Category Archives: LNT

Plan Ahead and Prepare

How to prepare for a minimal impact bushwalk

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Allen Lakein

If there has been good planning and preparation put into a bushwalking trip, the group can cope with unexpected situations or conditions and complete the walk safely and with minimal impact. Groups that are unprepared tend to resort to solutions that have high-impact on natural areas. For instance, a group that’s caught out in the wet and cold may justify cutting down tree branches for shelter, but a simple weather forecast check and route alteration could have prevented it. A well-prepared group can deal with unexpected challenges in a low-impact fashion.

When planning and preparing for a bushwalk, think about what kind of information and gear the group needs to be safe and have minimal impact:

  1. Bring all gear the group will need, including backups in case anything breaks (e.g. shoe laces). This way, the group can deal with most unexpected events in a minimal impact fashion.
  2. Make sure the gear is appropriate for the trip grade and conditions. For instance, a cheap plastic poncho is likely to get shredded on passing branches spreading traces of plastic rubbish throughout the bush. Much better to use a rain-jacket designed for bushwalking.
  3. Plan ahead to avoid some basic glitches such as track closures or miserable weather conditions. Check for:
  4. Plan for small group sizes to minimise noise levels and disturbance to wildlife. In general, National Parks guidelines suggest group sizes of eight in wilderness areas and twenty in other areas, but it depends on parks planning, so check specific park guidelines. A group size of 4-8 is generally recommended.
  5. Pack a sealable garbage bag to secure and carry out all rubbish. Plan ahead by carrying food items with minimal packaging so there are fewer leftover smelly messy wrappers to carry out. Also, collect any litter left on the trail.
  6. Carry a small trowel to bury any human waste properly.

Travel on Durable Surfaces

Minimal impact walking in natural areas

I think it is far more important
to save one square mile of wilderness anywhere, by any means,
than to produce another book on the subject. Edward Abbey

It’s tempting to cut corners on a bushwalking track, particularly if the track twists back on itself, but stepping off the track disrupts natural processes, and becomes particularly exaggerated if many people follow the same shortcut.

Straying from the track damages native vegetation and soil can lead to erosion. Vegetation stabilises the soil with root structures and protects the soil layers. Vegetation loss and soil erosion alter pollination processes, nutrient cycling and with potential knock-on impacts to other ecological processes. These impacts are particularly exaggerated in sensitive ecosystems, and that’s why park managers put so much effort into maintaining existing tracks. So regardless of whether the track is muddy or wet, stick to it.

The same goes for creeks crossings. Sticking to the intended track is usually the safest option but also minimises the amount of rock/sediments that get dislodged into the waterway, which can disturb aquatic wildlife.

Keep group sizes small (4-8 people). Split up larger groups so that the wear and tear on sections of the track is minimised.

Select break and lunch stops where the group will have minimal impact. Avoid soft areas and delicate vegetation. Look for rocks, worn areas or even sit on track itself (if this doesn’t disturb other walkers).

The one obvious exception to the stick-to-the-track guideline is finding a suitable spot to go to the loo. Move off the track at a point where digging a hole will cause minimal vegetation damage (avoid fragile surfaces such as muddy sites, soft plants and riparian zones). If multiple people need the loo, spread out in different directions to avoid creating new well-worn tracks.

Coastal walking How to have minimal impact on remote beaches

Many coastal tracks through natural areas follow remote shorelines and beaches. Often, the track is not designated along the beach.

In these cases follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Spread out and aim (as much as possible) to travel on durable sand surfaces.
  2. Walk at low tide where the group is more likely to encounter hard surfaces (e.g. gravel, hard sand or rock outcrops) and have less disturbance to the sand habitat. At high tide the group’s impact is likely to be greater because they will be forced to walk along fragile sand dune regions.
  3. Avoid crushing intertidal wildlife (e.g. oysters, barnacles, mussels) if walking on rock surfaces.
  4. Leave rockpool wildlife alone: do not touch or catch crabs or anything else living in the rockpools.

Further reading Some references on minimal impact walking

Pickering, Catherine M., and Ralf C. Buckley. “Swarming to the summit: managing tourists at Mt Kosciuszko, Australia.” Mountain Research and Development 23.3 (2003): 230-233.

Bennett, Mark, L. Kriwoken, and L. Fallon. “Managing bushwalker impacts in the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area, Australia.” International Journal of Wilderness 9.1 (2003): 14-18

Cole, David N. “Impacts of hiking and camping on soils and vegetation: a review.” Environmental impacts of ecotourism 41 (2004): 60.

