I'm Major Alistair Rule and I work as one of two Training Safety Officers on Salisbury Plain. That means I'm responsible for ensuring safe and sustainable training on Salisbury Plain. My colleague mostly oversees training on the firing ranges and I deal with other exercises.
Salisbury Plain is the largest and busiest of the UK’s training areas, covering some 11% of Wiltshire, and returning after a long break like Christmas can be quite challenging.
As well as assessing what illegal activity there may have been, the military is also swinging back into action and we are about to start some pretty high-profile training over the coming few days. Add to that the real pressures and concerns about flooding and the continuing need to manage the requirements of our 38 tenant farmers and you can see that 2014 is already shaping up to be a challenging year.
Since the withdrawal of Salisbury Plain’s assigned MOD Police, the role of enforcing some form of control over illegal activity has fallen to our Safety Marshalls. We have had to adopt new tactics to combat crime and illegal off-roading activity and the results of the deployment of covert cameras over the period look very encouraging. Having clearly identified some of the perpetrators, we are now following up by passing on our evidence to both the MOD and Wiltshire Police.
From a training perspective, the programme is already looking extremely busy. At the moment we are supporting Exercise PASHTUN WARRIOR. This is a vital exercise for 5 RIFLES, who are about to deploy to Afghanistan for a protracted period with their WARRIOR armoured vehicles, so we are working flat out to meet all their requirements. At the same time we have to make sure that they train safely and minimise damage to our unique chalk grassland. We are also ensuring that the 25 or so other units and organisations using the Plain at the same time keep out of each other’s way and are also able to achieve their various training objectives.
The Rain On The Plain
Inevitably, the appalling weather over the last few weeks has had a great impact on the Plain and the safety staff are closely watching the conditions and preparing to warn units of potential hazards. The rainfall for the first nine days of January was 412% above the average for the Plain at this time of the year! Dry stream beds have become raging torrents and it is clear we will need to make sure all users are warned of the dangers. We will also be watching armoured manoeuvre activity very closely to ensure that there is no large scale damage which might result in longer term harm to the ecology.
Finally, I have just completed my conference that allocates areas for tenant farmers to graze their cattle, as allowed by their tenants’ licence and as required by Natural England for the management of the grassland. Again there is a need for a fine balancing act between the needs of the farmers and the training imperative - which just about sums up my role – it’s all a question of balance!