When camping in the great outdoors, you’re the visitor. The area is almost certainly a habitat and home for animals as well as plants, so your behaviour should reflect this.
Wildlife will adapt to the presence of humans over time, but this isn’t something we want to regularly see. Minimal interaction between humans and animals ensures that wildlife retains its natural caution. To help preserve this, there are a number of things you can do:
Reducing the group size
The smaller the group you travel with, the less wildlife will be disturbed. One or two people will see and hear more animals than a group of 10. Essentially, keeping your group small is vital to protecting the habitat and doing less damage to the environment.
Don’t bring your pets
Pets shouldn’t be brought with you when camping as they can seriously disturb the wildlife. However, if you really have to bring a pet, ensure there’s a leash to control it – Fido may be friendly and fun, but it’s not acceptable to let him chase animals about.
Don’t camp next to water
If you find a natural water source, the chances are local wildlife is using it too. This isn’t to say you can’t venture down to collect your own water and even take a swim, but don’t set-up camp right next door. Stay away in the early morning and evening to give animals space to drink and bathe.
Avoid leaving food out
Human food can attract animals, even if it’s not nutritious and actually damaging to their health. Clear up all food you cook and eat, rather than leaving crumbs and scraps lying around. If an animal discovers food the chances are they’ll keep coming back. Dispose of all waste so it’s not a temptation.
Keep the noise down
Animals typically spook at loud noises, so be aware of any noise you’re making and try to remain quiet. Midnight karaoke might seem like a good idea, but just as at home, your wild neighbours won’t appreciate being disturbed.
Be aware of young animals
If you discover a nesting ground it’s important not to disturb it. Not only can parent animals become aggressive, but they may abandon their young if they or the area has been disturbed by human handling.
When camping, there’s no reason to leave any waste products behind. Anything you bring with you should also be removed after the trip. All food and rubbish must be responsibly disposed of, and wrappers should not be burned or apple cores tossed away.
If you follow the rule of leaving nothing behind, you can’t go wrong. In case you’re not convinced, the following provides a glimpse of just how long various items take to decay:
Banana Peel - A month
Paper - A couple of months
Wool Scarf - A year
Cigarette Butt - 5 years
Disposable Diaper - 2 decades
Hard Plastic Container - 3 decades
Rubber Boot Sole - 7 decades
Tin Can - A century
Aluminium Can - 3 centuries
Plastic 6-pack Holder - 5 centuries
Glass Bottles – eons
Reducing your rubbish
With the above in mind, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of rubbish you need to take home. Simply by packing more efficiently, for example repackaging food before the trip, you won’t need to dispose of as much waste material. A great example would be to pack set meals into a container. This has the added benefit of helping you get food prepared quickly and easily.
Dishes and dishwater
When washing your plates and cutlery, try to do this at least 50 metres from your camp. If you need to use soap, ensure it is biodegradable to avoid any negative effect on the environment. Water left behind should be disposed of responsibly by spreading the leftovers across a larger area. This will ensure it evaporates quickly and be less of an attraction for animals.
Leave it behind
Campers are often tempted to do at least one of three things:
Leave a mark
Get too comfortable
Take a souvenir home
By adopting a ‘leave no trace’ policy you’ll avoid doing any of the above and minimise your impact on the environment. One of the best ways to take something home that doesn’t affect the surroundings is with a camera. You can take hundreds of pictures for free and pick out the best bits when you’re back at home.
Some campers will leave a mark of their presence such as:
Scratching on rocks: Which will last hundreds of years
Carving in trees: This wounds the tree and can lead to disease which will eventually kill it
Rearranging a rock formation.
Adding your own graffiti to an area leaves a mark that’ll affect future visitors’ enjoyment of the location. On top of this, it may encourage others to do the same, further damaging the land.
There’s also the problem of campers altering the surroundings to create a more ‘comfortable’ environment. This can include breaking off branches and making seats out of rocks and logs. Whilst changing the landscape could benefit you temporarily, it’ll scar the land and make it less impressive in the future.
Last but certainly not least, you should leave everything behind as you found it. Some things hikers and campers will take from the landscape include:
It’s very easy to say taking home a little souvenir won’t damage the environment, but if hundreds of thousands of others felt the same, the landscape would quickly be obliterated.
Even taking organic materials such as flowers and bones will reduce the biomass food supply. It can also reduce ground cover and as such, lead to greater wind and rain erosion.