Hiking is an amazing (and cheap) way of experiencing and enjoying the natural beauty of any area you are travelling to. However, what seems to be a simple activity, undertaken out of a desire to enjoy the natural world, can, without us even realising it, be very damaging to native flora and fauna. Here are some simple tips to follow for how to make sure that we leave no impact during a holiday hike.
Stick to the paths.
This may sound like a petty “teacher’s pet” thing to do, but it is of vital importance to prevent trail widening from occurring: this is when the soil around a path is broken up or loosened, making it more prone to erosion (such as being washed away with rain events). So, stick to the path and try to walk in the middle of the path too. If it gets narrow, walk single file. If there is a muddy or wet patch in the middle of the path, then walk through it, that is what walking boots are designed for. If you are hiking somewhere with no set path, then hike on the most durable possible surfaces, such as large rocks, instead of vegetation, to avoid damaging the local flora and fauna as much as possible.
Also, when beginning a hike, check the regulations of the specific place you will be hiking for further information, as some places have limited paths at times of year when birds (such as puffins) may be nesting underground or when vegetation may be in a particularly vulnerable state.
Look, but don’t touch.
Everything in nature is so intricately inter-connected that moving one thing can have a knock-on effect throughout an entire food web or ecosystem. This is why it is so important to look and appreciate things with your eyes without picking up or physically moving anything that you see out on a hike, including logs, rocks, and flowers.
For example, “rock stacking” has become a very popular trend on Instagram, with people building rock stacks in beautiful locations, making for those awesome insta-worthy travel photos. However, this is actually extremely damaging to the ecosystem, as it disturbs the habitat of small species that live, hide, or seek refuge in or between rocks, as well as causing increased soil erosion by exposing the soil underneath where the rocks naturally fell. It has become so much of a problem that the practice has now been banned by many national parks across the world.
When out in nature it is important that we keep a respectful distance from any wildlife we may encounter, for our own safety, and for that of the animal/s as well. During a hike, we are the visitors in their home, not the other way around. This recommended safe distance will depend on the National Park, the species you are viewing, as well as the time of year (e.g. breeding season when some animals, particularly males, may be more aggressive, or when females with young can be very protective). For example, a general rule of thumb is to maintain a distance of at least 100 metres when watching bears and wolves, as opposed to about 25 metres for birds (unless they are nesting, in which case this distance should be significantly increased, so as not to risk disturbing them, and even, potentially, abandoning their nest). These are just rules of thumb though, keep your wits about you. See how the animal is reacting, do they seem stressed and aware of your presence, or are they just continuing their life without even realising you are there? Are they venomous or otherwise dangerous? Do they have young with them that you could be stressing, and potentially even separating from their parent?
With any animals, it is important to remember that they are wild and that their behaviour can be unpredictable, so for those of you keen to see animals during your hikes, be sure to take binoculars or telephoto lenses with you so that you can still enjoy watching them, but from a safe distance.
Think about what you are taking with you on a hike – it is obviously important to be prepared with plenty of water and food, but ensure that anything you take with you, you take back home again with you, so that we are not leaving behind any waste and polluting the natural landscape. The best option is to take everything in reusable containers (or soy wax food wraps) with a cutlery set, avoiding any single-use plastic, to avoid harming the natural world you are out there enjoying.
You could even take this one step further by picking up any other people’s rubbish they have left behind along your way, making the trail look more aesthetically pleasing to the next hiker, as well as saving the life of any animal that could have eaten that rubbish or become caught in it. For any real fitness-fanatics, you could even try the most recent Scandinavian trend, “plogging”; jogging whilst picking up litter!
Keep noise levels to a minimum.
It can be very tempting to take a speaker on a hike and play your favourite music out loud whilst walking through the wilderness, but this could be disruptive to the wildlife there, as well as other people who have come out into the wild to seek solace and peace in nature. If you are someone who likes music on a hike, take a good pair of headphones with you, or hike with a buddy and spend the time properly connecting and talking to them, escaping from the world of social media for a few hours (or however long you plan on hiking).
This increased appreciation and awareness of the natural world whilst hiking, will probably help you get more enjoyment from hikes anyway – really take the time to appreciate it. Take only pictures, leave only the lightest of footprints, and bring home only the memories. As the Native American proverb goes – “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”