The 7 Leave No Trace principles seem to be as old as time itself. For decades, they have provided the outdoor industry some of the most important guiding principles when it comes to respecting the environment.
Despite their prevailing relevance, the principles have somehow fallen into the generation of chalk and talk; uncomfortable black and white rules and restrictions that have become synonymous with the fun police.
We’ve asked a long-time outdoor professional to give us his top tips on how to tread lightly in our wild places. Meet Stuart Montgomery. Stu draws from an extensive background in Outdoor Education and Environmental Empowerment; using the wild places as his classroom and the dirt as his drawing board.
Stepping away from school-based wilderness Ed and setting his sights on the older generation, Stu aims to draw from his background to empower us to minimise the environmental footprint we inherently leave in our wild places, without eliminating the fun! Here are 10 simple steps…
# 1 DON’T BE A TOSSER
If you’ve brought it in, it’s your responsibility to bring it back out and if you’ve got your wits about you, you wouldn’t have packed any excessive packaging, so it should be pretty easy.
Can see a fruiting apple tree? If you can, feel free to throw your core back into the ground. If not, carry it out. Scattering biodegradable food scraps encourages animals to move in, become territorial and even aggressive to humans.
Don’t burn your rubbish (unless it’s paper). Although this can seem like the easiest way to get rid of the evidence, unfortunately, there will always be left over food that hasn’t quite burnt up which in turn will encourage the animals to move in. Besides, burning plastics releases harmful chemicals into the air.
Oh, and a pro tip on this one. Double bag that shiz! No one likes pulling a rubbish bag out and getting showered in bin juice.
# 2 WATER WISDOM
Keep all waste from any body of water. This includes but is not limited to food scraps and any human/ animal waste and so rules out doing dishes in the stream (see #7).
If nature calls, take 100 big steps away from any water source and make sure you bury all your evidence. There is nothing more obnoxious than leaving your business uncovered. It doesn’t take much for contaminants to leach into the waterways. Come a good downpour and your poorly managed latrine has now made its way into your drinking water.
Bring a garden trowel and make sure your hole is at least the depth of the trowel. Bury, burn or pack out your toilet paper, just make sure it’s gone. There is nothing worse than pulling up at a campsite only to find it littered with toilet confetti.
# 3 GET MUDDY THEN GET CLEAN
Don’t go off-track to keep your boots clean- embrace the mud. The more people walk around a puddle trying to avoid it, the more traffic tears the bush apart and the larger the puddle becomes. Bit of a self-defeating prophecy really.
If you are getting muddy though, don’t pick up hitchhikers. I don’t mean the smelly dirtbags on the side of the road. I mean the nasty freeloading micro critters that hitch a lift on the bottom of your boot.
Keeping your kit mud-free stops the spread of bacteria and invasive species into new areas. Some trails like the Bibbulmum track have scrub stations to stop the spread of dieback that eats at the roots of trees.
So give your gear a good ol’ scrub every time you get home. Not only does this mean you can take a good look at your gear to make sure it’s not damaged, but it prolongs the life of your gear when you keep it clean and dry. Bacteria thrives in warm, dark and wet places. So take extra caution with any kit that has been wet and muddy.
# 4 DISH DUTY
Doing dishes in the stream is a big no no! Not only does it scatter food waste through your drinking water, but the harmful chemicals in your detergents can kill fish and anything else living off the waterways.
So dishes always stay away from your water sources, full stop.
Catching all the left-over food and disposing responsibly stops the pesky pests from moving in on your favourite campground.
# 5 PUT A RING ON IT
Right, let’s chat fires. The true cost of your hour of warmth and drunken campfire shenanigans is years of dead ground and diminishing vegetation.
If you must have a campfire, stick to fire rings but if there are no fire rings or pits, then pick a patch of ground that looks like it has already been damaged – even if it’s not right next to your campsite.
If you’re cooking, try using a stove instead of the fire. With stoves getting cheaper and lighter, there is almost no reason to go all swagman and boil a billy on the fire. Besides, it’s nice knowing you can rely on your stove when you’re hungry and all your wood is soggy.
Tip: A great way of having a fire without creating a scar is by laying a tarp down, covering it with 40cm of dirt and lighting your fire on that. When it’s out you can simply scatter the cool ashes throughout the bush.
Importantly, we need to respect a total fire ban.
Camping in summer tends to draw more crowds than the rainy months. If it’s a total fire ban, you have to respect that. After a dry spell, it seriously does not take much for a bush fire to start – sometimes even as little as a glass bottle left in long grass.
If you must have a fire, make sure to keep it under control and ensure that it is cold to the touch before you leave it. As before, it doesn’t take much for a fire to spread.
# 6 FOUR D’S OF FIREWOOD
If you are going to a campsite with lots of seasonal traffic, it’s best to take your own wood. A bag of high-quality wood can be purchased at any servo for dirt cheap.
Not only does it burn better than the green and soggy twigs you will find but it massively reduces the impact on the bushland.
If do need to collect firewood near your campsite, always check the local regulations to make sure this is permitted. To avoid over-harvesting and excessive clearing, follow the Four D’s: firewood that is dead, down, distant and dinky (shorter than your forearm, thinner than your wrist).
It can be easy to slip into the mentality of “it’s only me” as you find a good chunky log to burn, which in itself is no issue until 10 people start thinking that way and eventually the bush has been completely cleared.
# 7 DOG DOGMA
Just like any recreational park, if your dog’s done it – you clean it. No one likes having to deal with another dog’s business. Not to mention the harm it can do the environment.
On this note, respect the park rules. Sometimes your dog just has to stay behind. Bringing your best mate in can wreak havoc on the critters that call it home. Most National and State parks are littered with 1080 poison to bait feral cats, dogs and foxes so if you bring your canine pal you’re probably putting its life at risk.
# 8 KEEP WILDLIFE WILD
Human food is never good for wildlife and can have unfortunate consequences. Fortunately, we do not have to contend with any man-eating creatures in Australia, but feeding animals draws them closer, and over time makes them become territorial and aggressive to humans.
It’s not cute, stop feeding the Roo Susan!
Use the rule of thumb to judge if you’re far enough away by extending your arm in front of you with a thumb sticking up and closing one eye. Your thumb should cover the animal’s image. If you can still see it – you are too close.
# 9 TAKE ONLY PICTURES
Australians clicked over 1.6 billion visits to national and state parks in 2016. If we all pocketed a memento, we would dramatically change the landscape.
I was on an expedition with a friend who decided to carry a whale bone 20km, only to be turned back by the park ranger.
Fill only your memory card and keep your pockets empty.
# 10 GOOD CAMPSITES ARE FOUND, NOT MADE
Altering a campsite should never be necessary. Plan ahead and make sure your campsites are big enough for your group. Camping on slow-growing fragile environments such as moss can have devastating effects for years. Sometimes it might just mean walking that little bit further.
It can also help to bring your own lightweight furniture and stoves to save having to move logs and rocks around. Leave them for the critters!
When you leave, you should leave your campsite exactly as it was (or better). Just imagine you’re being hunted and can’t leave any evidence of your travel and you can’t go wrong.
It is a privilege to be able to call the wild my office. The sad truth is that the important places I called home are slowly degrading, but not because of mining corporations and farming. The weekend warriors and dirtbags alike need to clean up their act. It doesn’t take much to keep it clean, but it takes even less to trash a place.
It’s not your bedroom – respect others who call that place home.