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7 Aug 2020

Top tips for exploring the outdoors

Written by Emily Bryce, Operations Manager at Glencoe and Glenfinnan Monument
Three mountain peaks against blue sky, with fluffy clouds.
The Three Sisters, Glencoe
Everyone can play their part in protecting Scotland’s beautiful countryside places.

It’s been fantastic to welcome back visitors to our outdoor places. More than ever, it’s clear just how much people value the fresh air, the views and the feeling of being close to nature. Sharing our passion for Glencoe, and the many other mountains, glens and coastal gems the Trust looks after, is one of the things our teams enjoy most.

Over the past few weeks, however, we have really felt the pressure of the popularity of some locations. Our staff, volunteers and neighbours have sadly had to deal with incidents of irresponsible behaviour from people coming to explore these cherished sites. As well as causing damage to habitats, at a time of heightened awareness of hygiene standards, we’re seeing activities that put the safety of us all at risk.

We don’t want to dampen anyone’s fun (we’ll leave that to the drizzle), but we ask that all visitors take care of themselves, these amazing places and the communities lucky enough to call them home.

Read on for a few easy ways you can help us while walking, camping, swimming, cycling or driving around Glencoe National Nature Reserve and the other beautiful landscapes we protect across Scotland.

Make a plan and have a back-up

If you’ve checked the forecast and it’s looking good, the likelihood is that lots of other people will have done that too and may be planning to head for the same places you are. If it looks very busy when you arrive, please be prepared to move on. If you’re worried it could be a wasted journey, be ready with a few alternative options or simply consider waiting for another weekend.

Don’t forget to plan for your ‘teas and wees’ too! Remember that, at this time, many local facilities may be not be open as long as usual or may have closed days. It’s worth thinking about this before you set out and ensuring that you take advantage of facilities when you pass them, so you’re not caught short when you reach somewhere remote.

To help protect us all, follow Scottish Government guidance on meeting in small groups only and maintaining an appropriate distance from other visitors.

Park politely!

Almost all Trust places have designated parking areas, but these can reach their capacity at times, and in some rural areas parking spaces might be few and far between. Once a car park is full, it’s full. Please don’t be tempted to squeeze in, park on a roadside, in a passing place, by a field gate or on a grass verge – even if others are already doing it! As well as endangering other road users and visitors, you could block the route for emergency services and may receive a hefty fine or risk having your vehicle towed by the police.

We ask that campervans, motorhomes and caravans don’t stay in our car parks overnight. Our experience is that where we do get overnight stays, our team often encounter gifts like bags of litter and human waste when we return to work in the morning – never a pleasant way to start the day.

#TakItHame

This is perhaps the most important request we make. Please, please, please take everything you bring with you away when you leave. Our view is that if you managed to carry it here, you can return home (or to the nearest waste disposal centre) with it too. We regularly find abandoned coffee cups and fast food packaging from outlets more than 50 miles away!

We don’t provide bins at most countryside sites because we find that they soon attract more litter than they can accommodate, especially in remote areas where regular emptying is not always practical. They continue to accumulate rubbish after they’re full, creating a bio-hazard for humans and wildlife alike.

Always come prepared with a bin bag for your litter. We support Mountaineering Scotland’s #TakItHame campaign to encourage hillwalkers and climbers to safely pick up any rubbish they encounter while out on the hills. Our rangers regularly head out on litter-picking patrols, especially after busy weekends, but with over 5665 hectares and 60km of paths to cover in Glencoe alone, it’s difficult for us to reach everywhere every week. Your help can make a real difference to the mountains we all love.

Where to ‘go’ in the outdoors

If you’re heading somewhere without facilities to walk or wild camp, it’s not simply your litter we ask you to take away. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that if you need a wee, relieve yourself more than 30m from water sources, and if you need to ‘go’ in the outdoors, to bring a trowel, dig a shallow hole and replace the turf. However, in areas that attract lots of visitors, it’s never appropriate to leave human waste behind.

You may feel you have found a perfect secluded spot – perhaps behind a tree, rock or cairn – but the likelihood is that many others will have thought exactly the same before you. We encounter these toilet hotspots every day, often just a few metres from the edges of laybys, paths and popular camping areas, and often pock-marked with used toilet roll or wipes. In the shallow earth of mountain slopes, digging a hole to bury your poo may not be possible, or may cause long-lasting erosion of the delicate alpine soils and vegetation.

Always come prepared with dog poo bags and a sealable container to safely store pet or human waste, used tissue and wipes until you can dispose of them properly. If this doesn’t sound fun, exploring or wild camping far away from amenities might not be for you.

‘Wild’ camping

Nothing compares with a night of wild camping and getting close to nature in a remote, beautiful location. We feel every child should get the chance to experience this while growing up, and that such an experience would help foster a lifelong love and respect for the natural world in the next generation. We’re proud of Scotland’s enlightened access laws and the freedom to camp outdoors, responsibly.

