A History of Cave Rescue in South & Mid Wales

SMWCRT began life as the South Wales Cave Rescue Organisation (SWCRO) shortly after the South Wales Caving Club (SWCC) was formed in 1946. For many years the SWCC was the only club in the area and provided the equipment and the personnel for cave rescue.

In the sixties the Gwent Cave Rescue Team (GCRT) was formed, as new discoveries were made in the Northern outcrop of the Brecon Beacons. The Gwent team was based upon clubs active in the Llangattock area. There was little formal relationship between the teams at that time, but in 1971 tentative moves were made with a view to rationalising the situation. No substantial moves took place until a major incident in Agen Allwedd in 1974 forced the issue and led directly to the formation of the SWCRO as an umbrella organisation.

The justification for the formation of the SWCRO was born out in 1980 when the WBCRT and Gwent teams combined in the rescue of Tim Flanagan from Agen Allwedd. The 3 day incident involved some 280 underground rescuers and was clearly beyond a single team's capability.
Although the separate nature of the teams had no effect upon the outcome of that particular incident it was realised that the lack of equipment compatibility and a lack of awareness of the other team's abilities would be disastrous in an incident bigger than either team could handle alone. Several meetings took place leading to the formation in 1975 of the SWCRO.

The title SWCRO was relinquished by the SWCC team and became the title of the new umbrella organisation. The old SWCC based team was expanded to include clubs active in the Southern outcrop and constituted as the West Brecon Cave Rescue Team (WBCRT), later becoming SMWCRT.

What is now the SMWCRT is based at the headquarters of the SWCC, with its own stores of equipment, leasing the rescue garage and upper store rooms. The Gwent Team formalised an arrangement with the Chelsea Speleological Society's club hut at Llangattock.

A second reconstitution of the WBCRT took place 1991. The WBCRT was still seen as an extension of the SWCC, despite its inclusion of other clubs on the executive and its active role in encouraging new clubs to become part of the team. As a result, the WBCRT formally separated from the SWCC. All of the equipment, much of which had been purchased by the SWCC, was transferred to ownership of the WBCRT. A formal agreement was signed regarding the continued use of the rescue stores and garage at Penwyllt. The SWCC Rescue Officer would no longer be automatically the Hon. Sec. of the WBCRT and the constitution was modified to give all member clubs the same status and to allow non club cavers representation on the WBCRT executive.

In 1998, WBCRT completed work on a new Advanced First Aid course for Cave Rescue which was accredited by British Red Cross and the British Cave Rescue Council. This course is now delivered annually for 9 of the 15 UK Cave Rescue Teams and has become a National Standard for Cave Rescue Advanced First Aid in the UK.

In 2003, SWCRO was dissolved to simplify the National Structure and WBCRT and GCRT became members of the BCRC in their own right. Liaison arrangements were put in place constitutionally to ensure the 2 teams remain in close contact.


In 2009, the Gwent CRT was dissolved. Responsibility for the Gwent caving areas, along with ownership of the Whitewalls stores and equipment, was transferred to WBCRT. Realising that the title West Brecon was no longer relevant to the massive area now covered, the Team voted in the 2010 AGM to change the name to the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team.


Mid Wales
In 1990 there was growing concern that the cover for mid Wales was non-existent and that caving activity, both sport and commercial, was increasing. A previous attempt to form a mid Wales team, under the SWCRO umbrella had failed. The situation was discussed, and it was decided that WBCRT should investigate the problems involved. A meeting was arranged in May 1991 between as many known bodies as possible. The result was that:


·       The SWCRO should be responsible for cave and abandoned mine rescue to the Gwynedd/Clwyd borders.

·       The responsibility for the extended area should lie with the WBCRT via mid Wales Wardens.


The SWCRO was dissolved in 2003, leaving WBCRT, now SMWCRT, with sole responsibility for the mines of Mid Wales. The team maintains a trailer containing specialist Mines Rescue equipment in the Mid Wales area practice and training events take place in the mines of Mid Wales on a regular basis. The team has also been involved in mine animal rescues and underground searches from mines as far West as Aberystwyth and Machynlleth and right into the North of Powys.

The National Scene
The British Cave Rescue Council was first formed in the early sixties after the Neil Moss incident in 1959, but, after initial enthusiasm, became a very un-representative body. A meeting was called, in 1980, to decide upon the fate of the BCRC. On the table was the choice of dissolving the body and each cave rescue organisation subsequently representing itself to all, or the reformation of a genuinely representative body to speak with one, agreed voice. The latter course was taken and the BCRC is now a internationally recognised and respected body. The SWCRO has taken an active role within the BCRC since it was reformed. 

The police authority map was divided into areas of responsibility so that all of the 
U.K. was covered by a cave rescue organisation. At present there are 14 council member organisations or teams. Membership is open to all bona fide cave/abandoned mine rescue teams or organisations. A distinction is made between teams that are a member of an organisation, for example the WBCRT's membership of the SWCRO, and 'teams' that in fact represent an area. Where a team seeks membership, but its area of operation is already covered by an existing member, the applicant is encouraged to join or co-operate with the existing member and gain recognition in that way.

Applicants need to be recognised by their local police authority and sponsored by an existing council member. The Association of Chief Police Officers has undertaken to recognise only cave rescue organisations that are members of the BCRC and actively supports the BCRC in dealings with other bodies. An ACPO representative is present at all BCRC meetings.
The BCRC is a affiliate member of the Mountain Rescue Council, and takes steps to ensure that cave rescue is represented in its own right as a national body.

A fundamental feature of the BCRC is that each cave rescue organisation is responsible for all aspects of cave rescue on its own patch. The BCRC is simply an executive body to represent agreed policies nationally and internationally, to disseminate information and assist member organisations in any way possible. Call-out statistics are collated nationally and every two years one of the larger cave rescue organisations hosts the BCRC cave rescue conference.

The ACPO has been instrumental in co-ordinating the insurance cover provided by local police authorities under which both cave and mountain rescues are covered. Affiliation to the Mountain Rescue Council provides third party liability insurance to cave rescuers.