Going to a nature reserve is a brilliant day out, but it is important to not pollute or damage it. There are so many benefits to being outside amongst nature and I am not discouraging you from doing this. It is vital to remember that this is nature’s home, not ours. Treat it like you would want others to treat your home. Keep reading for 5 ways to be responsible when visiting nature reserves.
The cover photo is of Daneway Bank nature reserve.
Take your litter home with you
The first way to be responsible when visiting nature reserves is to take your litter home with you. It can be so lovely to have a picnic outside or bring a snack with you. But it is of the utmost importance that you do not litter and add plastic to these wildlife areas. Plastic is not just damaging to the earth; it also entraps and injures animals. There are sometimes bins around nature reserves for dog walkers, and where there is a cafe onsite. If there is a cafe onsite, you could support the reserve by eating there instead.
Stick to paths
I know how tempting it can be to go off the paths to get a good photograph, and in some places this is fine. But it is always best to stick to paths, especially if there are signs up. There are reasons that the paths have been made. For example, ground-nesting birds could be breeding, insects lay their eggs on flowers and plants etc.
Related post: The ultimate list of butterfly species to spot in the UK
Keep gates as you find them
Sometimes in nature reserves, there is cattle grazing so it is vital that you do not keep gates as you find them. Gates can be kept open for a particular reason so it is just best to leave them alone!
Continue reading: 9 ways to be responsible when visiting nature reserves
Keep dogs on leads
Walking your dog in a nature reserve is a lovely idea, but please ensure that you keep your dog on a lead. Dogs can cause disturbance to animals which can lead to stress and potentially injuries or even death. For example, their inquisitiveness could find a bird’s nest with eggs or young birds. Young animals are often unpredictable, so it is best to keep your distance, especially with a dog.
It is really important to clean up dog waste in a nature reserve. It is pretty horrible to step in, but also it can harm cattle and sheep. These diseases can cause neurological and physical illness which can lead to death. The nutrients in dog poo can make it harder for wildflowers to grow.
As well as this, ensure that you check your dog and yourself for ticks! They are found in long grass in the warmer months. Make sure that you wear long trousers and avoid brushing grasses too much. There is a risk of ticks leading to Lyme disease, though not all ticks carry the disease. However, it is very important to check and remove it with a special tool to make certain that the entire body is out.
Some nature reserves do not allow dogs on the site, so make sure you check before you visit!
Do not take plants home
A lot of nature reserves or key wildlife sites have site designations so it is actually illegal to take organisms from the site. This includes plants, fungi, flowers, animals etc.
Do not use fire (for BBQs, campfires etc.)
Wildfires are becoming a more common natural disaster, but they are frequently caused by people starting fires. A fire of any kind is a real devastation, with thousands of years’ worth of trees growing completely lost. Something as simple as smoking a cigarette can cause an enormous amount of damage to wildlife. So many people just throw a cigarette on the ground, and I cannot stress how important it is to throw them in the bin!
As well as this, campfires and BBQs are regularly used on hot days. A hot day makes everything more flammable, even just the grass. So having a BBQ or campfire on a hot day is very irresponsible. Using a campfire and BBQ on a nature reserve or area of importance is forbidden. The flames will catch light to anything and cause the nature reserve to become fragmented and lose vital habitats.
Be kind to other visitors
Remember that you aren’t the only one at the reserve. It is important to be mindful of how loud you are being, especially in bird hides. Bird hides are what they say on the tin, and it can be really distracting if there is loud talking. Obviously, it is fine to talk and discuss the birds, but just try to be mindful of who is around you. If you want to listen to music, wear earphones/headphones because not only is it annoying, but wildlife has sensitive hearing!
Be aware of seasonal activities
At whatever time of year you are visiting nature reserves, ensure that you read signs to understand what is going on. Spring is the most common breeding season, with some species breeding into summer as well. When animals are bringing up their young, they can become very defensive and territorial so ensure that you stay back. In particular, swans are very protective and will hurt you if you get too close!
Some overwintering animals hibernate in piles of leaves, namely hedgehogs. As fun as it is to kick through leaves, try to consider the wildlife that could be living there. There are lots of invertebrates that live among the dead wood and leaf litter as well.
Don’t (let your dog) go in the water
The last way to be responsible when visiting nature reserves is to not go on the water. Or let your dog go in! Firstly, a lot of rivers and streams do not have ‘good ecological status’ which is very worrying. Although there is the Water Framework Directive and there are regulations, water companies are notoriously bad at sticking to them. I’m sure you have seen in the news regarding the sewage in the sea issues. It is the same with rivers. If you swim in them or let your dog in, you will get ill. Furthermore, some bodies of water have excessive algae growth which can result in eutrophication. Algal blooms are toxic and so would harm your dog.
Secondly, even if the river or stream is of good ecological status, they are for the wildlife not you. Water bodies support a wide range of wildlife including dragonflies, otters, fish etc. By going in, you are disturbing the water and in turn, disturbing these organisms.
This blog post was a response to Alison’s post about enjoying nature experiences, as part of the Climate Change Collective. The Climate Change Collective is a collaboration for like-minded people to share posts about climate change. Each month, someone takes the lead to share a topic relating to climate change. In Alison’s post, she shares her retreat where she reconnected with nature and herself. Nature provides so many benefits to our mental health, and it can be so soothing to just be.
I thought it would be useful to shed some light on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly when visiting nature reserves. Make sure you check out Alison’s post here:
Other Climate Change Collective blog posts:
- Introducing the Climate Change Collective
- How climate change impacts animals
- Climate Change Collective update
- The impact of tree planting
- The impact climate change has on food security and how to help