J. Whinam, N. Chilcott. Impacts of trampling on alpine environments in central Tasmania. Journal of Environmental Management, 57 (1999), pp. 205–220.

J. Whinam, N. Chilcott. Impacts after four years of experimental trampling on alpine/subalpine environments in western Tasmania. Journal of Environmental Management, 67 (2003), pp. 205–220

G. Dixon, M. Hawes, G. McPherson. Monitoring and modelling walking track impacts in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Australia. Journal of Environmental Management, 71 (2004), pp. 305–320

P. Mende, D. Newsome. The assessment, monitoring and management of hiking trails: a case study from the Stirling Range National Park Western Australia. Conservation Science Western Australia, 5 (2006), pp. 285–295

Pickering, Catherine Marina, and Andrew J. Growcock. “Impacts of experimental trampling on tall alpine herbfields and subalpine grasslands in the Australian Alps.” Journal of environmental management 91.2 (2009): 532-540.

D. Sun, M.J. Liddle. A survey of trampling effects on soils and vegetation in eight tropical and subtropical sites. Environmental Management, 17 (1993), pp. 497–510

D. Sun, M.J. Liddle. Plant morphological characteristics and resistance to experimental trampling. Environmental Management, 17 (1993), pp. 511–521

R. Hill, C.M. Pickering. Differences in the resistance of three subtropical vegetation types to experimental trampling. Journal of Environmental Management, 90 (2009), pp. 1305–1312

Pickering, Catherine Marina, et al. “Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America.” Journal of environmental management 91.3 (2010): 551-562.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Leaving natural areas in pristine condition

Wilderness is harder and harder to find these days on this beautiful planet,
and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return. Betty White

Rubbish dumped in the bush can have serious impacts on native wildlife. Animals scavenging for food may shred plastic wrapping, spreading it further through the bush. Worse still, animals may ingest some pieces while scavenging for food with potentially lethal consequences.

In coastal areas, rubbish can be swept out to sea affecting marine wildlife too. Animals can also get trapped in or around plastic rubbish (e.g. seabirds caught inside six-pack holders, or turtles with plastic bags on their bodies). Even if the tiniest corner of a muesli bar wrapper is dropped in the bush, it has the potential to have lethal consequences for an innocent animal somewhere in the ecosystem.

Here are some simple guidelines:

  1. Carry a sealable garbage bag to secure any rubbish: while it’s convenient to put a muesli bar wrapper in a pocket, it’s all too likely to fall out when walking on the track.
  2. Remove all rubbish including fruit peel and cores. While most common fruits/vegetables will biodegrade, they will not do it overnight. Leftover fruit and vegetable matter in the bush will become an eyesore to other bushwalkers and potentially harm wildlife. Feeding wild animals human food can make them reliant on human foods and less capable of hunting natural food. If animals start to associate humans with food sources, it can make them aggressive towards people. Some animals may become extremely sick if they eat human food since they are not used to it. In rare cases, fruit or vegetable waste may germinate resulting in an introduced weedy species in a natural area. Likewise, do not put food waste into water courses.
  3. Collect any extra rubbish on the track. Every bushwalker has the responsibility to keep the bush pristine. If it’s within the capacity of the group to carry out found rubbish, then do it. Otherwise, package it up securely (to stop animals getting into it, or wind/water distributing it further), record the coordinates of where it is, and alert a park ranger when the group gets back into phone reception.
  4. At the end of your bushwalk recycle as much as possible, including plastics.
  5. Do an idiot check after lunch and rest spots: check for loose food items and equipment.
  6. Dispose of human waste correctly. This ensures that it will decompose the quickest, prevents disease spread and/or contamination of water sources, and avoids some other poor bushwalker coming across it! Do not bury sanitary products or tampons: carry everything out.

Further reading Some references on removing rubbish from the bush

K.L. Bridle, J.B. Kirkpatrick. Impacts of nutrient additions and digging for human waste disposal in natural environments, Tasmania, Australia. Journal of Environmental Management, 69 (2003), pp. 299–306

K.L. Bridle, J.B. Kirkpatrick. An analysis of the breakdown of paper products (toilet paper, tissues and tampons) in natural environments, Tasmania, Australia. Journal of Environmental Management, 74 (2005), pp. 21–30

K. Bridle, J. Kirkpatrick, J. von Platen. Human Waste Contamination at Huts and Campsites in the Back Country of Tasmania. Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, Griffith University, Gold Coast (2006)

Bridle, Kerry L., et al. “Inadequate Faeces Disposal in Back-county Areas, Tasmania: Environmental Impacts and Potential Solutions.” Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 14.1 (2007): 58-65.

