24 Mar 2021

Field Notes: Leave no trace

Schiehallion Conservation Officer Izzy Filor shares some ways to help make your visit to wild places even more enjoyable – for others and the planet.

People on the summit of Schiehalion

With the easing of lockdown imminent, I’m certainly not the only person keen to be out exploring new places.

I’ve been lucky to call Schiehallion my place of work during this past year of lockdowns and have been able to continue essential work there during recent restrictions. The benefits (both mental and physical) that access to these places can have are vast, so it’s only normal that large numbers of people are keen to access them as soon as possible.

These visits to rural communities and wild places are not without impact, however, and we can all play our part to make sure they are as positive as possible for local people and the environment. As we return to upland and rural areas this spring, I’d encourage people to think about sustainable and active travel to these places, also taking the time to support small local businesses where you can.

For me, it’s just as important to consider our impact getting to the start of our adventures because a car journey to the hills can have a big environmental impact. But with a bit of imagination, having the time to travel slower, perhaps take a train part way or get there under your own steam, this journey has the potential to be one of the best parts of any trip. For instance, this summer in Glen Nevis a trial bus service will take visitors from Fort William to the end of the Glen to reduce congestion and emissions in this busy area.

Give the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (or relevant Countryside Code for the rest of the UK) a read too. Don’t just take your own rubbish home with you, but consider taking an extra plastic bag with you and pick up a few extra pieces of litter while on your adventure.

Wild places under pressure

At East Schiehallion (pictured at the top of the page) we saw visitor numbers more than double last summer. Infrastructure in surrounding communities and the main car park for the mountain is still catching up with this increased demand and it will take time, money and effort for this to happen. This summer, I’d encourage everyone to have a ‘plan B’ for your day – even consider visiting during the week or outwith school holidays if possible to avoid the busiest days.

Footpath erosion from increased footfall and social distancing has also had a big impact on the path up Schiehallion. We’re starting to see braiding around the main path and areas of peat being eroded where walkers have strayed from the path. Footpath contractors will help us to restore this damage, but visitors can help by stepping slightly off the path to allow other walkers to pass and keeping to the main footpath wherever possible.

New challenges

In the Lake District, the Trust’s Ranger at Glenridding Common, Isaac feels that: “2020 showed us just how valuable wild places are to so many of us but much higher visitor numbers brought new challenges.” Last summer, his focus changed from what would normally be a busy period doing habitat and wildlife surveys, to organising weekly litter picks and being out on the busiest parts of the hill to speak to visitors.

Isaac's day's worth of litter picking on Helvellyn^ A day's worth of litter picked up by Isaac on Hevellyn.

Litter picking is probably one of the most time-consuming jobs for rangers and, as Ben Nevis Conservation Officer Nathan can testify, carrying several bin bags of rubbish from the summit of Ben Nevis is no mean (or enviable) feat. He thinks that the pressures we’re seeing in popular destinations such as Glen Nevis is “a culmination of factors such as our cultural attitudes to nature, lack of knowledge, poor infrastructure, reduction in ranger services and, of course, lockdown – it has resulted in a perfect storm.”

Nathan's litter picking volunteers at Nevis^ Fantastic volunteers help Nathan litter pick on Nevis.

Nathan suggests that landowners also need to understand their responsibilities as well as the rights of leisure users. He will be stepping up volunteer work parties and making sure ranger staff are on site throughout the day, including early morning and evening shifts to engage with campers in the area. Ultimately, he feels these issues can be ameliorated if we can create a shift in our cultural attitudes towards nature and the outdoors in the long-term.

Further north, Romany (our Conservation Officer at Quinag) has seen the impacts of increased tourism in the area first-hand, the negative impacts of which have included accidental fires and increased littering. Using a stove and avoiding lighting a fire is one of the best ways to reduce damage to our hillsides as fires can easily get out of control. She urges people to: “have a great time, but please take care and leave no trace.”

Leave no trace

So, please spread the word and play your part in keeping our rural and upland areas beautiful. Know your rights and responsibilities, enjoy these places, travel sustainably and please leave no trace.

Purple Flower - David Lintern

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