Introduced in the 1960s by the U.S. Forest Service, the Leave No Trace principles began as educational guidelines to help visitors behave ethically and sustainably during outdoor recreation . Across the world, LNT principles have served as the cornerstone for education on sustainability and outdoor recreation. As more areas become accessible and interest in recreation grows, the 7 principles keep evolving to cater to emerging trends. Let's have a look at them.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
One of my trainers, a very wise man, used to often say- Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance. He was always prepared and seemed to have a contingency plan for every single thing and that made him largely efficient and successful in our field of work. Now, we don't all possess such foresight but we all have the ability to think ahead-- and are encouraged to do this often.
In the outdoors, a lot of incidences happen because of improper planning and lack of preparedness. For instance, disregard for weather conditions or wildlife can turn an easy hike into a risky encounter depending on your location. Plan ahead by considering your goals and those of your group. Prepare by gathering local information, communicating expectations, and getting the technical skills, first aid knowledge, and equipment to make the trip a success. Have enough resources like food and water, adequate security clearance and never leave anything concerning the safety of your group to chance. In short, as locals like to say, Jipange kabla Upangwe!
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Ground
What effect does a footstep have? The answer is, it depends!
A footstep means different things to a young tree or dead branches, to an army of ants, worms and small insects on the ground or coral reefs, to fallen leaves or rain forest moss. Recovery that takes a year in some environments might take 25 years in others for plants and landscapes. Unfortunately, recovery for animals is rare as only the strong survive. Injury puts most in the way of death. You may feel adventurous out there, making your own paths and bush-bashing your way across the wilderness but consider this, the world lays beneath your feet.
Sticking to the tracks is best because you avoid unseen danger ahead like snakes and cliffs, you avoid disruption of fora and fauna, you make it easy to be found in case of rescue scenarios and most importantly, paths are specifically made for walking on ;)
If there are no tracks, avoid non-durable ground such as soft plants, stream edges, muddy sites, and fragile soil layers. Spread the impact as much as possible to avoid making a lasting imprint and permanent damage. We drop the mic on this one using Nicholas Agar's words- "The science of nature and the ethics of nature are no longer separate disciplines. Finding out about natural kinds constituting the environment enables us to see not only how the environment may be protected, but also that it should be protected."
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
This one we should all be practising already, either through following your conscience or the law. Either way, “Pack it in, pack it out”.
Any user of the outdoors has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for rubbish or spilled foods. Pack out all rubbish and kitchen waste, including leftover food. If it doesn't belong there, please don't leave it behind.
Some of us are used to hurling banana peels and apple cores into bushes without a care saying that it decomposes or animals will eat it...then it begins -The soil composition changes and plants around the given area suffer from that foreign manure or worse still, the animal's diet constitution changes and they acquire a taste for things they are not used to and begin dumpster diving, causing more havoc...the cycle continues and we have a bigger mess on our hands all because you couldn't wait and throw your banana peel in the bin. You do less good introducing foreign flora (or food to wild animals) than by disposing of it properly.
Lead by example. Pick up any rubbish you see, not just your own. This one may seem like a big sacrifice but don't let that stop you form caring about the environment. Finally, never miss an opportunity to use a proper toilet facility and don’t dispose of your rubbish in them. If there are no toilets - be prepared and know how and where to dig catholes or even when to carry it out. Ewwwww! I know, but you're the one making it...be responsible!
4. Leave What You Find
"Long ago the Olden People learned to share without touching, to take but not destroy, to merge with the essence of creation and to respect with love. In this action of heart and mind, the secrets of the forests, mountains and rivers were thus revealed" - Mitaki Ra
People visit natural areas for many reasons, among them to explore nature’s mysteries and surprises. When we leave rocks, shells, plants, feathers, fossils, artefacts and other objects of interest as we find them, we pass the gift of discovery on to those who follow.
Leaving what you find should be your first thought when you find something interesting or attractive. The memory is more magical and it will lead you there again as opposed to dusting a dead starfish in your house and not even marveling at its beautiful sight as you would in its natural and vivid environment. There may be times and places when it is OK to collect something (for example for a child to collect some seashells or pretty rocks on a beach). But remember, we humans are very good at taking without thinking and there should be places where we show self-control.
5. Minimise the Effects of Fire
The natural appearance of many areas has been compromised by the careless use of campfires and the demand for firewood. Campfires are beautiful by night. But the enormous rings of soot-scarred rocks – overflowing with ashes, partly burned logs, food and rubbish – are unsightly. Surrounding areas have been stripped of their natural beauty as every scrap of dry wood has been torched. Many of these fires are either carelessly or accidentally set by uninformed campers and travellers. Large uncontrolled wildfires set unintentionally can spread rapidly and result in the critical loss of natural habitat, property and human life.
Leave No Trace educates people on whether a fire is appropriate, and techniques that can be used to minimise the harm they cause.
6. Respect Wildlife and Farm Animals
"Ultimately, to coexist we have to change, to accept that nature isn't a factory constructed for us - accept that we are part of it, not its absolute masters" - Geoff Park
Encounters with wildlife inspire wonder. Unfortunately, wildlife in Africa face threats from loss and fragmentation of habitat, pollution, over-exploitation, poaching and disease. If our own species needs protection from one another ie. police and other law enforcement bodies, how much so the wildlife!
Our parks and reserves offer a last refuge from some, but not all of these problems. That is why wild animals and marine life need people who will treat them with respect rather than add to the difficulties they already face. If wild animals are changing their behaviour because of our actions, we are too close and interfering with their normal behaviour. Never feed wildlife- human food is toxic to many birds and it attracts animals to carparks, cities and other areas where they are likely to be injured or cause harm if agitated-sound familiar? We need to share the outdoors not invade it.
7. Be Considerate Of Others
There is simply not enough country for every category of enthusiast to have exclusive use of land, wilderness, trails, bush, lakes, rivers, and campgrounds. Consider others, and what they might be trying to get out of their outdoor experience. This includes being exceptionally considerate while taking selfies, doing video blogs, playing loud music and flying drones.
In addition, respect locals and their property. Pass quietly through farmland and leave the gates as you found them. Share the huts and bandas you stay in and welcome others who arrive after you. Leave sites better than you found them.
Bonus Principle: Give Back
It’s no longer enough to just enjoy our public lands—you need to help out. Consider joining local organizations for trail and beach cleanup days or restoration projects like tree planting as well as other conservation efforts.
Not sure how to get involved? I’m sure the InterWeb has left many traces (pun intended)... find and join something close by!