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Ordnance Survey and Mountain Rescue England and Wales join forces to promote responsible walking and safe navigation

March 31, 2023

Ordnance Survey (OS) is supporting Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) volunteers by providing free access to OS Maps App for rescue callouts.

OS and MREW have announced a new partnership to emphasise the importance of navigation skills and having the right equipment when enjoying days out in the hills, mountains and countryside.

Rescue volunteers are readying themselves ahead of the Easter holidays for an influx of visitors coming to explore remote areas and want people to stay safe, avoid getting lost or into difficulties and enjoy their time in the outdoors.

Mountain Rescue’s figures from 2022 showed that over one in three callouts in England and Wales were due to basic mistakes and poor planning, with 17% caused by human error, 9% by bad decision making and 9% by inexperience.

One of the biggest issues is people not having an OS Map to navigate the environment.

Increasingly, more and more people are relying on mobile phone apps to navigate. But very few mapping apps have the accurate detail required to navigate safely in remote areas.

Mountain Rescue England and Wales has recommended OS Maps App as the navigational phone app of choice when heading out to National Parks such as the Lake District, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.

Mountain Rescue England and Wales Chief Executive Officer Mike Park said: “Far too often we’re seeing people in very remote and potentially dangerous locations using mapping apps better suited to towns. It’s vital that people have detailed maps, whether paper or digital, to understand the landscape, hazards and follow established paths.

“There has been a shift to online tools and apps in recent years, with many of our volunteers’ using maps on their phones, but we would always recommend carrying a paper map that doesn’t need battery power as a back-up.

“OS Maps is the best app out there for navigation, given its heritage and resources, and we recommend it. This partnership means that our volunteers have access to accurate and comprehensive mapping and our feedback and input to OS can help to shape an excellent app that enables people to enjoy the outdoors safely.”

Case Study – Mountain Man James Forrest

Hiker and author James Forrest, also known as “Mountain Man”, is a record-breaking adventurer who climbed all 446 mountains in England and Wales in just six months. During this epic challenge, time and time again when lost or in trouble, he turned to the OS Maps app to steer him back to safety. 

James said: “Lost in a Carneddau whiteout, disorientated in a blizzard, off-course in the rocky labyrinth of the Rhinogs – in times of jeopardy in the unforgiving mountains, the OS Maps App has often helped get me out of a hole. Its GPS capabilities have pinpointed my location and helped me get back on track. Of course a paper map, compass and good navigational skills are still vital in the hills, but OS Maps is a wonderful safety net and extra tool in your navigation toolbox.”

OS Maps App

Through the new partnership, OS has made OS Maps App available to every one of the 47 local volunteer teams of Mountain Rescue England and Wales so that they have access to detailed mapping when answering rescue call-outs.

According to OS data, last year’s Easter holiday saw an 81% increase in walks compared to the rest of January, February and March. With a surge of people expected to get out and about this Easter bank holiday weekend, both organisations are calling for walkers and leisure app users to ensure they plan ahead and have the right navigational tools to hand.

Nick Giles, Ordnance Survey’s MD for Leisure, said: “The last three years have seen an increase in people walking more and discovering Britain, which is fantastic as we are always looking to help more people to get outside more often. 

“However, we are starting to see some of these people venturing further afield and unfortunately not taking the correct steps in planning and being prepared with the right mapping and outdoor kit. Our advice is to always plan ahead and make sure you’re venturing outside in an accessible and safe way.”

“Don’t ruin your day outdoors by having to call Mountain Rescue. It’s miserable being stuck up a mountainside in the rain waiting for someone to come and fetch you.”

Nick added: “Making the outdoors enjoyable accessible and safe for everyone is our top priority and the perfect combination of OS Maps and the right paper map coupled with learning some skills, can really help ensure you stay safe and hopefully never need to call on the Mountain Rescue teams to help you in an emergency.”

OS provides detailed mapping at 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale within the premium OS Maps App subscription. With that subscription, OS users gain access to features including route mapping, 3D mapping to help visualise routes before going out, AR tools, and hundreds of thousands of shared routes.

For more information visit the OS Maps App website or Mountain Rescue England and Wales website.

Safety checklist before heading off – WALKS:

Weather: You can check weather and conditions online via Weatherline (for the Lake District), MWIS (mountain weather information), and Met Office (general weather). After setting off, be prepared to turn back if conditions turn against you, even if this upsets a long-planned adventure. Remember things can change quickly. It could be lovely hot weather, but if somebody slips and busts a leg then things change. You have got to be prepared for that, be it the weather or someone’s inability to move.

Accessibility: Plan your route carefully. Consider the time of year, terrain and the nature of your trip and choose your route accordingly. Remember: Mountains are major undertakings and in winter, it goes dark early. Or choose to follow an approved route – OS Maps App has over one million routes in it. It comes with a 3D fly through option to help you visualise the terrain and environment.

Location: Navigation should always be something at the front of your mind. Refer to your map on a regular basis, otherwise it is easy to go off the path you want to take, particularly if it is tricky and keeps changing direction. Keep an eye on your map at least every half hour, or set markers every mile, so if you do come a cropper you can tell someone exactly where you are. Also look out for landmarks to check against your map. Download OS maps for the environment as some digital maps just aren’t suitable when it comes to navigating outdoors. They don’t give any indications of height. You could find yourself climbing up a cliff to get to where you want to go because you didn’t realise it was there.

Kit: Charge your phone. Many accidents occur towards the end of the day when both you and your phone are low on energy. Register your phone with

  • Remember to take with you:
  • Suitable clothing and footwear including spare clothing, hat and gloves – even in summer!
    • Ample food and water for the day ahead – even in cool weather, it’s easy to get dehydrated.
    • Map and compass, torch and head torch. And a whistle.
    • A fully charged back-up phone to use to phone for emergencies.
    • If you carry GPS, make sure it’s set up with the correct map and grid data.
    • At least one member of the party should have a watch.
    • First aid kit including essential medication.
    • Climbers and mountain bikers should wear a helmet.
    • Both torch and whistle can be used to signal for help:
    • Six good long blasts in a minute. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Continue until someone reaches you and don’t stop because you hear a reply. Your whistle blasts may be a direction finder.

Skills: Learn to use the gear you’ve got. There’s no point in having a paper map, a mapping app, or a compass, if you’ve got no idea how to use them. Ordnance Survey has some video resources available to teach you map reading skills or how to use a compass accurately. It is worth refreshing your memory if you haven’t used these skills for a while.

Other safety advice:

Keep the party together. Allow the slowest in the party to determine the pace and take special care of the youngest, weakest and least knowledgeable in dangerous places.

Eat well through the day. Before you start and through the day, keep your energy levels high. Watch for signs of hypothermia. Disorientation, confusion, shivering, tiredness, pale complexion and loss of circulation in hands or toes. Children and older people are especially susceptible.

In case of emergency make a note of all relevant details: Location; name, gender and age of casualty; nature of injuries or emergency; number of people in the party; your mobile phone number.  Dial 999. Ask for ‘Police’ then ‘Mountain Rescue’. Make sure you tell the operator that you require Police. Give all your prepared details of the incident. Do NOT change your position until contacted by the rescue team. If you have to make a further 999 call, repeat this procedure.