Camping with Minimal Environmental Impact

Australia is a unique country with an array of beautiful and diverse marine and terrestrial parks and forests. These places are special and rare and require care and protection to remain unharmed for future generations to enjoy, and to protect the many plant and animal species that call these places home. As we are enjoying the summer months, the Australian climate is calling us all to get out and be in nature! While we enjoy what is on offer in the natural world around us, it is important to ensure that we leave a minimal impact on the environment. Here are some basic guidelines you can follow this summer.

Photo by Julie Gilchrist- Fraser Island

Why is minimal impact important?

We are so lucky to have such a diverse range of plant and animal species and it is our responsibility when we are out in nature to ensure it remains this way. This stands for every other part of the world as well, and the ideas provided here to enjoy the natural world and leave minimal impact are universal. While common sense goes a long way with reducing human impact in nature, most of these guidelines did not come straight to mind for me, however now that I have learned them, I will endeavor to lessen my personal impact.

Leave No Trace Australia

The non-profit organisation, ‘Leave No Trace Australia’ has developed a plan called ‘7 Principles’ which are;

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimise Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be considerate of Your Hosts and Other Visitors

This creates a fantastic checklist when you are out engaging with nature and these principles are targeted at raising awareness in people rather than on rules and regulations. It is important to understand the impacts we make and consider how best to proceed. To find out more about these principles follow the link provided; http://www.lnt.org.au/programs/7-principles.html

There is also plenty of information and guidelines on the Department of Environment and Science website for different regions and this includes material on maintaining a minimal impact. The link for QLD, Australia is; https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/experiences/camping/

Let’s discuss in more detail how we can reduce the footprint we leave behind when we visit nature and all it has to offer.

Camping

Camping has created some of the best memories of my life and can be an amazing experience, so long as you are well prepared and have done your research on the area you wish to visit. Most national parks, regional parks, recreational parks, forests and reserves allow for camping in certain areas. It is a good idea to research where you will camp and the facilities available to ensure that you are well prepared and have the necessary equipment for your stay. Most camping areas require a camping permit and numbers are often limited to help maintain a minimal impact on the area and its wildlife.

So how do we keep it minimal impact?

Camp Placement:

To begin with the most basic, placement of your tent and equipment can make a huge difference in the impact you make. In some camping grounds the camp sites will be allocated to minimize impact in the area, choosing one of these campgrounds is the best option for the environment. In more remote areas, selecting a site that looks as though it hasn’t been used recently can allow for the more recently used camp sites to revegetate and recover. When pitching your tent, try to avoid crushing plants and tree seedlings and space them as far apart as possible. This can stop pathways being made between tents, a plant may survive one person walking on it, but many would damage the plant and risk it’s life altogether. Another guideline which goes hand in hand with this is not digging trenches around a camp. If you avoid uprooting plants and grasses and allow rain water to flow freely, we make the least impact and give the local fauna the best chance at remaining undamaged and flourishing.

Reducing Waste:

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘if you bring it in, take it out’? This is the perfect frame of mind when camping and you will reduce your environmental impact considerably by disposing of your waste thoughtfully. If you create waste, simply take it with you when you leave to dispose of properly or recycle when you return home. Waste can further be reduced by careful planning. A simple way to create less waste is to remove packaging before you go on your trip and replace with reusable containers. This helpful hint will also provide a place to put left overs and keep rather than disposing of food scraps and enticing wildlife in the area to eat food that is not in their natural diet.

Campfire Awareness:

Campfires are tricky to keep minimal impact. The most important thing you should do with regards to campfires is be aware of any fire bans in the area you are camping. These are put in place in dry or dangerous weather conditions and may help to stop a wildfire from destroying precious flora and fauna. This risk of wildfire can also be further prevented by using a gas stove for cooking instead of a campfire. You can find information about fire bans in a ‘conditions report’ for most parks and forests that allow camping.

Photo by Julie Gilchrist – Teewah Beach Campgrounds

If it is approved to have a campfire, you should use a pre-determined fire spot where appropriate and ensure it is away from plants to avoid spreading. Bringing your own firewood is the best possible practice and, in most parks, and forests, collecting of firewood from nature is prohibited to help reduce environmental impact further.

Don’t Take Souvenirs:

This is a point that doesn’t come straight to mind when you think about responsible camping and reducing your overall environmental impact. You may have heard the quote from a native American chief in the 19th century;

Take only memories, leave only footprints. ~Chief Seattle

These words are famously referred to by travelers the world over and make perfect sense in the world of conservation of nature’s beauty and abundance.

One of the many reasons people want to visit nature is to explore the varied wonders and discover natural beauty in such items as shells, plants, washed up corals etc. If we leave these items where we find them, not only can following visitors to the area see the natural beauty also, but who knows what animal might call that shell or plant home. As tempting as it is, these beautiful things we find should be left alone. Why not take a photo to help you remember the sight, this has no impact on nature at all!

Photo by Julie Gilchrist

Only Drive on Pre-Determined Tracks:

While some camping destinations require a 4WD to access, it is important that we only drive on pre-determined tracks as this will help to avoid cars trampling native fauna and causing irreparable damage. When driving on beach camping areas it is important to obtain a ‘vehicle permit’ and avoid driving in vegetated areas of high species diversity, such as sand dunes. In most cases tracks have already been established to diminish impact.

Photo by Julie Gilchrist – Orchard Beach Fraser Island

Guidelines and Maintaining Nature:

The way in which we care for the environment now will determine the way future generations are able to enjoy the same beauty in nature. By following these simple guidelines, being prepared and doing research on the area that we are going to visit, we can make a huge difference to the impact we have. Enjoying camping as a child and now watching my children enjoy it is an amazing thing. Nothing beats getting back to nature! Let’s make sure it remains as it is, so that many more can enjoy the beauty of nature as we have.

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