Leave What You Find

How to interact with the natural surroundings

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. Carl Sagan

People visit natural areas for a range of reasons, but all seem to share the same desire to experience wild beauty and reconnect with something fundamentally natural. All bushwalkers want to be able to return again and again to these wilderness areas and experience them exactly unchanged and untouched. Think of natural areas as a museum to explore, look and learn from, and leave for other to see too. By leaving behind every element of nature just as they found it, bushwalkers can have minimal impact on the natural ecology of the system, and minimal disturbance to wildlife.

Some simple guidelines include:

  1. Do not touch or remove any natural material. This includes flowers, feathers, rocks, plants, fossils, shells and so on. It also means not to move artifacts between sites in natural areas. Leave everything as it should be.
  2. If your group builds rock structures (e.g. cairns) or makes signals (e.g. stick arrows), destroy them after they have been used. Spread the material out where it belongs. Do not scratch markings into rocks or put carvings onto trees.
  3. Never interfere with Aboriginal artwork or artifacts. Bushwalking tracks traverse through areas that have been home to indigenous people for tens of thousands of years and have a great deal of historical, cultural and spiritual significance. It is an offense under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 to tamper with Aboriginal artifacts, engravings or paintings: leave them just as they are for others to enjoy. If anyone in the group finds an Aboriginal artifact, report it to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Further reading Some references on ‘Leave what you find’

Taçon, Paul SC, et al. “Eagle’s Reach: a focal point for past and present social identity within the Northern Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Australia.”Archaeologies of Art: Time, Place, and Identity (2008): 195-214.

Kelleher, Matthew, et al. “Wollemi petroglyphs, NSW, Australia: an unusual assemblage with rare motifs.” (2006): 227.

Taylor, Audrey R., and Richard L. Knight. “Wildlife responses to recreation and associated visitor perceptions.” Ecological Applications 13.4 (2003): 951-963.

Knight, Richard L., and David N. Cole. “Wildlife responses to recreationists.”Wildlife and recreationists: coexistence through management and research(1995): 51-69.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

How to to minimize the impacts of fires

From one small spark a bushfire grows.
Sellers of misery are our foes.
Merging ruthlessly tongues of flame.
Point your finger at those to blame. Paul Anthony

Campfires can be a wonderful way of bringing a bushwalking group together to keep warm and cook food on, but it’s impossible to have a fire without leaving some trace of being there.

Campfires leave a scar behind on the earth, and the scar can take considerable time to disappear depending on the habitat. Lighting a fire involves complete removal of firewood that may provide valuable habitat for wildlife in that system (e.g. nesting birds, invertebrates). Fires also increase the risk of bushfire which not only can be fatal for humans and human infrastructure but wildlife too.

Alternative options to campfires
Think about the reasons for wanting to light a campfire. Is it for cooking? For a cup of tea? To provide light? Or simply to have a social gathering?

Stoves have improved immensely in the last couple of decades and produce boiling water far quicker than a campfire can. Lightweight stoves can be less than 150g (not including fuel) and can boil enough water for a few cups of tea in less than 2 minutes. Don’t leave a stove unattended, and make sure it’s fully out before going to bed. On shorter day walks, consider using a thermos or cold food that can be eaten cold.

LED lanterns are excellent sources of light and ideal for car camping trips. Again, they’re much more effective sources of light than a fire. On overnight bushwalking trips use head torches and lightweight solar powered lanterns for light. Alternatively, use candles, but make sure they are always attended and extinguished before going to bed.

Total Fire Ban Days
There are strict rules about what is allowed and not allowed on total fire ban days.
DO NOT LIGHT A FIRE on total fire ban days. In NSW and some other states, portable fuel stoves are also banned on total fire ban days.

In NSW The Rural Fire Service Commissioner may decide to issue a Total Fire Ban when conditions become sufficiently dangerous. Generally, this is when conditions make it hard to contain a fire (i.e. sufficiently hot and windy) and fire risk to natural areas and human life become high. A decision to enforce a total fire ban is usually made during the afternoon and is effective from midnight for 24 hours. If conditions get worse, a total fire ban may be issued on the actual day.

Check conditions on the Rural Fire Service website before the trip and know the risks and how to respond if caught in a bushfire.

Fuel Stove only areas
Some natural areas are fuel stove only areas, meaning that no campfires are allowed, and cooking must be done on fuel stoves instead.

