How To Reduce Your Environmental Impact When Exploring
The UK is blessed with a plethora of different landscapes to explore and those lucky enough to have this myriad of outdoor diversity at our fingertips, know how important it is to protect the places we love from the ever-present environmental crisis. But aside from taking home our litter or keeping to the path, what more can we do to make sure we’re exploring responsibly, so that we can keep enjoying the great British outdoors for generations to come?
With a little help from our friends at the BMC and National Parks UK, we’ve pulled together this expert guide to help remind you of a few basics, as well as share some new tips and tricks for recuing our environmental impact when out exploring.
Leave no trace
Taking your litter home might seem obvious but even today, we still see national parks, mountain sides or coastal paths littered with rubbish. Even wrappers stuffed into pockets can escape along the way, so take a reusable bag with you and make a point of putting every bit of rubbish into it. Yes – even the ‘biodegradable’ stuff! It might seem ok to throw food waste into the bushes, but if it’s not natural to the environment, it could cause significant damage and may take a long time to decompose. Did you know that the average time it takes for a banana skin to break down is 2 years? And whilst there are lots of new, biodegradable packaging options out there, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be leaving those on the hillside either. Bag it up and take it with you (even if you didn’t drop it) – the planet will thank you for it. If you want to organise your own litter picking campaign, the BMC can help you by sending out free litter pickers and bags as part of their Hills 2 Oceans campaign.
The path less trodden
You should always keep the path, right? In most cases the answer is yes, but on certain terrain, always taking the same path could actually cause more damage than good. Moorlands are a good example of when keeping to the path isn’t the best idea. Thanks to an amazing plant called sphagnum, blanket bogs on peaty soil can take as much carbon out of the atmosphere as a tropical rainforest, but allowing these to deteriorate and lose plant cover means they start to release more carbon than they take in. Luckily our friends at the BMC have launched their Climate Project and are working with Moors for the Future to help protect the UK’s moorlands. You can find out more here.
So how can you be sure whether to keep to the path or not? The best way to find out is to check with the local authority for the area you’ll be exploring. Our friends at National Parks UK are always happy to help, so contact your local park to find out what you can do to help.
Familiarise yourself with the Countryside Code. It’s not just about shutting gates: many of the guidelines are designed to help protect the environment. You can find more information on the gov.uk website.
It’s not just walking where you can be more responsible and sustainable. Camping is another accessible activity which lots of us enjoy, especially in the summer months. But just like everything else, there are ways you can camp more responsibly and help to look after the world you wake up to each morning. The BMC have been working on their Respect the Wild project, focussing on responsible camping and have provided a few experts tips to help you camp more responsibly and sustainably:
• Use campsites whenever available, to reduce your environmental impact and support the local economy.
• Where campsites aren’t an option, stay low-profile. Only use remote locations, well above the highest wall line and out of sight of civilisation. Stay for one night only. Pitch camp late and leave early, and don’t leave tents up during the day. Keep your lights on their lowest setting. If there are signs saying no parking, respect these and go elsewhere.
• Campfires and BBQs are highly destructive in sensitive landscapes, so always use a camping stove instead, and avoid any open flame in high-risk fire periods.
• Keep your group sizes small and keep your setup self-contained; no sprawling awnings or equipment.
• Pitch your tent on durable, well-drained ground that won’t be easily damaged.
When nature calls
It’s great if you’re able to find a proper toilet when you’re out and about, but when you’re in the wild, there aren’t always many options available. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go, but there are ways you can do this responsibly to help minimise your impact on the environment. Here are a few more tips from the BMC to help you pee and poo like a pro.
“Removing all human waste using a packable toilet kit is the best solution. Away from popular spots, as a last resort, bury solid waste 15cm deep, replacing the earth afterwards. Pack out your toilet paper and sanitary products in a zip-lock bag. Wash up and toilet a minimum of 50m from any water sources.”
• Go before you go. The best option is not needing the toilet at all. It’s not always possible but try to go for a number two before you head out.
• Find a proper toilet. If you’re caught short, local hospitality or public toilets are the next best option.
• Pack out your waste. If you can’t find a toilet, removing everything from the environment and disposing of it responsibly is best. This is easy with a commercially available toilet kit/wag bag, or make your own using sturdy zip lock bags, cat litter, toilet paper and alcohol gel.
• Last resort? Bury it. With no other option and away from popular spots, burying your poo is the last resort. Dig a hole 15cm deep and replace the earth after. Remove toilet paper and sanitary products in a sturdy zip lock bag – paper dug up by animals is never a good look.
Remember that in many hotspots such as crags, summits and popular overnight or picnic spots, burying poo is not a good option. Do your bit and pack it out instead.
Here are a few extra tips to help you explore more responsibly and sustainably, and do your bit to look after the outdoors you love:
• Try to minimise the amount of travelling you have to do to reach your destination. Stay local where you can, but if that’s not possible, think about more environmentally friendly ways to get there such as car sharing, public transport or even bicycle.
• Do your research on the environment you’re visiting. Remember that different landscapes need to be cared for in different ways, so what applies in one location may not in another!
• Avoid visiting very popular areas or try to visit outside of peak times. The environment will thank you for it, plus you’ll undoubtedly discover hidden gems and enjoy the outdoors all the more without the crowds.
• Invest in quality kit that lasts, and repair or recycle anything you already have, to keep it out of landfill and reduce consumption. Find out more about our Repair & Care and Recycle my Gear services here.
• Make simple switches, such as always taking a reusable water bottle wherever you go, invest in solar powered torches or camping lanterns, and look out for products made from recycled materials or natural fibres.
• Support environmental projects or businesses who are working to try to protect the places you visit. Projects like Moors for the Future are a great example, but also think about things like eco-campsites, tree planting initiatives or environmental education programmes.
• Encourage responsible and sustainable behaviour in others who may be inexperienced or new to exploring natural environments. Patiently explaining and informing people about the importance of protecting their natural surroundings, helps others to develop and embed good practice in their own behaviours.
• When you do have to buy new kit, you may want to consider brands who are making a committment to try to reduce their environmental impact or look out for products that support your values whether that's fairtrade certfication, the use of recycled or organic materials or PFC-Free kit.
Produced in partnership with the BMC and National Parks UK.
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