All You Need to Know: The Leave No Trace Principles
Leave No Trace is a principle of ethics that is shared amongst the outdoor community. It focuses on sustainability, longevity, and the conservation of wild places. It is the responsibility of each person who ventures into the outdoors to take accountability for their actions.
Over the years, the outdoor community has refined these unwritten rules into a general list of 7 key Leave No Trace principles. These are holistic points which guide backcountry hikers and wild campers to work with nature, not against it. The public should be able to explore the countryside without damaging it in the process. To get you clued in, here are the top Leave No Trace principles.
The 7 Leave No Trace Principles
1 . Plan Ahead and Prepare
Those who plan ahead and prepare are a step above of other hikers. You can reduce stress on your adventures while simultaneously minimising your impact on the environment. If you don’t make adequate preparations, you can make bad decisions that result in natural damage.
For example, small details such as carrying bin bags to remove your waste is one of the top Leave No Trace principles. Plot your walking routes. If you are using a map to navigate, it allows you to follow designated trails rather than going off-route and tramping your own path through the landscape. Also, if you avoid high season, you reduce the stress put on nature areas through high footfall.
2 . Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
In the UK, there are plenty of nature areas to visit. However, all things considered, the British Isles aren’t particularly big compared to somewhere like the United States or Canada. That means there are higher rates of erosion in a more concentrated area and Leave No Trace principles are even more valuable.
You only need to look at the cliff paths around Lulworth Cove or Durdle Door to realise that too many people are wearing away the soft limestone features. Most National Parks have designated hiking paths that are maintained and strengthened to handle this footfall. Follow these trails wherever possible to reduce your impact.
The same goes for selecting wild camping pitches. If you camp on a soft verge on a river bank or a loose shingle cliff, you can damage the surface when setting up your tent. The weight of your tent and equipment along with the pegs you drive into the ground can destabilise and erode the surface.
3 . Dispose of Waste Properly
Whatever trash you produce must be carried away with you. “Pack it in, pack it out,” as the saying goes. It’s shocking to see how much trash gets left behind in a nature spot after a sunny bank holiday. Don’t take part in this heinous habitat destruction. Always carry trash home with you.
The same goes for toilet waste. You can wait to use an official bathroom at a car park, visitor centre, or campground. Alternatively, be responsible when disposing of your toilet waste. Dig a latrine far from water sources. Use biodegradable toiletries and bury your waste after you have finished. Responsible waste management is one of the crucial Leave No Trace principles.
4 . Leave What You Find
There is a saying that’s often bandied about in the English language which goes “what would happen if everyone did that?”. This is particularly true if you visit nature areas. For example, if you visit a beach on the Jurassic Coast and find a fossil, don’t take it home with you. If everyone did this, the beach would soon be empty!
As with many Leave No Trace principles, it’s best to leave nature areas as you found them. Avoid taking souvenirs or damaging the landscape. Instead, “take only pictures, leave only footprints”. The wilderness should be kept as pristine as possible. If you follow these Leave No Trace principles, you can keep it that way.
5 . Minimize Campfire Impacts
In the UK, campfires are generally prohibited in National Parks. Our nature areas aren’t vast enough to tolerate the damage made by campfires. Not to mention that scorch marks and felled wood can be unsightly and damaging to the environment. Instead, try cooking on a camp stove and wrap up for warmth!
Although, there are circumstances where campfires are permissible. For example, beach fires are often tolerated as they are easier to control, and any evidence can be washed away with the rising tide. Keep fires small, build a fire ring, and extinguish any ashes.
6 . Respect Wildlife
Wildlife is fragile and many species are endangered. Unfortunately, habitat loss is so extreme in the modern day that the Earth is officially going through another mass extinction. A key way to combat this is by designating nature reserves, conservation areas, and National Parks.
In these locations, animals are protected and given free roam. The complication arises when people wish to visit these nature areas in great numbers which potentially threatens wildlife activity. As such, respecting wildlife is one of the most important Leave No Trace principles to bear in mind.
Observe wildlife from a distance and don’t try to touch or feed animals. Don’t disturb birds’ nests or remove eggs. If there are warning signs concerning nesting animals, follow the instructions that are advised. Try to keep sound to a reasonable level and avoid damaging plant life wherever possible.
7 . Be Considerate of Other Visitors
In a perfect world, visiting a nature spot is an individual experience. In reality, lots of people have the same idea as you do. That means sharing facilities such as roads, car parks, and visitor’s centres. When you leave areas of infrastructure and head into your chosen nature spot, you should still think about the needs of other walkers.
Don’t pitch your camp next to a busy walking path. Avoid camping in big groups where you make lots of noise. Don’t play loud music. Just remember that when you’re on the trail, you’re not alone. Leave No Trace principles are designed for public access and nature areas should be treated with mutual respect for all.