Leave no trace......

24th Nov 2013

I don't cry often but a tear or two rolled down my cheeks last week.  Not, in all honesty, that owning up to crying is something that I feel easy admitting on a public blog, but I've said it now so I'll swiftly move on.......
The tears were caused by an accumulation of things.  It really began when a friend sent me a link to video footage of some American Scout Leaders who recently decided to roll a huge boulder from the pedestal of mud it had stood on for several million years.  They had been hiking in the tranquil setting of Goblin Valley in Utah.  It's not a place I've had chance to visit but it looks hauntingly beautiful in the photos I've seen.  
You can watch the video here, and I'm sure you will do as I did, and watch in stunned silence as one of the men pushes the capping boulder over while another gives a running commentary.  They both then celebrate with collective whoops of delight as it crashes to the ground.  They claimed they were toppling it to protect others who might walk under it and yet the considerable force that was needed suggests it really wasn't in any imminent danger of getting dislodged and, even if it was, clearly that still wasn't any justification for them to take matters into their own hands anyway.
I've witnessed numerous acts of vandalism in our natural environment over the years but somehow this struck a particular chord mainly because they seemed to have no understanding of the need to protect the environment they were in.   After all, even if they genuinely felt they were helping to protect others I still wondered how it could be that they were getting so much delight from it.
Of course, there's been loads of examples of outdoor goers treating the wilderness environment disrespectfully over the years and my home patch of the Peak District National Park has suffered at least it's fair share.  You only need to see the boulders above Birchen Edge with the names of Nelson's ships carved in them to see how damaging the natural environment was occurring at least as early as the 1800's.  There's lots of similar carvings around the gritstone areas and it seemed to be a perfectly acceptable practice in those days.
Then, in a completely different era,  we had the students who were ripped apart by the online outdoor community for dry tooling at Millstone Edge in 2010.  Again it was their arrogant attitude after the event, as much as the incident itself, that seemed to really cement opinion against them. They just didn't think, or at least wouldn't admit, that they were in the wrong.
I could share hundreds of other examples but the upshot is that some people have either lost their understanding of how precious our natural environment is or they failed to have that understanding in the first place.  Topple a rock formation or chisel some gritstone.  Either way, those natural features, which has laid majestically for millions of years, will never be the same again.
But the boulder trundling video really hit me because it came after several other incidents that I'd recently witnessed.  Firstly, I'd seen stacks of litter the weekend before when I mountain biked in the forests of Llandegla.  The rubbish was mostly things like power gel wrappers or sports drinks bottles that had been left in spots that only get frequented by bikers.  Litter that's been left by users who seek out these wilderness areas but then seem to have little interest in protecting them.  Users who seem completely disconnected from the serenity of the wilderness they choose to frequent.  It ruined my ride that day.
Then I took a ride out of my home village of Castleton the day before I saw the video.  It was the day after Bonfire Night and my ride led me initially up what is referred to in my family as the broken road.  The abandoned road that weaves out of Castleton before climbing the hillside and joining the Rushop Edge Road is a fascinating local landmark.  Infact, it's a feature that always make me smile because I really see it as a reminder of nature's superiority over man's arrogance.  The road was built in the shadow of the East Face of Mamtor (the site of an Iron Age hill fort) but, due to the slippery shale layers that underlay it, continually subsided.  After years of patching and repairs it was finally abandoned and now it is slowly crumbling to, I sense, eventually be reclaimed by the natural world.
At the top of the road there is a stunning viewpoint that overlooks the Hope Valley.  It is a beautiful place and I often stop here to soak up the view.  It is also accessible by car so it was obviously also deemed a beautiful place for some people to let off fireworks the night before.  It must have been nice to watch the pyrotechnics with the backdrop of the valley.  But, of course, I wouldn't have known about the fireworks if it it hadn't been for one detail.  Whoever had used that spot had left the firework carcasses and wrappings everywhere.  The whole area was a mess. A staggering and heartbreaking mess that was only metres from where they would have parked their cars.
My ride for that day was also spoilt and, once my pockets were full of rubbish (only a small selection of what lay around me), I headed home dejected to collect some bin bags and a vehicle to return and gather up more.
I want this blog post to have a happy ending but I have no quick solution.  I am obviously a big advocate of the need to reconnect  people with the natural environment.  After all, if they appreciate it more then hopefully they'll look after it better.  Having said that, some people still seem to be beyond that approach and in those cases crying doesn't seem so hard to own up to because ultimately it's tears of helplessness and frustration at their actions.  Sadly, I doubt the boulder trundlers, the chippers or the bonfire night revellers will be crying and there's the real tragedy.

Posted by Paul