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Regulating Practice in the UK and Beyond

Most of the expeditions taking place in the UK that involve participants under the age of 18 years old have been regulated by the Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALS), which was developed following a kayaking tragedy in 1993 and the subsequent Young Persons Safety Act (1995). The word most is used deliberately, as expeditions that are in nontechnical terrain and have rapid access to roads may not be classified as licensable by AALS (AALS, n.d.). For example, an expedition in a flat, forested area that is not far from a road may not require the provider to be licensed by AALS. Naturally, there are elements of duty of care and basic health and safety that need to be adhered to, but there is no need for the leader to have an outdoor qualification, such as the Mountain Leader award.

If the expedition involves travelling in more remote and demanding country (usually higher hills or on the water), then by law the activity is licensable under AALS. This means that AALS ensures that the activity provider has competent staff and is using properly maintained safety equipment. It is important to note a crucial exception to AALS regulations: expeditions for those under the age of 18 in Britain are not licensable under AALS, if the expedition leader is not being paid (e.g., a teacher leading an expedition with student participants) (AALS, n.d.). Once the expedition leaves the United Kingdom, things become less clear, as there is no statutory obligation for providers to operate at a given standard or for leaders to be qualified. However, since 1972 the Young Explorers Trust (YET), which is a UK independent educational charity, has approved expeditions through its national evaluation system. This process was designed and developed as a means of supporting expedition organizers and leaders, as well as improving the quality of provision while giving expeditions “YET approved” status. YET also offers a small grant system to support expeditions they approve and which are in need of financial support. In 2008, the YET screening process incorporated British Standard 8848 to become the YET evaluation process. British Standards 8848, which was published in 2007 (and reviewed and updated in 2009), is the closest the sector has come to regulating the practice of overseas ventures.

British Standard 8848 is not limited to expeditions, but rather covers any kind of visit, trip, or fieldwork outside of the UK (British Standards 8848 2007). British Standards 8848’s principal goal is to minimize injuries and illness during these ventures. The onus to follow the practices outlined in the standard is placed squarely on the “venture provider.” The venture provider may use third-party employees (such as bus drivers or mountaineering instructors) as long as 8848’s specifications are being followed. At the time of this writing, expedition companies are not required to adhere to 8848, but presumably gain credibility in the eyes of the public if they do.

All of the above outlined systems (AALS, YET & BS 8848) are concerned with a systems approach and accrediting organizations rather than certifying individuals. This approach has been developed in response to an increasing number of overseas expeditions taking place in a wide range of environments with a broad spectrum of aims. In these varying circumstances, specifying individual leader certifications may be too complex to manage. As an example, compare the leadership skills that are needed for a small school group going on a two week expedition from the UK to the Swiss Alps, with the skills needed for a three-month expedition for individuals from across the UK who are travelling to Kenya to kayak, undertake some service learning projects, and visit some game reserves. To address such differences the evaluation system for BS 8848, which is administered through the YET, offers a flexible approach that considers the specific expedition aims, location, and context in a descriptive rather than prescriptive manner. The approach encourages organizations and individuals to focus on managing the plethora of situations they may encounter on expeditions and not create cumbersome paperwork.

Note: At the time of writing AALS is in the process of being replaced by a voluntary self regulating scheme details of which are currently unfolding.

AALS. (n.d.). The scope of the regulations. Adventurous Activities Licensing Service. Retrieved on January 13, 2009, from http://www.aals.org.uk/faqs.html#scope
Allison, P. & Beames, S. (2010). Feature article: The changing geographies of overseas expeditions. International Journal of Wilderness, 16(3), 35-42.
British Standards 8848. (2007). Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities, outside the United Kingdom. BSI: London.