Local search and rescue teams can face some of the most challenging and dangerous conditions in terms of both weather and terrain.
That fact was underlined just last week when a missing woman was found unconscious and just hours from death after blizzard conditions blanketed the Innerleithen area.
It required a three-hour search involving mountain rescue team members, search dogs and a Royal Navy helicopter to find the woman, who was eventually discovered just yards from a forest track.
The incident saw the call-out of Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team and was also notable for a young search dog who made his first find when hunting for a missing person in the Borders.
Three-year-old Rauour and his handler John Romanes, from Selkirk, made the crucial discovery after they and team colleagues were called out at 5pm last Wednesday in worsening weather to help in the search for the woman, who had been described as “vulnerable” by the police.
With a Met Office amber warning in force for snow, the team mobilised immediately and began to search the woodland and hills around Innerleithen.
Despite the atrocious conditions, Rescue 177, a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet, was also scrambled and used its infra-red camera to assist in the search.
It was three hours into the search when Rauour found the casualty, who was unconscious, about 10 metres off a forest track.
Searchers had already walked the track, but because of the woman’s dark clothing and distance into the woodland, it was Rauour’s sensitive nose which located her and she was airlifted to hospital.
Deputy team leader Dave Wright was full of praise for John and Rauour, telling us: “As well as being a committed member of Tweed Valley MRT, John undertakes a vast amount of additional SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association) training with Rauour.
“It goes without saying that this training has paid off when we are able to locate a casualty quickly and ensure that they receive the appropriate medical care.
“The conditions were pretty bad with strong winds and driving snow – it’s safe to say that the combined efforts of John and Rauour, Tweed Valley MRT, police and the Royal Navy saved the woman’s life.”
Speaking to The Southern this week prior to one of his twice-weekly training sessions on the hills with Rauour – the Icelandic word for red – John, who has been a team member for five years, said he was delighted with the way his three-year-old Labrador had performed.
“There was a lot of snow on the ground and the noise from the helicopter overhead made communications difficult, making conditions pretty challenging, so, yes, I’m very pleased with Rauour.”
John got involved with the team after retiring from his job with Belmont motor dealership in Selkirk.
“I was looking for a retirement project and I’ve always enjoyed having dogs and this sounded ideal. It’s certainly keeping me busy as we’ve had a few call-outs already this year. But Rauour is doing really well – he’s my first working search and rescue dog and he couldn’t be better actually.
“What was good last week was seeing all the training coming together, and working alongside the other emergency services and the helicopter crew to get a good outcome for the person involved.”
Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team is affiliated to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland which covers the whole of the country.
A charity, its 40 members are all volunteers on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to go to the assistance of people – and sometimes animals – who are lost, missing or injured.
The team has its base in Selkirk and covers an area that includes the highest hills of the Southern Uplands, much of the Pentland, the Moorfoot, Tweedsmuir and Eildon Hills, and the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.
The team, which is also frequently asked to provide first-aid cover for outdoor activity events, grew out of what was the Cheviot Walking Club of the early 1950s and the Border Search and Rescue Unit of the 1960s.
By 1969, the unit consisted of three sections and after the Selkirkshire section had established itself pretty much as a separate team in its own right, it was renamed as the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team.
Today it costs £30,000 per annum to cover operating costs and the team has also just embarked on a major fundraising effort to collect money for a new £60,000 incident control vehicle.