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… We should look after it!

This is our Playground; we should look after it!

This is the place we play, but is it really ‘our’ playground? Please read my associated article on the history and biodiversity of the area here to put climbers’ dominion over Bleau into perspective.

Our Part
Bearing in mind the tiny part we climbers play in the history of the area, our impact is surprisingly large. Unfortunately, with the growing interest in our sport, our impact is become greater and greater as more climbers venture into the outdoors. Font is an easy first, too. With so much information available for free on the internet, (e.g. Bleau.info., Boolder and Bettybeta.com) and so many gites and guest houses that cater for climbers, there is little need for a guide. Strong confident climbers step straight out of the gym and into the forest without being alerted to the fact that this is not a gym! However, it is not just the uninitiated and uneducated that cause the problem. We are animals, yes, and just like any other ecosystem, when one species increases in numbers, the whole ecosystem is affected.

It is my belief that there is no way that we can ‘leave no trace’. Even crash-pad placement has an impact. Read about this in a bit more detail in my article here . Our very footprint has a knock-on effect somewhere. This may seem extreme, but when you consider chalk being a basic compound, as the white powder blows around the forest in greater concentrations, the environment cannot help but become more alkaline on a minute, but increasing scale. Please read my article on the use of chalk here to make yourself aware of our impact.

It is our responsibility to make sure that our traces are as tiny as possible. Awareness is the first step, but as newcomers to the forest it is difficult to take everything on board immediately. In order to help guide people in the best practices, a set of rules has been drawn up by Oh My Block, the environmental bouldering festival held in Milly la Foret, in collaboration with many of the governing bodies, including the national forestry commission (the ONF), the tourist boards, and a handful of well recognized Bleausards.

These rules are great as a guideline, but it’s important to know why we need to follow them in order to persuade others to do the same.

The forest is a fragile place, be a guardian of nature
These rules refer to the balance of our crazy unique forest. The climatic geolocation of Font and the varied topography result in an incredible ecosystem. This is a special place, and we need to be aware of it, take care of it, and encourage others to do the same.

No fire and No flame in the forest
This is pretty obvious, but still 99 acres burn every year! This almost entirely attributable to humans deliberately igniting cigarettes, stoves, campfires etc. Absolutely NO INCENDRY DEVICES are tolerated. The forest floor is covered in pine needles and resin that ignite easily. Furthermore, the sandy soil, by nature, retains and conducts heat, so fires essentially go ‘underground’. Even when you think that they are out, the dry biowaste under the surface is still burning, just waiting for a moment to pop up nearby.

Leave zero waste
OK, no rubbish! But what about grey water from vans? What about soap from washing dishes or from open air showers? What about POOP? Even if you do this far from where other people can see, the forest can, and the forest suffers.

Never climb in protected areas
The whole forest is privately owned. Most of it has agreed access for leisure activities, but not all. Due to the biological importance of the area several spots are reserved for research, and others require specific permission from landowners. Be aware that you are a visitor. Please double check the access rights of the area before climbing and always mind your manners!

Keep Shoes Clean
Please refer to my article here on the history of Fontainebleau to learn about how Fontainebleau sandstone is barely more than sand-dune with a tough silica crust. Sticky rubber shoes hold sand, and sand tracked onto holds abrades the rock like sandpaper. After time the crust is worn away, and the delicate inner rock is exposed, eventually changing the nature of the climb entirely.

Never climb wet rock, never dry wet rock
Wet rock is even more fragile than dry rock. Sandstone is porous, and the bonds between the sand gains become fractionally weaker in the presence of water. Wet rock doesn’t only appear as a result of rain. Temperature inversions and high humidity can result in condensation that penetrates deep into the rock.

Please see my notes on how to spot a wet hold here , colour and sound are a good key. Always allow rock to dry naturally before attempting to climb

Chipping holds is not acceptable and brush delicately
The climbs are as nature choreographed, do not be egotistical enough to believe that your route is better. Even harsh brushing can cause deterioration. Always use a soft brush, and ‘flick don’t scrub”, it works better!

Limit erosion
Every footstep has a potential to cause erosion. Every mat placement covers an area that was once vegetated. Never drag bags or mats, and tread lightly!

Avoid climbing after dark, artificial light disturbs wildlife
As a part of our magical ecosystem we have many nocturnal species. Artificial lights will throw their natural rhythms, but even without unnatural light, sleeping species will be disturbed by human noise. We may invade their territory during the day, but please allow them the peace to sleep undisturbed.

Don’t play loud music
Listen to the birds instead! Not everyone like the Beasty boys!

Avoid using excess chalk
Chalk is ugly, we are not the only forest users, and walkers who go to appreciate undisturbed natural beauty do not appreciate giant swaths of white rock and tick marks.

Please do brush your holds, however, even brushing will release this chalk into nature. Chalk is basic, and will increase the pH of the ecosystem over time.

Keep dogs under control
Make sure your beautiful fluffy companion is not frightening others, or eating their lunch, but just as importantly, dogs playing, or chasing wildlife, adds to erosion and to our human impact on the forest.

Our mission at Bettybeta

How do we initiate change? I don’t know what the best answer is. At the moment we are fighting a losing battle, the increase in the numbers of leisure visitors far exceeds the delivery of information about best practices. I am a huge supporter of the Festival Oh My Bloc in Milly, with its drive to increase awareness, and there are panels displaying the rules of best practice in many climbing gyms and shops across the country. The problem is that people don’t stop to read posters when they are excited to go climbing.

For me the awareness needs to be spread through peer groups. This is where I need your help. Every Betty that uses our page (whether male or female, or NB), please make yourself aware. Every attendant to any of our Betty meet-ups, please listen, please embrace, and please pass on the values of conservation and the methods of best practice. We need to be kind, we need to explain in a way that people who are not following the rules will be open to learn, and we need to have them become a part of the fight for our forest.

Thank you for reading your interest is important.


Helen Dudley

Mum of Sebastian, 11, and Theo 8. Living in Arbonne-la-Forêt.

After making transitions from trad, to sport, to motherhood, Helen now lives in the Fontainebleau area dedicating as much time as possible to bouldering and playing in the forest with her two boys.