To explain what leave no trace is, let me start with a story. Some time back, I was doing a mountain skills course and while we stopped for a banana break a conversation started up between a few of my fellow course attendees on whether it was OK to leave the banana peel, or any fruit waste for that matter, on the hill side.
The argument here is that fruit is of course biodegradable so therefore there's no harm done i.e. the banana peel will simply naturally bio-degrade into the landscape and will most likely even provide nutrients for the soil.
Now I had heard this conversation and that particular argument many times before so I knew what was wrong with it and the course instructor was quick to pick up on it and set the guys straight at the time. I should add that it was really only about a year or so before this while I was attending an introductory survival skills course (yes, I know … I attend a lot of courses … the best way to learn how to be safe and enjoy your time on the trail I assure you) that I first came across the thinking behind this.
To explain …
Now, I always knew that you should take all your rubbish out with you, that was a given. However, I too used to think that leaving fruit or vegetable waste behind was OK as it is biodegradable. This is not so and here's why.
In short, when you're hiking in the hills and you leave a banana peel, apple core or any other type of fruit or vegetable waste behind, while it will bio-degrade, unless it is from that habitat and grows in the mountain or countryside area you're hiking in, you are in effect leaving an alien species in that environment and ecology.
To illustrate this, banana's don't grow in the Rockies so leaving a banana skin there means you're introducing a new variable to the local ecology. That can potentially have knock on effects. For example, local wildlife might eat said banana peel and if it's not part of their normal diet it could make them ill. Even if the banana peel just bio-degrades, you are still introducing the chemical composition of a banana peel into ground, soil, etc. that is not normally exposed to that chemical make-up.
So where did this wise thinking come from in the first place? The example I have listed above fall's under one, number three to be precise, of the seven leave no trace principles of the leave no trace organization. This body teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. There are seven principles:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
If you are new to hiking or if you have been hiking for a long time and this information is new to you, please take the time to visit www.LNT.org and read over the detail of each of the above principles. There also expanded principles for some specific outdoor activities.
As with everything, education is really important and there are also a lot of resources available on the site. The more people that learn the better.
Continuing on the opening story above, after the course instructor corrected the guys who were saying it was OK to leave banana peels in the hills, they proceeded to tell a story about a time they were working with a group in Ben Nevis in Scotland.
Ben Nevis is a very popular hiking destination with thousands and thousands of visitors every year. A group of volunteers went up the mountain to clean up waste left behind by the visitors. They put banana Peels into separate bin liner bags and they apparently filled a frightening four bags full with them! These must all have been dropped in the relatively recent past as otherwise they would have rotted away.
To try and hit the point home after this they got some folks to dress up in banana suits and engage hikers around Ben Nevis for the day to raise awareness! Walking around Ben Nevis in a banana suit … I don't like the sound of that but fair dues to the folks who did it. Anything to help raise awareness with people on how to act ethically in the beautiful natural outdoor areas they get so much enjoyment from is a great thing.
In short, leave everything exactly as you found it!
Keeping our mountains and hills pristine and as they were before we hiked in them will help keep them for the enjoyment of others for generations to come.
Have you heard of leave no trace before? Where did you learn about how to act ethically in the outdoors? Let us know in the comments below.