Land managers designate fuel stove only areas to reduce bushfire risk, to prevent depletion of wood supplies and to protect natural values. This is true for most of the Tasmanian natural areas where peat fires can smoulder underground for months and are hard to extinguish.

Check out what rules apply to the natural area before leaving on the walk.

How to have a minimal impact campfire
If, after all this, the group still decides to have a campfire, follow these tips to have minimal impact.

Selecting a fire location and collecting wood:

  1. Choose a clear location where the wind will blow flames away from tents and vegetation. Remove all dry tinder.
  2. Where possible, use existing fire scars. Never use a rock surface as it leaves behind a scar that doesn’t fade.
  3. Don’t surround the fire with rocks: the rocks get damaged and/or can explode.
  4. Don’t cut down live branches: use dead and fallen wood.

Maintaining the fire:

  1. Never leave the fire unattended.
  2. Keep the fire small.
  3. Make sure there is enough water supplies to put out the fire at any stage.

Extinguishing the fire and leaving minimal trace:

  1. Fires must be completely extinguished before leaving or going to bed. This means the fire must be completely cold and nothing left smouldering. The best way to put out a fire completely is to douse it with water.
  2. Disperse any firewood back to where it was naturally found.
  3. In wilderness areas, scatter all traces of the fire.

Smoking
Smoking is now banned in all NSW national parks and offenders are subject to on-the-spot fines. Parks aims to reduce littering, the risk of bushfires and offer a healthy natural environment to visitors. Smoking bans also apply to many other outdoor areas too under the Smoke-Free Environmental Act 2000: check the rules before lighting up.

Smoking bans in National Parks do not currently extend to e-cigarettes. Smoking is also permitted in some commercially licenced areas.

Bushwalkers should consider other options to smoking on a bushwalk (e.g. e-cigarettes, nicotine patches, gum etc.). If they still choose to smoke on a walk, they should move downwind from the rest of the group, and use a tupperware box to contain used cigarette butts and ash securely. They must carry out all rubbish. Note that irresponsible disposal of cigarette butts on a total fire ban day is an offence, with heavy fines and jail sentences.

Further Reading References for minimizing impacts of campfires

McClelland, Matt. Bushwalking and bushfires [online]. Nature New South Wales, Vol. 57, No. 4, Summer 2013: 18-19

Bradstock, Ross Andrew, Jann Elizabeth Williams, and A. Malcolm Gill, eds.Flammable Australia: the fire regimes and biodiversity of a continent. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Abbott, Ian, and N. Burrows. “Aboriginal fire regimes in south-west Western Australia: evidence from historical documents.” Fire in ecosystems of south-west Western Australia: impacts and management. Symposium proceedings (Volume I), Perth, Australia, 16-18 April 2002.. Backhuys Publishers, 2003.

Is it safe to walk by Matt McClelland, article from BWA emagazine, December 2013

Should I postpone my walk by Matt McClelland, article from BWA emagazine, December 2014

Respect Wildlife

How to have minimal impact on natural wildlife

For most of history,
man has had to fight nature to survive;
in this century he is beginning to realise that in order to survive,
he must protect it. Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Australia’s native wildlife is threatened by habitat degradation, pollution, predation/competition by introduced species and general anthropogenic disturbance. Natural areas are the last refuge for many of our amazingly diverse and beautiful species including many that are vulnerable and endangered.

Bushwalkers that use natural areas must respect wildlife, and cause as little disturbance as possible. Give wildlife as much space as possible and do not interfere with them.

Human Food and Wildlife

Carry out all food scraps and do not feed wildlife. Human food is not part of the natural diet of wild animals, and it can make them sick. This includes seemingly healthy and plain foods like fruit and bread. Animals that are fed by humans quickly learn to associate food with humans. They can become reliant on that human food and aggressive towards people. They will quickly learn to harass people or steal food from future bushwalking groups that pass through the same area. Even crumbs left behind at lunch can teach animals to associate food sources with popular rest points on bush tracks. Prevent this from happening by securely packing up leftover food scraps and carrying everything out, including biodegradable foods like apple cores, avocado pips and orange peels.

Wildlife Photography

Walk calmly and quietly through the bush: do not make sudden loud noises when walking. Consider buying a good camera with a sufficient zoom lens to take wildlife photos, instead of getting too close to the wild animal in person. Closing in on an animal can scare them away. Perhaps they were there to feed or breed, or escape from a predator. Scaring an animal causes unnecessary stress, and has the potential to have significant ecological consequences, particularly for threatened or vulnerable species. Never touch or corner an animal for the sake a photo. If you spot an animal, watch quietly and calmly, and take the experience home as a great memory.

