Leave no trace

Yesterday morning I ran out of town, into the woods, and down a muddy path, only to find my route blocked by a large pile of illegally dumped waste. The attractive views of the great outdoors had been marred by fly-tipping.

This was an extreme example of inconsiderate littering, but it is not just the criminal rubbish dumpers that are to blame for the impact of waste on the natural environment. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts also need to remember to take responsibility for their own rubbish and heed the old adage, leave no trace.

Litter has become a big problem in some of the most popular beauty spots and as well as being an eyesore, can have serious consequences for wildlife.

Bottles, cans and plastic packaging can prove hazardous to birds and animals, but an abundance of human waste and readily available food can lead to a familiarity that skews the relationship between man and beast. This might just lead to the local wildlife becoming a nuisance, such as the seagulls that harass small children eating ice creams in coastal resort towns. However, it can also lead to the local wildlife becoming a serious threat, such as when a bear strolls into an urban area on the hunt for a bite to eat.

In these situations it is vital that people are made aware of just how significant an impact seemingly small actions can have. Education campaigns can work to reduce the amount of waste that is left in the first place, but they can also be effective in recruiting groups of volunteers willing to give up their time to care for the areas they so enjoy.

The water-users campaign group, Surfers Against Sewage coordinate an annual, nationwide beach clean to remove the staggering volumes of waste that wash up on our shores. Marine litter can travel the oceans for decades and at one of this years beach cleans the volunteers even unearthed, amongst tonnes of more recent waste, a crisp packet from the 1960s.

In North Wales the Snowdonia Society organises regular clean up operations and has even reported bringing nappies, barbecues, and champagne bottles back down the mountain. These items clearly should never have been left on the side of Wales highest peak, but even orange peels and banana skins can take a couple of years to biodegrade.

I enjoy taking part in off-road trail running races, but it always pains me to see a fellow competitor casually discard a carbohydrate gel wrapper. These individuals are in the minority, but they risk ruining things for the majority as landowners will be understandably reluctant to grant permission for future events to those groups they consider to be damaging to the environment.

The problem is even worse on mountains that require a great deal more effort and equipment to scale. Everest may be the worlds highest mountain, but it is becoming so popular that the amount of waste produced is now a big problem. It is common for expeditions to leave tents, gas canisters, oxygen bottles, utensils, and electronic equipment. Not to mention human waste and, sadly, bodies. Thanks to global warming and receding snow levels waste from the very first expeditions is coming back to the surface.

In the case of Everest, and similar mountains, the dilemma is a tricky one. Undoubtedly climbers and expedition organisers have a responsibility towards their environment, but they have to balance it with the perhaps greater responsibility towards those around them. Being able to climb unencumbered may not just make the difference between summiting and a failed expedition, but it may also make the difference between a safe attempt and a fatal one.

So when youre enjoying a hard earned banana and admiring the view over some stunning vista, please consider the natural world around you and leave things just as you would hope to find it yourself.

Written by Jonathan Bean, of Ethical Athlete, for Much Better Adventures.