Sunday, November 17, 2013

Littering the Fells

Litter in the fells. It drives us all mad and unfortunately, with the rising popularity of fell walking, seems to be a worsening problem. It seems that with increasing frequency I find myself coming back from a walk with the extra burden of having collected other folks litter. After tweeting about the issue recently and reading the responses I thought I would jot down some thoughts.

Little Dodd summit cairn plus some unwanted 'decoration'

Recent tweets after I posted this image of a sullied summit cairn on Little Dodd prompted a deluge of comments. In this example the contents of the bags were a dog owners property and as I was on day one a wild camping hike I really didn't want that particular delicacy in my rucksack for 2 days. Reluctantly therefore, I had to leave it. Its a shame that some dog owners do this. It seems strange to me that if you are going to the trouble of bagging it up then at least carry it down. Putting it in a bag and then leaving it seems to me to be a worse problem that just not bothering to pick it up in the first place. Its going to degrade much more slowly wrapped in a plastic bag, which itself is also a danger to wild life.

A selection of comments on Twitter :-

"Scruffy peasants ..... what in the hell possesses them I'll never know"
"It's like they don't intend to come back & they do it everyday but not in their own houses, just outside" 
"its an all to common sight. Lazy inconsiderate people leaving their c**p for someone else to pick up! Drives me mad"
"Idiots" "or worse!"
"Grrr! these people aren't true outdoorists"
"Unfortunately we will never be able to stop littering but we can embarrass them to picking it up"
"That boils my piss - Grrr"  - my personal favourite :-)
"It appears that even our wild places are not safe from the scruffy peasants"
"I frequently come off the fells with pouches full of rubbish ..."
"I carry a rubbish bag too. Usually pick up discarded drinks bottles"

I think the perpetrators fall distinctly into 2 types. On one hand there are the deliberate litter bugs. These are the type of folk who we all see throwing their flotsam out of car windows with no sense of a moral compass. I'm not sure if anything can be done about such people, they are likely beyond help. On the other hand though are the folk whose hearts are probably in the right place but are just ignorant of their actions. A classic example of this happened yesterday when descending Sticks Pass in the Lake District after a wild camping trip. From a distance down the path I saw a man and his wife fiddling with their packs and shedding gear as they were obviously warming up on the ascent. When I finally passed them the man said causally to me "By the way, if you want an orange I've left one by the stile down there. Its OK, its perfectly fresh". Weary after a sleepless night (that's my excuse for not being on the ball & challenging him) I just said "thanks" and continued down. Sure enough when I arrived at the stile there was a large orange on the ground right by the path. I looked back up but the couple were out of sight. Scratching my head it suddenly dawned on me that he was obviously trying to lose some pack weight and the orange must have been considered a heavy item. I can only imagine that he genuinely thought he would be helping a weary hiker by leaving it by the path, or maybe he just thought that because it's an orange it will eventually degrade so no harm done? I believe this second type of person is misguided but not beyond help. Perhaps by raising awareness we can all educate such folk.

Some litter collected from my Stony Cove Pike walk 2 weeks ago

I have to say that I have heard the biodegradable excuse before and it just doesn't cut it with me. One could argue that native fruits; apples, pears etc will degrade fairly quickly over a few weeks or be eaten by birds. Fair enough, but the fells aren't the natural habitat of fruit trees and if we all dropped our apple cores then the fells would be littered with them. Do we really want that? I have many times passed large groups of 20+ hikers having their lunch at popular rest stops in the fells. Image if they all dumped their half eaten fruit, orange peel and sandwiches. It wouldn't be long before the smell of rotten food would be a familiar accompaniment to fell walking. Not a pleasant prospect. Non-native fruits & other foodstuffs present a worse problem. The peel of oranges and bananas take much longer to degrade in our climate and will be an eye sore for many months, especially in the winter when soil microorganisms and fungi are less active. Also, local flora & fauna can be adversely affected by non-native species. Sheep in particular have been known to choke on banana skins. Not convinced? Here is great article highlighting the problem on Ben Nevis where in September 2009 the John Muir Trust found up to 1000 banana skins on the summit plateau

This was the largest item found this weekend. It's a burst balloon which probably blew into the fells. No malice here and its easy enough for me to take it home and bin it.

Of course the vast majority of folk are respectful and courteous in the fells and I have seen many more examples of good behaviour than bad. Unfortunately the thoughtless minority can cause a disproportionate amount of heartache. One only has to look at pictures of Everest's south col to see what results from a lack of respect in the mountains. Closer to home, '3 peakers' make a considerable mess on Scafell Pike every summer necessitating an annual clean up by a team of local volunteers. 

I think that the old adage to 'leave nothing but footprints' is commendable. Or even better 'leave no trace' which to me represents the right mindset when out enjoying our great outdoors. If you agree then maybe on your next hike take a small litter bag just in case, and if you do happen to come across any of the 'type 2' perpetrators then remember that they might just be amenable to some constructive education and then that's one less banana skin for us all to slip on - so to speak :-)

Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome as always.


  1. Couldn't agree more. I'm the sort of person who goes running after a bit of litter that blows out my hand I just don't understand the mentality. Like you say don't leave anything. You brought it with you, it can't be that much of an effort to take back too.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm the same. After this walk I opened the car boot and a Tesco receipt blew out requiring a 50 foot sprint to retrieve. Litter breeds litter though so every little helps.

  3. Agreed! This is a very thoughtful article Steve.Empty plastic water and drinjs bottles particularly bug me. They only weigh a few grams so why do people not take them down with them? I try to make a point of picking up at least one piece of litter every single walk. If we all did that.... mind you we shouldn't have to.

    1. Thanks for the comment David. We shouldn't have to indeed but I've just accepted a degree of litter picking as an expected part of the hike now. I live in hope though.