CLAPHAM-based Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO) is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

Believed to be the first active cave rescue organisation in the world, the charity has more than 90 volunteer rescuers, comprising of an operational team of 52 and a further 36 in support roles.

The CRO provides cave and mountain rescue service in the Three Peaks area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and also extends westwards into Lancashire and Cumbria and eastwards as far as Malham.

"We are one of only three teams in the UK who perform cave rescues as well as mountain rescues and numerous other sorts of rescues," said long-time CRO member Jack Pickup. "Our volunteers come from many walks of life in the Dales.

"Many members have given over 25 years of service, a number over 40 years, several approaching 50 years and one member over 50 years continuous service. Very few teams if any can match these statistics of long-term dedication in helping those in difficulties above and below ground.

"The camaraderie of such long-serving members has played a major part in the team dealing with the tragedies and the highs and lows of our work.

"On several occasions we have had to deal with six incidents in one day and some occasions four incidents simultaneously."

Since 1935, the CRO has attended 2,642 incidents. These have involved 3,834 people (aged from five months to 87 years), 245 lambs, 214 sheep, 77 dogs, 13 calves, nine cows, nine ducks, one bullock, one Highland heifer, one cat and one rabbit plus the recovery of a wide variety of objects.

The origins of the CRO date back to an incident on October 13, 1934, when a boulder fell onto the leg of Reg Weetman, in Gingling Hole, and broke it in two places. A subsequent rescue by cavers from several clubs took over 24 hours.

Consequently, a meeting of all involved was arranged for November 24, 1934, at Rock House, Settle.

There, according to the log book of the Northern Cavern and Fell Club, one of several clubs and organisations in attendance, it was suggested a rescue organisation be set up.

"This I believe is the evidence that makes the CRO the oldest cave rescue team in the world," said Mr Pickup.

On January 5, 1935, a letter was sent to PC Elliott at Settle Police Station asking for cooperation on rescues and the CRO became operational on February 12, 1935.

The Central Rescue Committee was transformed into the Central Rescue Organisation just before it became operational and three years later, in 1938, it changed its name to the Cave Rescue Organisation.

The first recorded incident was on June 9, 1935, at Gaping Gill and the first recorded fatality in a cave was on May 7, 1936, at Alum Pot, near Selside when a women died after being hit by a falling rock.

In the early part of the 1940s, the Second World War interfered with most caving activities and so no incidents were recorded until December 8, 1946, at AG Pot when a caver became exhausted and died from hypothermia.

Also around this time, the Ingleton Fell Rescue Team was formed after Eli Simpson, an influential member of the CRO, objected to the fact that members still had to carry out a fell rescue after they surfaced from underground with a patient.

In the 1950s the popularity of caving increased as did the number of rescues.

The 1960s started off quietly, but as caving became more and more popular so the incidents increased to approximately 16 per year.

It was around this time the CRO started to be called to surface incidents. In fact during this period only 45 per cent of rescues were from caves.

Cave diving was also becoming popular and the CRO's first diving fatality occurred when Alan Clegg, a well-known experienced caver and the CRO's treasurer, died in Lancaster Hole.

Mr Pickup said a truly memorable event occurred in March 1969 when injured caver Chris Hay, confined in a stretcher, was brought underwater from Meregill Hole.

Mr Pickup said: "This to the best of our knowledge was the first underwater rescue of a patient from a cave."

He said the 1970s could be called the golden age of equipment development when the single rope technique resulted in uncontrolled descents and abseiling became more common.

"By the 1980s, things had started to change and the trend was towards more surface incidents," said Mr Pickup. "But the manpower needed for a cave rescue is approximately five times more than for a surface incident…and unfortunately helicopters still don’t fit underground!"

During 2009, the CRO dealt with a record 94 incidents and during the same year added a £130,000 extension to its headquarters at Clapham, updating its training, a new control room and storage facility.

Today, the CRO is one of the premier rescue organisations of its kind in the world and it is anticipated the group will rescue its 3,900th individual during the latter part of 2015.