Caving as a sport started in the British Isles during the latter years of the nineteenth century but until the period between the World Wars it remained largely the preserve of a very few adventurers and scientists. During the 1920s and 1930s interest in caving grew, leading to the formation of the first caving clubs, initially in the Yorkshire Dales and in Somerset.
The rise in caving activity brought about a dramatic increase in new underground discoveries, for with the development in equipment and techniques, cavers were able to explore ever deeper and farther into more and increasingly difficult caves. Inevitably, the risks of cavers meeting accidents in places accessible only to fellow cavers increased in parallel. Although the new clubs had the means to cope with minor accidents, it became obvious that in the event of a serious incident a long way underground, the manpower and equipment available to any single club would be totally inadequate.
This concern led to a pooling of resources and the formation of the Cave Rescue Organisation in Yorkshire, reputably the first in the world, in 1935 and the Mendip Rescue Organisation in Somerset in 1936. Caving continued to increase in popularity after the second World War and further organisations were formed in other areas, for example in Derbyshire in 1952.
Nowadays, thousands of people go caving each week and the majority do so without incident. However, when a party of cavers is overdue or when someone is injured underground, then the local cave rescue team will be called to bring to bear the mix of manpower, expertise and equipment necessary to carry out a search and rescue.
Main image: Scenes from a 1960s Cave Rescue Practice in North Wales (Shropshire Caving & Mining Club Archive)