Double whammy means no Easter holiday for Border Search and Rescue

Border search and Rescue Unit. Steep ground training in winter conditions.
Border search and Rescue Unit. Steep ground training in winter conditions.

A quiet start to the year for the Border Search and Rescue (BSAR) unit came to an abrupt end over the Easter break, with two call-outs in the space of a week.

The first, on Wednesday April 4, took place over two days in the Lammermuirs, and involved 13 team members on the Wednesday and seven on the Thursday. Thursday’s contingent was helped by colleagues from Tweed Valley, and also by two dog handlers.

Border search and Rescue Unit. Helicopter Stretcher lift.

Border search and Rescue Unit. Helicopter Stretcher lift.

The search involved a middle-aged man visiting from Strathclyde, who was not found by the time the team headed home on Thursday, having scoured a large area to the north of Duns.

The missing person eventually turned up on the other side of the country several days later.

Late at night on Thursday, April 12 the pagers went again. Eleven slightly bleary-eyed team members turned out for a 2am rendezvous at Kelso Police Station, where they were tasked to search an area to the north of Kelso for a man who had been missing since the previous morning.

A complicated search through a clear frosty night ended with the man being found by a team member a couple of hours after dawn. The two searches involved about two-thirds of the team’s wholly-volunteer membership, between them racking up more than 200 man-hours.

The relatively quiet spell over the winter allowed the team to concentrate on honing the skills they practice throughout the year, and also to give a good grounding to a trio of new probationary members.

Team-member Damon Rodwell explains: “Our annual winter skills weekend in the Cairngorms at the end of February was an extremely useful three-day exercise involving about a dozen team-members.

In marked contrast to the previous two winters, when access to the Cairngorms was made difficult by the unusually severe conditions, this year snow was surprisingly hard to come by.

The purpose of the weekend is both to train for winter searches and technical rescues, and also to ensure that we have the skills and knowledge to look after our own safety in winter conditions.

“This year, finding sufficient snow to accomplish all this involved a long walk into the mountains from our base at Rothiemurchus. We were lucky to experience some very fickle weather over the three days, which reminded us just how quickly things can change on the Scottish hills.

“The weekend, as always, was invaluable experience, especially for one or two of the newer probationers, and the long walks with full packs necessitated by the dearth of snow meant it was also a thumping good workout for some of the more experienced!

“An unexpected opportunity for a high-level winter search cropped up when, on our final day, we were asked by the Cairngorm team to help their search for a missing walker who had failed to return from a weekend in the hills.

“It was a real bonus to take part in a search in conditions which we don’t often see on our own patch, but for which we need to be prepared when the weather gods are in feisty form.

“Once a year we try to arrange a day’s training with the Sea King rescue helicopter from RAF Bulmer. This took place in March in the hills above Yetholm in mixed visibility and snow-flurries. The general consensus was that it was probably our best ever helicopter training, with a superb safety briefing from a crew-member and a chance for everyone attending to be winched into and out of the machine from the hillside.

“April saw us joined by our aquatic friends from the Dive Team for a night exercise on the Tweed at Makerstoun Rapids. Again, it was a very valuable evening’s work, with several important pointers in the efficient use of our specialist equipment.”

The venue for this year’s sponsored walk has been pencilled in for Morebattle.

As usual there will be three separate walks ranging from a 5km family jaunt to a full-blown 25km for walkers and runners. The date is set for Sunday September 30. Further details to follow on the team website at www.bordersar.org.uk. Mark it in your diary, and blow the dust off your boots!

Fundraising is a vital task for the team, with average annual expenditure, including vehicle maintenance and replacement, running in the tens of thousands of pounds.

This month, the team had to replace our oldest Landrover with a new model, so replenishing the coffers is even more important this year than ever, said Mr Rodwell.

Supporters can donate at any time simply by texting “BSAR41 £3” to 70070. The amount can be anything from £1 to £10.

Next year is the team’s 50th anniversary, and they are planning something a bit special, Mr Rodwell said.