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Terrain Zero Activities


(Published February 2021 replacing April 2020)


This guidance provides information related to all activities taking place in Terrain Zero, and should be used to support planning for activities such as trips to the local park, local hikes and more adventurous activities which are within the terrain zero areas.   

What is Terrain Zero?

All land is classified as either Terrain Zero, Terrain One, Terrain Two or Specialist Terrain. 
The definition of Terrain Zero can be found in Policy Organisation and Rules (POR)Rule 9.12.7.

Rule 9.12.7 Terrain Zero Definition   

a. Terrain Zero describes terrain which meets one of the following criteria:  

     i) Meets all the following criteria:  

  • is below 500 metres above sea level; and  
  • is within 30 minutes travelling time from a road which can take an ordinary road-going ambulance or a building which is occupied (such as a farm) or another means of summoning help (such as a telephone box); and  
  • has no steep slopes or rocky terrain ,where a slip may result in a fall (routes or areas where the average person would need to regularly use their hands at least for balance if not for actual progress. This does not stop people from using their hands as an aid to confidence.)   


     ii) is a road, or path adjacent to a road, on which you would expect to see traffic.  

b. Activities undertaken in Terrain Zero must follow the guidance within Terrain Zero Activities. 


Height above sea level can be identified quickly by checking the height markings on an OS Map or online mapping system. When operating overseas check the guidance on amending heights in the Activities Abroad guidance.

Knowing how far you are from assistance is also important and can be calculated using measurements which can be taken from a map. If you’re operating in local environments then walking the route before you plan to take a group is a great way of working out how far you can go. It’s important to remember though that young people, and groups, will often have a slower pace than adults.   

A terrain zero environment is one where there is no steep sloped or rocky terrain where slips could result in a fall. This first part of the definition above is not a standalone statement and it is important to understand the clarification in brackets to this, If participants will need to use their hands to aid their balance and progression,then this is not terrain zero. This definition is relating to the general terrain and not the impact of environmental factors such as weather making a path muddy and a little slippery. You should think about the members (including age, ability and fitness) of your group and how they will move through your planned route. 

It is also important that leaders are aware of the areas surrounding their planned activity and ensure that any areas that would not be Terrain Zero are identified allowing you to make plans to avoid these areas and clearly communicate this to the group members. 

It's the responsibility of the activity leader to ensure they understand the terrain their activities are operating in based on the definitions withinPOR. If you're unsure about how to determine the terrain of your activities, you can get advice from your Assistant District Commissioner (ADC) or Assistant County Commissioner (ACC) Activities or anyone with a hillwalking permit or hillwalking assessor role. 

Once you’ve determined what terrain you will be operating in, make sure you document this and communicate your reasoning with others. As part of your risk assessment process, you’ll need to document the hazards and risks identified for the area you are using and what controls you will have in place. 

Types of activity

There are a wide variety of Terrain Zero activities which may be suitable for your section to take part in. When planning your activity, you need to think about what age range the activity suits, location, weather and access to equipment, etc. 

Here are some ideas you might want to try: 

  • Trips to the local park
  • Nature walks
  • Wide Games in the park / campsite
  • Orienteering Games
  • Incident Hikes
  • Hill walking

Although these activities do not require the activity leader to hold an activity permit the activity leader must still have the appropriate skills and knowledge of the activity taking place and be capable of putting together appropriaterisk assessmentsand activity plans. 

Some activities (such as incident hikes, off road biking, expeditions, hill walking) in Terrain Zero will require different planning and preparation than others and will require a greater level of knowledge and skill to operate safely. 


