Today’s blog is written by Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve (NNR) Manager, Catriona Reid, who’s had her hands full since she’s been able to get back on the reserve a few weeks ago, once restrictions lifted.
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Scotland’s beautiful scenery spread out in front of you, your nice cosy tent pitched somewhere quiet, the smell of the pines and the sausages frying on your stove … and, when you pack up to go, there’s only a wee flat bit of grass to show you’ve ever been here. That’s proper wild camping – you leave no trace and you should be rightly proud that your visit and enjoyment hasn’t damaged anything or spoiled anyone else’s day.
And then there’s the other sort. With the lockdown being lifted, people are piling into the countryside in droves … it feels so good to get out again. But it’s likely folk can’t go far on holiday – places in the UK are booked up and foreign travel is fraught with risks, from catching COVID to suddenly having to quarantine with no pay. So it’s safer to stay at home, right? After all, Scotland has the most amazing and varied landscape, so why not spend a few days out there? And that’s great – we need visitors to come back to restart local economies and it’s heartening that so many people want to spend time in nature. Unfortunately for nature, some of those people are very destructive. I will say, right now, that the majority of visitors are great, it’s a selfish minority who spoil things for everyone. But there are so many people in the countryside just now, that those who choose to please themselves are causing serious problems .
The problems often start on the roads. If people have resolved that they are going to a certain destination, they are often unwilling to change their plans, even if a place is overly busy. At Muir of Dinnet, we’re seeing issues with up to 58 cars parked on the verge and people walking on the roads, putting themselves at risk. We’ve had to call the police because of the parking on more than one occasion and hope there isn’t an accident. But we’re not alone in seeing this – our sister reserve at St Cyrus has similar problems, as do other local beauty spots like Glen Muick and Glen Tanar. On Deeside, on a sunny weekend day, it’s likely every reserve and beauty spot car park will be full by 11am. Look at the advice on our website and avoid the busy nature reserves.
With the high visitor numbers, we’re also seeing unprecedented amounts for irresponsible camping, litter and fires. I tend to think of this as ‘dirty camping’ ….tents pitched any old how, sometimes right on footpaths. This can really upset other visitors who have to step round these, especially if the tent’s residents have been partaking of a drink or seven.
Another big issue is that most people who camp want a fire, even if it means scorching a bit of the NNR and they all seem to want their own fire – even if it means scorching another bit of ground only feet away from another fire pit. Often, live branches are cut for these fires (which is vandalism, pure and simple, and a bit of a waste of time, because green wood doesn’t burn well). Even collecting dead wood destroys habitat for invertebrates and that’s not counting the risk of wildfires when people walk away and leave them burning. The the best solution is for people to use a stove as there are often very few places that a fire can be safely lit, especially in wooded sites.
We’re also seeing more litter on the reserve than I’ve ever seen, in 15 years of working here. It’s not uncommon for us to pick up two wheely bins worth of litter over the course of a weekend. As well as being unsightly, it can be dangerous to wildlife and other visitors…we’ve found some horrible shards of broken glass where bottles have been thrown into the loch or burn. Human waste is also an issue. Yes, okay, if you’re in the countryside and need the loo…well, it happens and when you gotta go… but there are ways and means of going. ‘Go’ well away from water and bury any waste. Don’t use wet wipes (we must have picked up hundreds in the past few weeks, and quite a few were brown-stained) …but far too many people are ‘going’ right by the path and leaving everything lying. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to elaborate further!
All of this is, or has the potential to have a huge detrimental effect on our wonderful country…and on wildlife and visitors. The NNR staff, along with rangers from the Cairngorms National Park, do our best to keep on top of it, but, like many land managers, we’re struggling with the weight of numbers. Things like litter also have a financial implication for land managers as we have to pay to have waste removed…and there’s been oh,so much of it.
So, please, if you’re out on a nature reserve this weekend, be respectful of others, leave our beautiful natural sites the way you find them, and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC). There’s more info on the SOAC website on responsible camping, dog walking and more.