The ‘Leave No Trace’ initiative can be traced back to the United States in the 70s and 80s when the National Park Service the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service began to look at ways in which they could educate people towards taking steps to minimise their impact upon the environment whilst still enjoying the ‘Great Outdoors’.
It was formally developed by the United States Forest Service in conjunction with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) back in 1990.
However, although the Leave No Trace is solely a U.S initiative, some of its principles have been adopted and adapted by outdoor enthusiasts here in the UK and around the world too, as it tends to incorporate a far wider perspective than the principles of the Countryside Code and, in effect, is a useful guide for anybody who loves to spend time in the outdoors but, equally, wishes to respect the environment.
Like the Countryside Code, the Leave No Trace educational program also has a set of principles which it encourages people to adopt.
It includes planning ahead and preparation. For example, people who are often unprepared for the outdoors can often resort to high impact solutions that either put themselves and/or their immediate environment at risk. Therefore an example might be a group who have failed to plan their journey time to a campsite correctly and have pitched their site in a hurry and in an inappropriate location or they’ve failed to adhere to proper camp fire procedures in an urgency to light a fire.
It warns people about the dangers of damaging land and vegetation where too many people in large group numbers walk the same trails which, ultimately causes erosion.
The disposal of waste is also an issue that you should consider carefully under the Leave No Trace guidelines. Apart from its unsightliness, leaving rubbish and unwanted scraps of food after you’ve left a site can damage the ecological make-up of a particular location which can also have a detrimental effect on wildlife.
It recommends that you should carry all rubbish out with you and dispose of it in an appropriate manner, unless there are proper facilities in which to dump it at your location. This extends to human waste and waste water in remote locations where pollution of water sources are a real threat.
It recommends only using environmentally friendly products with which to wash yourself and any cooking utensils and, if there are no proper toilet facilities, you should bury any human excrement in a hole which you should dig to a depth of around 6 inches and at least 200 feet away from any natural water source.
You should never remove any natural vegetation, rocks or archaeological artefacts and keep any alterations of a campsite to the bare minimum. For example, avoid hammering nails into trees or moving rocks just to provide you with a temporary seat around the camp fire. Remember, your ‘seat’ could well be a creature’s permanent shelter.
Although a camp fire is often vital for warmth, Leave No Trace encourages people to minimise their use of fire due to the effects that a demand on firewood creates, not to mention the scorched earth. If your location provides a fire ring to cook on, or an existing fire pit, use it and don’t create a new fire pit elsewhere just because you think it’s more convenient.
As with the Countryside Code, you should have a respect for others and for wildlife and never touch or interfere with any wildlife or its habitat.
Rock Sports and Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace has also had an impact upon rock climbing with the adoption of a ‘Clean Climbing’ program to reduce the impact upon the environment. This includes looking at alternatives to the drilling of bolts in rocks and the hammering in of pitons which is why things like nuts and spring-loaded camming devices have become more popular as equally secure pieces of climbing equipment but which have little impact upon the environment.
This clean climbing approach has been adopted by many climbers all around the world, thanks to the Leave No Trace program but the UK’s climbing community, in particular, has been at the forefront of this change in attitude which is a good reason why the Leave No Trace program should be a cultural approach which should be heeded by everyone who loves the outdoors.