Planning activities in Terrain Zero

When delivering any activities in Terrain Zero the leader must ensure that: 

  • a clear plan is in place for the activity
  • a safety plan is in place in case of an incident or emergency
  • the activity is suitable to the age and ability of the participants
  • risk assessment has been undertaken and appropriate measures in place to reduce risk, and that this is documented and clearly communicated to those involved 
  • there is appropriate supervision by a person who has sufficient skill/knowledge of the activity being undertaken (this may be more than one person depending on the activity and the size and needs of the group)
  • appropriate adult to young person ratios are adhered to
  • participants are briefed, with clear boundaries which everyone understands
  • participants are given instruction on how to use any equipment safely
  • an InTouch system is in place

It is important to ensure that when planning all activities care is taken to consider the additional risks in these activities including: 

Weather can change rapidly in open country (rural less built-up areas, mainly countryside environments) and it's important to understand the weather conditions for the activity and how they might affect plans. When planning for activities where a change in weather would affect the activity, planning should include suitable alternatives. Also consider the time of day and time of year of your activity, this will affect the visibility, activities during daylight hours will have different considerations in planning and managing than an activity at night or in the dark.   

It's important to ensure that all members of the group have suitable equipment and clothing (including footwear) for the activity which they are doing and the terrain / weather they may face. Where equipment is used, participants should be trained in the correct use and care for it. 

In addition to ensuring that ratios are adhered to, it is important to consider the size of the activity group you are planning for. For instance, a hill walking activity in open country may not be suited to large groups. If in any doubt keep the groups small and refer to the Hill walking party size. Think about how you split your section into manageable groups to enable safe activities to take place in terrain zero, this should also include choosing appropriate routes and locations for your group. Don’t go beyond the capabilities of the young people, think about distance and type of terrain to ensure that it remains enjoyable for all involved.   

When planning an activity in Terrain Zero the extent of supervision should be considered, this should not only include how many adults are needed, but also what skills these adults require and where these people will be. There are some activities where young people will operate remotely from adults, giving the opportunity for peer leadership, these activities should be encouraged for those with the skills to do this and an appropriate supervision plan put in place to support this. 

Additional considerations for some Terrain Zero activities 

Some activities such as (such as incident hikes, off road biking, expeditions, hill walking) will require additional planning and consideration of: 

  • Route planning

Routes across all terrain should be planned carefully, including the planning for escape routes which are also in Terrain Zero. Download the suggested route plan for use when in the hills is available.

  • Navigation

Leaders should ensure they have the appropriate knowledge and equipment to navigate safely across any terrain their activities are on, especially where visibility becomes poor due to changing weather. 

  • Water hazards

Leaders should be aware of Water hazards on their planned activities and for the most suitable crossing point for their group, which might include changing the route and looking for a better alternative; such as a bridge. If there is no better alternative consider elements such as Fast Flowing water, steeps banks, drops, deep areas and fallen trees. 

  • Supervision of the activity

With these additional considerations you need to think about the key skills the individual will need to supervise groups. This will include navigation, group management, knowing what to do in an emergency, knowledge of the equipment being used and clear communication. There is no requirement to hold a hillwalking permit to operate in terrain zero but the skills this will assess can still be useful in these environments. People can bring the skills for supervising groups in terrain zero from many areas of life and this could come from them having developed their skills personally or completed some external training. The skills and experience required will vary depending on the activity and level of adventure the group plan to do within the terrain zero environment. 

Approving activities in terrain zero 

The District Commissioner is responsible for approving all activities, further guidance on this is available atFS120015 Approving Activities – Guidance for Commissioners, but the best place to start is checking with your Group Scout Leader (GSL) or District Explorer Scout Commissioner (DESC) what the approval process is for the activities you are planning. Check the rules and guidance for the activities you are undertaking 

Rules relating to activities in terrain zero

Rule 9.12.7 Hill walking terrains 

General activity rules

Rule 9.1 All Activities

Rule 9.6 Use of External Centres and Instructors

Additional information

  • Support and advice

Further advice can be sought from hillwalking permit holders and assessors, Assistant District / County Commissioners (Activities). 

  • Training and development

Training and development opportunities are available within the Scouts, through local hillwalking teams, working with hillwalking permit holders and assessors or through local campsites. 

Training and development opportunities are also available through external providers, including skills courses and leadership training provided by Mountain Training UK. Check out our joint infographic to view the routes for skill development.

  • Technical publication

If you require any technical information on the items, these can be found in the technical manual which is: Summer Hillwalking: Hillwalking by Steve Long ISBN: 0-9541511-0-0