Our rangers tour Glen Coe and Glen Etive every summer Saturday evening to meet and chat with campers. From this, it’s clear that some of us could do with a wee refresh of the law (and good practice) when it comes to both wild camping and lighting fires in the countryside – important advice wherever you go, but particularly somewhere as precious as the places in our care.

Choosing a spot

The right to wild camp comes with a responsibility not to negatively impact on the landscapes you’re coming to enjoy, so it only extends to small groups with lightweight equipment and is not permitted in fields with crops or farm animals, or near buildings, roads or historic structures. It doesn’t apply to motorised vehicles, so driving off-road to park up next to your tent is a definite no no!

It’s also worth being aware of the cumulative effect that camping can have in popular areas where the land rarely gets the chance for a break. We may appeal for campers to give some locations a rest so habitats have a chance to recover. Please look out for signs and follow their guidance.

Campfires or stoves?

Scotland’s outdoor access law says ‘where possible’ use a stove rather than making a campfire. We say, if you love our landscapes, always go with the stove option as it causes far less long-term damage in areas with a high volume of campers and camper vans. We don’t want to sound like your mum, but if you’re cold while camping, you can also put on a jumper, hat, scarf or blanket ...

If you still wish to light a fire, choose your fire site carefully. Lighting fires under trees can damage tree root systems. Please also avoid areas of dry vegetation or peaty soils, which will continue to burn (underground and hidden from sight) and can cause wild fires. If you’re unsure, don’t take the risk.

Never cut or damage trees (or fences/gates/signposts) to top up a fire if you run out of wood. This is vandalism. Green or living timber will kill all but the hottest fires anyway. Dead wood is a fantastic home for wildlife too, so burning it damages vital ecosystems for bugs and fungi in upland areas with limited woodland habitat.

Leave no trace

Responsible campers probably spend as long, if not longer, clearing their camp area and removing signs of their presence (no matter what the weather) than they took to set up. If you’re not prepared to do this, please don’t camp in the first place. This includes stone circles, charred logs and scorched earth as well as litter or disposable BBQs. Burning your rubbish might seem a good idea, but this just creates smaller and more damaging particles of pollution. From our chats, we’ve learned that many people feel they’re being helpful by leaving a stone circle for the next camper or using one that already exists. Unfortunately, the reality is that a patch of grass with one scorch mark usually breeds another two or three the following weekend.

Not clearing up a fire site because everything is still too hot is not a reasonable justification either. It’s essential to douse your smouldering embers as soon as the fire is done with. Be prepared with plenty of water – it’s surprising just how much you’ll need, even for a small fire. Poke holes into your fire site to enable the water to penetrate into the baked earth.

A solitary tree grows on a hillside, with open ground seen in the background. A large section of its trunk has been stripped and scored away, leaving a bad scar on the tree.
A vandalised tree at Glencoe National Nature Reserve
The remains of a campfire, surrounded by a stone circle, showing scorched ground and hazardous waste left behind
The remains of a campfire showing scorched ground and hazardous waste left behind

Help us to look after our footpaths, and each other, by following the simple guidelines explained in the video below.

Footpath etiquette

Transcript

Hi, I’m Bob Brown. I’m the Footpath Manager for the National Trust for Scotland. So me and my team (we) look after the 400 kilometres of upland footpaths in the mountains under the Trust’s care.

It’s great to have everybody back out and about enjoying themselves in the countryside. Social distancing, bizarrely enough, has brought some additional problems into the mountains. People are socially distancing on the path which, of course, is great, and the right thing to do. However, there are ways to do it without walking down the edges of the path which is causing additional erosion that we need to work on.

If you could please stick to the paths, that would be great.

There are a few simple measures you could take if you’re approaching somebody else on the path. You could simply step to the side and turn away so that you’re no longer facing the person approaching you. Just wait there ’til they pass and then it’s safe to walk back along the path. That then keeps you safe and keeps our paths safe.

So from me and my team, a massive thank you for all your support.

Skill up!

Do you need to brush up your fire-making (and removing) skills? We definitely recommend practising in your own garden, checking out tutorials on YouTube or booking on a bushcraft course. Please don’t use a National Nature Reserve for a trial run.

Legal protection

If we observe illegal camping, damage to protected habitats or anti-social behaviour, we and our neighbours report it to the police. Officers are making increasingly regular patrols on summer evenings and the morning after at many busy Highland beauty spots. We are grateful for their support.

Want to know more?

The following websites have really useful information about spending time outdoors:

Read about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Get wild camping advice from Mountaineering Scotland

Share the love!

We love to see your photos of your amazing experiences at Trust places, and we especially enjoy the ‘leave no trace’ after-shots! Please feel free to share them on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.

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