Pets

National parks provide refuge for native animals to persist as human development increases. They provide important habitat for many vulnerable and threatened species to survive. While dogs are wonderful companions in an urban context, consider carefully which natural areas are suitable.

Dogs are not allowed in:

Dogs are allowed in:

Many pet owners argue that because their pet won’t attack or harm any native wildlife, it should be allowed to access natural areas. But it’s not just the danger of a pet attacking a native animal, the mere presence of a dog can scare birds away from breeding areas. Researchers found lower bird abundance and diversity in dog walking areas even when dogs were kept on leads, suggesting that birds perceived dogs as predator threats regardless of if they could actually attack[1]Banks, Peter B., and Jessica V. Bryant. “Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas.” Biology Letters 3.6 (2007): 611-613”. So keeping a dog on a leash isn’t enough: when heading out into natural areas, organise for pets to be looked after back at home, and enjoy native Australian wildlife in their natural habitat.

Injured Wildlife

Occasionally a bushwalking group may find an injured animal on the track. If close to civilisation, consider alerting WIRES, otherwise, leave the animal alone. The animal will either recover naturally or die and become a food source for another animal or soil nutrients for plants.

Further Reading References for minimising wildlife impacts

Effects of Nonconsumptive Recreation on Wildlife: A Review. Stephen A. Boyle and Fred B. Samson. Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006). Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1985), pp. 110-116

Influence of Recreational Trails on Breeding Bird Communities. Scott G. Miller, Richard L. Knight and Clinton K. Miller. Ecological Applications Vol. 8, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 162-169

Effects of Ecotourism on Distribution of Waterbirds in a Wildlife Refuge. Mary L. Klein, Stephen R. Humphrey and H. Franklin Percival. Conservation Biology. Vol. 9, No. 6 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1454-1465.

Does Repeated Human Intrusion Cause Cumulative Declines in Avian Richness and Abundance? Samuel K. Riffell, Kevin J. Gutzwiller and Stanley H. Anderson
Ecological Applications. Vol. 6, No. 2 (May, 1996), pp. 492-505

Banks, Peter B., and Jessica V. Bryant. “Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas.” Biology Letters 3.6 (2007): 611-613.

Kerlinger, Paul, et al. Wildlife and recreationists: coexistence through management and research. Eds. Richard L. Knight, and Kevin Gutzwiller. Island Press, 2013.

References   [ + ]

1. Banks, Peter B., and Jessica V. Bryant. “Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas.” Biology Letters 3.6 (2007): 611-613”

Consider Hosts and Other Visitors

How to interact respectfully with other on the track

It is necessary for a man
to go away by himself
to sit on a rock and ask
‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?’ Carl Sandburg

Although people escape to the bush for a variety of reasons, most people enjoy entering nature in a quiet and reflective state to reconnect with nature and escape from their loud and busy city lives. It’s also the best way to see wildlife with minimal disturbance.

Let everyone in the group Immerse their senses into their surrounding. Who knows what interesting birds and animals the group might hear! Leave any music devices and speakers at home, and turn all mobile phone to silent.

Walk in single file so that oncoming walkers can easily pass. If the group stops for a break, make sure that it’s not blocking the track for other bushwalkers. Similarly, give way for other bushwalkers to overtake the group on the track if their walking pace is faster.

Say a polite “hello” or “g’day” to other walkers on the track, but be aware that not everyone will be up for a lengthy chat. As a general rule, most bushwalkers are there to walk, engage with nature and reflect on their own lives, rather than have long conversations with every person they meet. The exception, of course, is if people look in trouble, or lost. It’s definitely ok to start up a conversation to gauge if they are capable of getting out safely and what equipment are carrying.

Keep a few paces between you and the person in front: this stops the group running into each other or stepping on heels. Relay track information to the back of the group (e.g. “watch out for that slippery section”, “there’s a loose rock here”). If the person in front walks through a branch, be really careful that it doesn’t spring back suddenly: best to hold the branch and pass it onto the next person to minimise injury risk.

Respecting your hosts

Remember that rangers and land managers work tirelessly to maintain tracks and trails, signs and information in natural areas. Make their job easier by respect signs and other infrastructure, and reporting any damage.
After the walk drop into an information hut to thank the local rangers and land managers for maintaining the facilities. Consider volunteering one weekend to help out with track maintenance, weed control or community events.