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Reducing our impact in the hills

Our top tips

Scotland has the best access to the countryside in the UK. With this comes a responsibility on all of us who explore it to tread lightly.

If you are passionate about caring for the mountain environment we all enjoy and supporting Scotland's mountain communities, follow our guidance on making choices that will minimise the impact you have while hill walking, climbing or ski-mountaineering.

Sometimes the impact of our actions is not immediately obvious, but only becomes so through the accumulation of effects and the fact that we are among many hill goers out there. Here are a few areas where we can all help out.

Every year hundreds of thousands of pounds is spent on upland path work. Research has also shown that above 600m, vegetation may never naturally recover from damage. Alongside contributing to the fundraising for this work, many ways you can help cost you absolutely nothing:

  • Use your route planning skills and try a route not in the guidebooks

  • Scree slopes are an important and vulnerable habitat, avoid damage by finding another route if you can

  • If there is an erosion scar, walk within its boundaries to avoid spreading it further; alternatively, completely avoid the area

  • Follow a zig-zag route rather than cutting corners or going straight up or down a slope; your knees will also last longer!

  • Use the lightest footwear practical for traversing the terrain

  • Help clear the stones and soil from drainage channels across paths each time you are out; this would have a great effect if everyone did.

  • Contact us if you find a path suffering from serious erosion with a grid reference and a photo, this can help us make land owners aware and seek repairs

Whether you are camping, walking, climbing or snowholing: only things that you are willing to carry out should be carried in.

  • Food scraps, even when buried, attract scavengers, some of which prey on vulnerable nesting birds or displace more specialist animals. Don't be fooled into thinking you are dropping 'organic' matter: fruit peel can take years to break down.

  • Abandoned bottles can be prisons for small animals: six dead mice have been found in one bottle. Glass bottles can also be a source of fire by focusing the sun's heat.

Litter in the mountains and their approaches is a serious problem in some areas and we would urge people to read about and join in our #TakItHame anti-litter campaign.

There are few toilets in the mountains, but sometimes we still need to 'go'. Dealing with this in a hygenic and environmentally sensitive way is a vital outdoor skill. 

Wildlife can be the highlight of hillwalking and rock climbing, and you can help keep it that way. You should also be aware where you stand in relation to wildlife laws, as disturbing a wide range of plants and animals is illegal.

Camping wild is a great way to experience Scotland's hills and glens. It has minimal impact when done responsibly. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives lots of advice on this vital skill, from where to locate your tent, to guidance on lighting fires.

Scotland's outdoors are a great place to explore with your dog, but this can also cause problems:

  • Dogs should not be taken into fields where there are young animals, vegetables or fruit, unless you and your dog are on a clear path and keep to it.

  • Keep your dog under close control if there is livestock and as far from them as possible. In the event of livestock acting aggressively, let your dog go and move away. Landowners are legally empowered to shoot any dog that is causing distress to grazing animals if they believe this is the only way to stop it.

  • During the bird breeding season (February to July) keep your dog under close control on a lead.

  • As with humans, when your dog needs to 'go'. You should ensure they leave no trace.

We have comprehensive advice on the issues you need to be aware of when taking your dogs into the mountains in our Taking the dog pages.

Some cairns have historical significance or are important landmarks. Most are an unnecessary and potentially misleading intrusion on the natural landscape:

Boundaries such as dry stone walls are traditional structures and easily damaged. Fences are not usually erected to keep people out but to control the movement of wild animals and livestock for conservation or farming:

Crags are home to flora and fauna that has retreated from heavy grazing and disturbance, or, because that is their specialist habitat. Follow these steps to ensure you minimise your impact when climbing or bouldering:

  • On approach and descent, use existing paths if possible or choose a line that avoids soft vegetation which is prone to erosion.

  • Avoid chipping, scratching, arrows, cairns or other graffiti.

  • Ensure the crag edge and any trees used for belays are protected by suitable padding or slings long enough to drape over the edge when bottom roping.

  • Avoid abseiling down climbing routes if at all possible.

  • 'Gardening' or removing vegetation, including lichen, by hand, brushing or chemicals is illegal as all plants are protected by law. Consult the local SNH office if you have any questions.

  • Use chalk sparingly and avoid resin.

  • Bolts are acceptable in some places, but not others. Pegs should be avoided, except for emergencies, and slings and wires should be removed after use.

  • Try to avoid overuse of popular venues, particularly as part of a group.

Many of the best winter climbing venues are north-facing cliffs which hold considerable amounts of vegetation. Some are locations of rare alpine plants. It is important that vegetation and turf is completely frozen to minimise damage:

  • Ensure the cliff has a 'winter' appearance with snow, ice or verglas completely covering rock, not just snow on the ledges.

  • Winter ascents of summer rock routes with crampons, peg placements and axes in cracks can cause damage, like chipping the rock, potentially ruining the rock route.

Skiing on incomplete snow cover can have the effect of skis slicing through the vegetation and compacting remnants of snow can further damage it. 

  • So, only ski when you are sure conditions are generally good and keep to stretches of complete snow cover.
  • Be aware of and always follow the Snow Sports Touring Code