in Nidderdale and Coverdale searched during a third day of searching.

The teams were also supported by North Yorkshire Police, National Police Air Service and the Coastguard S92 helicopter from Humberside.

Sadly, the following week the casualty was located deceased at Coverdale - outside the search areas.

We had expected that this search which involved ourselves, Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team (MRT), Cave Rescue Organisation, Scarborough and Ryedale MRT, Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team, Holme Valley MRT and RAF Leeming MRT over three days and had over 100 volunteers on the hill on day three, would be the largest joint rescue this year; but South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team had other ideas.

Two weeks after the search we were called to assist with an ongoing rescue in South Wales.

On the Saturday afternoon the experienced caver had fallen in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system in the Brecon Beacons National Park, South Wales.

He had suffered multiple injuries that required him to be carried out of the system on a stretcher.

Cavers are very good at squeezing round corners to progress through the cave, unfortunately cavers in stretchers do not go round corners and this necessitated a much longer, though larger, passage back to the surface for the injured caver.

The local teams were working in shifts to treat, package and move the casualty with UWFRA being called on Sunday to send additional resources to continue the rescue on the Monday morning.

A small team drove down to Wales overnight and having had a couple of hours sleep spent around nine hours moving the casualty who eventually reached the surface 54 hours after their accident.

This rescue involved nearly every cave rescue team in the country amounting to around 300 rescuers.

Our team of specialist water rescue technicians have had a quieter year in 2021 with only two incidents requiring their skills.

The first was just under a year and a couple of hundred meters upstream of last year’s fatality at Linton falls, near Grassington, and sadly resulted in another young male losing their life in the river.

The second was the following day for a father and young child who had failed to return from a trip out on the River Ure at Ripon, fortunately further information confirmed that they were safe and the team stood down.

The team have also seem some old faces moving on in the last year, Jeremy Daggett stood down as president after 33 years with Peter Huff taking over.

Peter has been an operational member of the team since he was 15 and retired from callouts on his 75th birthday in 2020 after 60 years, he has continued to support the team as its chairman and is now president. We wish him well in his new role.

Our long standing search dog handler Kevin Stead also retired in the summer. Kevin has trained and worked four search dogs over the years and continues to assist in the training of our newest handler, Johnny and his dog Storm.

Storm is progressing well for a young dog and will have his stage one assessment in January which will enable him to progress on to larger and more complex search areas.

Financially, it currently costs £50,000 each year to fund the replacement equipment and training required to keep the team operational and our treasurer works to ensure we always have enough funds to keep us going a further three years and accrue funds to replace the vehicles when they retire, before letting us spend money any anything else.

In a normal year we have a couple of major fundraising events, the Wharfedale Three Peaks event at the end of June and Grassington Dickensian festival in December. We also attend a number of fell races and Knaresborough Bed Race to provide safety cover as well as raising awareness and funds for the team.

Most of these events have fallen victim to the Covid restrictions in place this year but the W3P is planned for June 25, 2022 and the other events will also hopefully be back next year.

Christmas is also a good time to remind everyone heading into the hills, maybe to try out new presents, that you need to plan ahead, dress for the conditions you are going to experience, pack waterproofs, warm clothing and a torch.

You should also take a map and compass and know how to use them. If you do take your phone do not rely on it, have it fully charged and even take a power bank to recharge it.

It is also useful to have apps that give you your location pre loaded, so you have one less thing to worry about if something happens, OS Locate and What3Words are both suitable, for more information see and

Should the worst happen call 999 and ask for the police and then ask them for mountain rescue giving details of your location and the nature of the incident, we will be with you as soon as we can.

We would like to thank all those who have supported the UWFRA team throughout this difficult year, especially our families and friends who have had plans disrupted, special occasions and meals missed as we head out to help those in difficulty.

Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a safe New Year.

More details about the team can be found by visiting or our Facebook page