Vistors to a region can often leave a trail of destruction in their wake, from casually strewn litter to wildfires. Even straying off a footpath in an environmentally sensitive area can cause the destruction of plant life and habitats. It isn't always about what we may leave behind though, as tourists have been known to help themselves to 'souvenirs' from places of importance to the locals.
How to ensure you 'leave no trace'
1. The most obvious of guidelines is to take all of your rubbish away from a site with you and dispose of it properly, perferably in local recycling facilities. People on holiday often don't worry too much about recycling and will just put everything in the bin, thereby generating an increase of landfill. If you are not sure of local recycling facilities in an area you are going to, research it before you go so you don't waste time doing it on holiday. Also research things like water bottle refill stations before you go, so you don't have to use any single use plastic.
2. Never, ever start camp fires unless you have triple checked that you are allowed to do so.
We are all aware of the devastation that wildfires can cause in places like Australia and the USA, but it happens everywhere.
Just this year, 223 hectares of Wareham Forest were destroyed after burning for 3 weeks, because someone decided to use a portable BBQ there.
3. Never help yourself to any plantlife from an area, or stones from an historic site. It might be great to have a piece of Hadrian's Wall at home, but sites of great importance are vanishing because of this awful habit.
4. Stay on trails and paths when you are out in nature or on historical sites. You may think you are just taking a short cut, but over the years new footpaths emerge from sustained use by impatient walkers, leading to soil erosion and destroying the wildlife or archaeological record beneath them.
5. Avoid building cairns and piles of stones. They may look pretty, but they can be very destructive to the environment they are in. Wildlife lives under these stones in the nooks and crannies, so you are destroying their homes, and removing their natural hiding places when threatened by predators. Piling up stones can also increase soil erosion, exposing it to the elements. There is also the issue that people travel into nature to see the natural world, not piles of man-made creations dominating the landscape. We don't have to leave evidence of our presence everywhere we go. It is no different to graffitti and leaving 'Kilroy was here' scrawled across the place.
6. Be concious of noise you are making. Travelling to a remote area in the wilderness for a knees up may seem like a good idea, but there are always going to be other people around who don't want to hear your sound system, yelling or loud hysterical cackling.
7. On a similar note, research the cultural traditions of a place before you go there. There seems to be a recent trend of travellers completely ignoring what is acceptable, and skinny dipping in sacred waters or whipping their clothes off at the top of sacred mountains. Not only is it really disrespectful to the locals, you can end up in prison or with massive fines. It will certainly leave the locals with a dislike of you and your arrogance, meaning future tourists will not be made as welcome.
The Seven 'Leave No Trace' Principles used in the National Parks of the USA are relevant for any trip into nature -
Plan ahead and prepare.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
Dispose of waste properly.
Leave what you find.
Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
Be considerate of other visitors