A RISE in high-octane sports has left Cumbrian rescuers ‘picking up the pieces’, a mountain rescue chief has warned.

Richard Warren claims that too many ill-prepared thrill-seekers are risking their lives on the Lakeland fells.

The chairman of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association spoke out after a shock report revealed that one in 20 mountain rescue incidents last year ended in a death.

This represented an increase in fatalities over the previous year despite fewer people taking to the fells because of the bad weather.

In one summer week alone five people died – four of them pursuing outdoor activities such as rock scrambling, mountain biking and fellwalking in Cumbria.

Last year was the second in a row in which a mountain biker died, while one fell runner and two scramblers were also victims.

“More and more people are taking up riskier sports – but sadly, most of the time they aren’t fully pre-pared and we are left to pick up the pieces,” Mr Warren said.

He revealed his concern as Cumbria Tourism prepared to launch the next phase of an Active Outdoors campaign as part of the county’s bid to become recognised as the UK’s Capital of Adventure.

The five deaths in one week occurred between June 15 and June 22. They included a father-of-two who plunged 150ft to his death on Jack’s Rake, Pavey Ark, a walker who fell on the same route five days later, a mountain bike rider who fell off Glenderaterra, a 49-year-old man who collapsed with chest pains in Borrowdale and a body found at Honister.

In 2012, MRTs experi-enced the highest ratio of fatalities to incident call-outs, 5.1 per cent, since 2008. Of the 432 incidents that teams were called out to, 22 ended in tragedy.

Last year, there was a decrease of 25 per cent in visitor numbers from 2011  but incidents rose by seven compared to 2011, when 17 people died.

Although there were 30 deaths in 2010, this was out of a total of 600 incidents.

Mr Warren, a member of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team, said mountain biking and scrambling were becoming a concern.

He said: “If you’re hurtling down the track on a bike at neck-breaking speeds and hit a tree you’re not going to come away with a broken finger.

“We are warning people who want to go scrambling to research the path beforehand and be realistic as to their capability.”

He added that education and awareness of the dangers was an important part of their jobs and that he ‘would never discourage tourists from getting out’.

“With adequate preparation, awareness of local conditions and experience the number of accidents can be reduced,” he said.

“I make no apology for repeating this every year if it helps to save a single life.

“Cumbria relies heavily on tourism and attracting more and more people, whether they are amateurs or professionals, remains the number one aim for the industry, and rightly so.

“But there is a responsibility that goes hand in hand with that by making sure people who come here recognise the dangers.”

Mr Warren also highlighted the problem of people setting out without maps and compasses or the ability to use them.

Nick Owen, team leader of Langdale and Ambleside MRT, supported the Active Outdoors initiative but said visitors should be encour-aged to ‘act responsibly’.

“You can walk into a shop in Ambleside and buy everything you need to climb Everest but it doesn’t mean you should. There’s a need to find a balance between common sense and thrill-seeking,” Mr Owen said.

“I would like to see more communication between mountain rescue teams and organisations like Cumbria Tourism, the national park authority and National Trust.

Richard Greenwood, a director at Cumbria Tourism, said: “Cumbria is the country's biggest adventure playground and is breathtaking. People come here to enjoy a huge range of adventure activities, from paragliding and flying to sailing and ghyll scrambling, all set against one of England's most spectacular backdrops.

“We can’t emphasise enough that visitors take every step to ensure their own safety, by checking on weather conditions, using appropriate equipment and  the services of experienced guides when possible.’’