The seven 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. But there’s always more we can do!
We 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 ten simple steps to follow to make sure you tread lightly and leave no trace…
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 you 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 encourage 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 leftover 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 it! No one likes pulling a rubbish bag out and getting showered in bin juice.
2. Waste Doesn’t Belong in Waterways
Keep all waste away from any body of water. This includes food scraps and any human or animal waste – that rules out doing the dishes in the stream.
If nature calls, take 100 big steps away from any water source and make sure you bury all your evidence. There’s 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’s nothing worse than pulling up at a campsite only to find it littered with toilet confetti.
Still need a hand? How To Poo in The Bush
3. Get Muddy Then Get Clean
Don’t go off-track to keep your boots clean – embrace the mud. The more people that walk around a puddle to avoid it, the more traffic tears the bush apart and the larger the puddle becomes – a bit of a self-defeating prophecy.
If you are getting muddy though, don’t pick up hitchhikers – I’m talking about 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 Bibbulmun Track in WA 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 thrive in warm, dark and wet places. So take extra caution with any kit that’s 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 leftover food and disposing of it responsibly stops the pesky pests from moving in on your favourite campground.
5. Put a (Fire) Ring on It
The true cost of your hour of warmth and 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’s already been damaged – even if it’s not right next to your campsite.
Hot tip! A great way to have 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.
If you’re cooking, try using a camp stove instead of the fire. With stoves getting cheaper and lighter, there’s 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.
Camping in summer tends to draw more crowds than the rainy months. If it’s a total fire ban, you have to respect that.
No matter what the season, if you decide to have a fire, make sure to keep it under control and ensure that it’s cold to the touch before you leave it. It doesn’t take much for a bush fire to start.
6. The 4 Ds of Firewood
If you’re 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’ll find but it massively reduces the impact on the bushland.
If you do need to collect firewood near your campsite, always check the local regulations to make sure that it’s permitted.
To avoid over-harvesting and excessive clearing, follow the 4 Ds: only collect 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 ten 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 to 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.
Still want to adventure with your pooch? 13 Fantastic Dog Friendly Hikes Near Sydney
8. Keep Wildlife Wild
Human food is never good for wildlife and can have unfortunate consequences. Luckily, we don’t have to contend with many man-eating creatures in Australia (unless you’re in the Top End or TNQ on croc watch!).
But feeding animals draws them closer, and over time makes them become territorial and aggressive towards humans.
Use the rule of thumb to judge if you’re far enough away from an animal – extend your arm in front of you with your thumb sticking up and close one eye. Your thumb should cover the animal’s image. If you can still see it, you’re too close.
9. Take Only Pictures
In just NSW alone, there were over 60 million visitations to national parks in 2018. If we all pocketed a memento, we would dramatically change the landscape.
I was once 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 mean walking that little bit further to get to a more ecologically appropriate site.
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 (if not better!). Just imagine you’re being hunted and can’t leave any evidence of your travel and you can’t go wrong.
It’s a privilege to be able to call the wild my office. The sad truth is that our wild places are slowly degrading, but not just because of mining corporations and farming. The weekend warriors and dirtbags alike need to clean up their act too.
It doesn’t take much to keep it clean, but it takes even less to trash a place. It’s not your bedroom – respect those who call the wild home.
Feature photo by @thetantrap