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Leave No Trace and your Tourism or Hospitality Business: Leave What You Find

better tourism sustainable tourism
Leave No Trace and your Tourism or Hospitality Business: Leave What You Find

Have you ever been to Egypt? If so, did anyone ever ask before you set off, “will you bring me back some sand from the pyramids?” I went to Egypt on a family holiday when I was 13 and I know many people asked me. Back then, I was oblivious to the negative impact this request may have. Imagine everyone who visited the pyramids took a jar full of sand, surely there wouldn’t be much left today?! This is just one anecdote similar to many others, like a trip to the beach and you find a sparkling piece of vibrant blue sea glass or a peculiar shell or rock. If everyone took one, it’s possible that one day, no treasures will be found and that reaction of amazement and awe at finding these gems would cease to exist. The principle of Leave of Leave No Trace that I will be covering in this article is the fifth, Leave What You Find.

Leaving what you find is not just about leaving that jar of sand where you found it or allowing a hermit crab to find its new home and shell on the beach. There are more factors to it. It is about conserving our heritage and history, leaving natural objects undisturbed and preventing the spread of invasive species.


Conserving our heritage and history

The Republic of Ireland is home to over 138,000 archaeological monuments, while in Northern Ireland there are over 35,000 historic monuments and sites dating from 9,000 years ago to the recent past. Our countryside is dotted with stunning stonewalls each specific to their county and built through hard work and labour using techniques from generations passed. They are a snapshot of the landscape of our ancestors. Unfortunately, nowadays trends like stone stacking have tampered with these walls and carelessness can lead to these stones, that have weathered storms throughout the years, now being knocked. Through being conscious of the effort and history behind these foundations, we can rectify this by simply placing the stone back where it had fallen. We can maintain these walls so they will withstand the many more storms to come. Cairns are another example. Some cairns were built with a purpose, to guide mountaineers in the right direction, or perhaps they are old burial cairns. Deconstructing cairns can have detrimental consequences and lead those in the mountains astray, while the latter would be deconstructing historical rituals from centuries before. What's more these stone walls and cairns are home to many creatures such as lichen and various species and flora. A 1998 survey on the destruction of Ireland's Archaeological heritage revealed that 34% of the monuments within the study areas had been destroyed, while 8% of those remaining had been damaged. We have the capacity to turn this around and protect our natural and cultural heritage


Leaving Natural Objects Undisturbed

Wildflowers have become increasingly popular, in particular now as more people connect with the outdoors. However, picking wildflowers has gained popularity too. Just like the sand example given at the start of this article, wildflower picking, and flower picking in general, can take the vibrant colours out of our landscape. Burren flowers, such as the array of orchids, gentians and heather on show in the National Park in the West of Ireland, represent 75% of the plant species found in Ireland including many other rare flora. Reminders not to pick these flowers are dotted around the park and online in an effort to prevent the possibility of what happened to the Killarney Fern which suffered badly from the wildflower picking tradition in Victorian times.

However, it is not just wildflower picking. It is important we observe, practice taking pictures and leave what we find, even when we think the species has passed its time. Nature regenerates and fallen trees and branches, for example, become homes and food sources for a myriad of species. Makeshift hiking sticks with fallen branches could be homes to these species too, as are the rocks, stones and shells found along the way.


Preventing the spread of invasive species

Invasive species are non-native species that can either harm or over populate areas, to the detriment of native species. According to Invasive Species Northern Ireland “since the 17th century invasive species have contributed to nearly 40% of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known.” They have the ability to transform environments drastically along with the composition of ecosystems. We have the ability to prevent their spread by taking measures like not spreading the seeds of flowers, weeds or aquatic plants to other habitats. We can also ensure walking, camping and water equipment are emptied and cleaned after each use so any species are not transported to other areas. 

What does this mean for your destination?

It is important to conserve and protect the environment and heritage of your destination. The best way you can do this is through promotion and awareness building. Here are ways in which you can promote the Leave No Trace Principle, Leave What You Find:

  • Launch campaigns and erect signage in areas where wildflowers grow to encourage your visitors not to pick wildflowers but instead take a picture. It is important signage does not take away from the natural landscape.
  • Hold photography or drawing competitions locally with the idea of raising awareness of leaving what you find. They could be drawings and photography competitions of our natural and cultural landmarks.
  • Encourage businesses to promote the principles of Leave No Trace and to remind their guests not to pick flowers, to replace any stones they may knock from monuments and to ensure they do not spread the seeds of flowers and such species.
  • Remind visitors not to take home any natural souvenirs from your destination and encourage them to take photos instead.
  • Install a brush or splash area at the exit of parks or trails where visitors can clean their boots.
  • In marine areas, remind visitors through signage to check, clean, dry and disinfect all equipment that has been in the water. 

What does this mean for your tourism or hospitality business?

Tour operators and tour guides have the power to highlight the issues mentioned in this article and for it to have a long lasting impact as they share their knowledge and the possible consequences to our actions. Here are a few other ways in which this principle can be promoted:

  • Remind guests and staff to clean their boots when returning from the outdoors.
  • Encourage guests to take as many photographs of the outdoors and leave the natural environment undisturbed.
  • If working on or near the waterways, remind guests and staff to check, clean, dry and disinfect equipment. Ensure you take the same precautions with your own equipment along with any vehicles and wheels, including bicycles.
  • If involved in walking tours, why not provide makeshift hiking sticks rather than your visitors using fallen branches they find in the outdoors.
  • Remind guests to replace any stones that they may knock when in the outdoors and to be careful with any historical monuments such as stone walls or holy wells.

Just like other articles, this is a guide for you, your destination and tourism or hospitality business in how you can raise awareness and promote the principle of Leave No Trace, Leave What You Find. In summary, you have the capacity to raise awareness with your visitors and staff on respecting your local environment, protecting our heritage, allowing your local biodiversity to flourish, taking photographs of the exciting wonders of your place and leaving what they find.


Aoibheann Boyle

Aoibheann is an accredited Leave No Trace trainer and delivers Awareness Courses as part of destination development training programmes. You can learn more about previous destination development training programmes here.

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