Natural spaces are a great treasure and we need to do all we can to protect them while enjoying what they have to offer. Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach, a state or national park, a forest or the outback; here’s some tips for minimizing the impact of your visit and help improve the chances these special spots are still there in the future.
Unwelcome passengers – invasive species
When packing my ute recently, I found a single Portuguese millipede inside one of the boxes. While these are an unwelcome but common invasive species in many parts of our state; my block is unaffected by them – and I’d really like to keep it that way.
It only took 50 years for this little critter to invade all of Australia’s southern states. Few creatures feed on them as they give off a terrible smell when threatened. Some years, they appear in plague numbers and wreak major damage plant life. That single millipede, had it made it to my little patch of Australia, could have been the beginning of an infestation.
The Portuguese millipede is just an example – regardless of where you live, there’s likely an animal, insect or plant that really shouldn’t wind up wherever you are going, so be careful when packing to ensure you aren’t carrying along any hitchhikers.
I know of some people who even get out and check their car tires before entering a park or reserve for seeds that may be caught in the tread or elsewhere on the vehicle. Some will even clean and disinfect their walking boots in order to avoid possibly introducing exotic fungi and plant diseases.
In heavily vegetated areas, it can be difficult not to step on plants; but it’s something we should try to be aware of when trekking. If you get in the habit of it, after a while it’s not such a chore as your subconscious will guide you.
If you turn over rocks or logs for whatever reason, replace them as best you can as they may have been a habitat for a creature that could be made homeless and more prone to predation if the area is disturbed.
Stick to trails
Related to the above – trails in parks are there for a reason; to help minimize damage, so they really should be used wherever possible. Beside points already mentioned, vehicle trails and even foot trails can alter the flow of water on a landscape and trigger erosion problems.
Feeding the animals
Look for guidance from the authority that takes care of whatever area you are visiting as it may be the feeding of animals is prohibited. This is usually for good reason as our foods can negatively affect wildlife in a variety of ways. For example, kangaroos love bread, but the sugars in bread can make kangaroos very aggressive. In North America, the feeding of bears, either intentionally or accidentally through leaving food unsecured, has ended in tragedy on many occasions.
If feeding of animals is permitted, determine what foods can be provided.
Most regions in areas prone to fire will have guidelines you will need to adhere to – be sure to check before you head out. If you are permitted to light a fire, ensure the area around it is well clear of combustible materials and that you have a method of extinguishing it close to hand. Even on a day where a campfire is permitted, common sense should prevail if conditions unexpectedly deteriorate.
Take nothing but photographs
Shells, feathers, rocks, flowers – there can be so many attractive souvenirs to collect during your visit. If everyone collected something, there may be little left of these small curiosities for others to admire; so try and resist the urge of taking mementos and stick with photos instead.
Many parks and such offer bins for waste, but so often I see them overflowing. If possible, take your trash back home with you. At the very least, take your recyclables back and be very careful with food waste as this can attract animals who perhaps shouldn’t be feasting on what you leave behind. They’ll likely make a real mess getting to it; spreading the garbage everywhere.
If you’re feeling uber-green and have a few minutes to spare, perhaps pick up other trash that may be lying around the area left by others.
A chemical free trip
Detergents, soaps and other chemicals really have no place in natural areas. If you must use them, use products that are as earth friendly as possible and where you can, use them well away from watercourses.
When nature calls, it calls – and if a proper toilet isn’t available; well, you just have to go. I won’t go into graphic detail, but there have been a few times I’ve come across “stuff” that others leave behind and health issues aside, such discoveries can put a bit of a dampener on a nature experience. It’s a good idea to carry a small spade in the car with you on trips, or some form of small digging implement so you can dig a hole if the urge hits. Ensure the hole is sufficiently deep enough to discourage curious animals from digging it up. It doesn’t have to be a massive pit, 8 – 12 inches will usually suffice. If the area you are in has very hard ground, try digging close to a tree as there will often be softer ground there – and the tree will probably benefit from your, ahem, contribution too.
Avoid contributing to noise pollution
Maybe I’m getting old and crotchety, but when I’m out in the scrub there is nothing more irritating than the sound of screaming kids, blaring music and noisy dirt bikes. Aside from being annoying, noise pollution disturbs fauna and it’s a disruption that can have marked negative effects on their feeding and breeding. Besides, it’s amazing how much more of nature’s wonders you’ll see if you keep as quiet as possible.
As a child, I remember believing a local forest went on forever. As I grew older, I learned it most certainly didn’t – which made it all the more special. Natural places, particularly within close proximity to cities, need all the help we can give them.