It is a privilege to be able to access many wild environments both in the Uk and worldwide, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of vehicles and loud portable speakers to a place where the rules and etiquette of red lights, green lights, or holding doors open for strangers fade away as we step out of the car and lace up our boots for the great outdoors.
Some signs calmly request that we “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. This is a gentle and beautifully phrased reminder to be conscious of our individual impact, something that is often lost in day-to-day life where the environmental costs of our lives are hidden behind supply chains, recycling banks and other modern conveniences.
In nature we have to interact with local ecosystems and the organisation Leave No Trace has been working tirelessly for 25 years encouraging and educating people to be more responsible.
Principles of Leave No Trace
Whether you started camping in the Scouts, or in the garden with the family, it’s almost certain that the first warning you were given was about fire safety. Most fires are caused by human carelessness, such as leaving campfires unattended or littering with cigarettes in dry climates.
It will come as no surprise to discover that one of the Leave No Trace principles is to minimise campfire impact. If you create a fire, ensure it is properly extinguished and never use anything other than dead wood to light the fire in the first place. Also make sure you light the fire away from areas where the flames might spread.
Alternatively, why not use a camping stove instead? They are lightweight, reliable and leave absolutely no trace.
Take away what you bring with you when camping. All items of rubbish should leave with you and there is a strong argument that says you should not even leave what is known as “organic litter”.
Even though it’s natural, orange and banana peels can take up to two years to biodegrade and even when they do decompose, different breakdowns of nutrients are invasive to local soil organisms. While this might sound like a small thing, imagine the amount of orange and banana peels scattered across well-trodden paths.
Choose paths where you can. Or to use the official wording, “Travel and camp on durable surfaces.” Be mindful of your footsteps, stick to established trails to avoid disturbing vegetation. You never know whether there could be ground nesting birds with delicate nests, or sensitive vegetation underfoot. You should keep in mind, am I embracing the outdoors responsibly?
If you have to go off trail remember that rock, sand and gravel are more durable to walk on, ice and snow will regenerate but vegetation and living soil are complex organisms that are better left undisturbed.
The same goes for avoiding camping near water. A 200ft distance is recommended to allow animals peaceful access. It’s also a best practice to spread out tents and move them nightly to give the environment a chance to restore. Nature is incredibly resilient when left alone.
Other principles include “Leave What You Find”, “Respect Wildlife” and “Be Considerate of Other Visitors”. These rules combined make nature more pleasant for everyone, by not disturbing plants others can enjoy their beauty and observing animals from a distance to avoid causing stress or changing their behaviour.
Think of times you’ve been harassed by seagulls during a coastal picnic and wonder how their behaviour has changed from familiarity with humans.
You might be tempted to take a souvenir from nature, but not only is it ecologically damaging to remove stones, it is often illegal. European countries are protecting their ecology and tourists are increasingly being fined for taking stones, sand and pebbles from beaches.
By following Leave No Trace principles we leave the environment as it should be and give the gift of unspoilt nature to those who follow in our footsteps.