The call: ‘Leave no trace’

The call: ‘Leave no trace’
A trainer in the Leave no Trace Ireland programme is urging the public to adopt the ethos of responsible outdoor recreation.

A trainer in the Leave no Trace Ireland programme is urging the public to adopt the ethos of responsible outdoor recreation.

Bren Whelan, a trainer with Leave no Trace Ireland, was troubled recently by the rubbish he saw while walking through the Lis na Gra woodlands, about a mile and a half outside of Muff, in Inishowen.

“Lis na Gra is a really beautiful forest,” he said. Close to the border, Lis na Gra contains many native trees. Inishowen showed well in the 2007 Red Squirrel Survey published by the Council for Forest Research and Development, with an expansion of red squirrels into a number of officially previously unrecorded areas, including Lis na Gra.

Because the red squirrel is considered extinct in counties Meath and West Meath, and rare in Kilkenny, Carlow and Louth, the Inishowen findings were even more valuable. The peninsula was one of few places on the island of Ireland that the survey showed growth of the red squirrel’s territory.

Bren said that the survey showed that the woodlands are providing a safe haven for the animals, but he added that, “the type of impacts which are occurring in the area only serve to erode the regeneration of these red squirrels”,

That made the discovery of rubbish in the Lis na Gra forest particularly upsetting.

Bren attributed the rubbish to what he called, a “disposable camping culture” in which people walk away from tents, tins and other items they bring into an environment. And that lazy approach has a knock-on damaging effect, he said.

He pointed to research that shows, “litter makes litter, and rubbish makes rubbish. If you leave even one item, it encourages people to leave more”.

However, when people adopt the “leave no trace” ethos, they bring out with them everything they have brought into an environment.

Bren, who is also a mountain instructor and rock climbing coach, said, “I would consider myself a low-impact explorer in the outdoors. I work as much as possible in a ‘leave no trace’ fashion.

“This isn’t about any organisation not doing its job,” he said. “It’s about the individual taking responsibility.” It is not possible to micro-manage every person who explores the outdoors, so the issue comes down to individuals changing their behaviour to reduce their impact on the outdoors, and taking responsibility for their actions and their rubbish.

“‘Leave no trace’ isn’t rules or regulations. It’s outdoor ethics,” Bren said.

“It’s what you do when no one is watching you,” he said. “It’s about being ethical about the outdoors and being responsible.”