For baggers of British and Irish hills who take their hobby seriously, there is a very useful database of summit data on the website www.hills-database.co.uk – the Database of British and Irish Hills (DoBIH). It lists data for over 9000 summits, including which hill lists that summit belongs to.
But who “owns” the lists ?
Increasingly accurate GPS technology has enabled recent surveys to determine summit heights to within a few centimetres, leading to the reclassification of a number of hills. One of which, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, caused a bit of a stir following a 2011 survey.
It is generally accepted that the Scottish Mountaineering Club is the “owner”/”guardian” of the list known as Munro’s Tables, as it was originally compiled from within the SMC and the club has published a number of updated lists over the years. Also, the SMC has never made clear what the definition of a Munro is; they are Scottish hills with a height of at least 3000 feet but no prominence (or drop) measurement has been specified, leading to debate about apparent inconsistencies.
But, it is clear that that if a hill is under 3000 feet high, it can’t be a Munro.
Most, if not all, of the recent surveys have been carried out by a team of keen amateurs who submit their findings to the Ordnance Survey for verification. If the OS has any doubt about the method or accuracy, it will recommend that the survey be carried out again with suggestions about the method to be employed. Ultimately, the OS is the arbiter of height data within Great Britain.
The survey of Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, confirmed by the OS, measured its height at 2999 feet; close to but below the Munro threshold. But it took the SMC over a year to remove it from Munro’s Tables.
Despite the length of time taken, what happened wasn’t out of the ordinary:
i. a hill is surveyed,
ii. the measurement is confirmed by the Ordnance Survey,
iii. the measurement indicates that a particular hill list needs to be updated,
iv. the owner of the hill list is notified,
v. the required change to the hill list is made.
This is the generally accepted way of maintaining hill lists, but some disagree. I’m with the dissenters.
When a person compiles a list, they define the criteria for inclusion. They “own” the criteria, not the list.
The DoBIH appears to have become, or is becoming, the single accepted repository of hill data. So when it comes to light that an attribute of a hill (e.g. height or prominence) changes, the database will be updated and the appropriate hill lists can also be updated.
But updating hill lists should only occur if the amended data within the definition criteria is absolute.
For instance, it is easy to say whether a hill is a Nuttall or not as both the height and prominence criteria are specifically defined. It is also easy to say which hills are not Munros but not quite as easy to say which are, as the definition is not clear.
Although a number of hill lists are “owned” by organisations such as the SMC, many are the product of individuals. In the case of a list compiler dying, who then “owns” the list ? Can a list be bequeathed ? Whose permission does a surveyor have to get for a hill to be added to or removed from a list ?