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Heather Thomas-Smith runs Heathery Heights, a company based in Lochgilphead, offering a bespoke guided walking service. She has travelled and trekked throughout the world but now lives in Argyll amongst the scenery she loves. www.heatheryheights.co.uk
In normal circumstances busy lives and work schedules often get in the way of finding time to connect with nature, to be able to immerse oneself in the muffled sounds within a forest, seas crashing on rocky shores or the wind blowing the lonesome notes of a curlew across the moor.
When did you last hear the bark of deer, watch an otter hunting for fish to take to its young or spot the smooth glide of a golden eagle overhead? Have you noticed how tree branches reach to the sunlight or bend to the wind and did you know you can use such traits to help navigate? Have you gazed at the starlit skies on a clear night and been able to name the constellations or point to the North Star? Have you ever foraged for wild ingredients and flowers to create a new culinary delight?
For many the tragedy of a world in the throes of a pandemic has brought around a very different pause, allowing time to tune once more into nature, even if such a pause is brief. Perhaps for the first time in their lives they have heard the bark of deer or spotted something in nature that is totally new to them. And many will have seen footage of the animals and creatures that tentatively stepped into urban settings whilst humankind remained under lockdown.
But that is changing as we ease back into a new normality.
Economics and peoples’ livelihoods are, of course, firmly entwined with modern day living, human survival and wellbeing; it is extremely important that we find a route to recovery and many are suffering deeply. But what we do not want to do is fall back into the same old traps that were so detrimental to the wildlife, nature and ecosystems of our planet. Finding a way forward and a new balance is not just crucial for other species but for that of our own children and future generations too.
Many will have been shocked at the sudden increase in fly tipping during lockdown plus the thoughtless parking and abandonment of picnic rubbish, disposable barbecues and indiscriminate toileting as lockdown eased. All have grave consequences for wildlife and nature.
The result is the burning, choking, strangling, trapping or poisoning of animals, birds, plants and aquatic life.
Taking care of our surroundings and appreciating nature is a real joy. Teaching children the beauty of the outdoors and how to care for it can bring a lifelong love for nature; if you love something you usually wish to protect it.
And learning never stops for any of us. Sometimes it is the basics that are needed before we move on to the complexities of natural navigation or learning our stars.
So for this month here is one tip (bizarrely I always think of Delia Smith’s ‘How to boil an egg’ when I say this – sorry Delia): learn how to go to the toilet in the outdoors!
Doing this responsibly and teaching your children makes for a lifelong enjoyment of walking and exploring without the bane of wondering where the next toilet is. I know many people who find it incredibly difficult, not great when in the middle of nowhere miles from home.
In a nutshell the key is to carry out all paper and sanitary waste in a sealable bag, to go a
minimum of 30m away from watercourses, 50m from paths and places where people or
animals are likely to shelter/picnic, 200m from buildings, bothies and crags and never in caves. Bury poo six inches deep (in a dug hole, not under rocks, so a small trowel is essential on those wild camps) and always sanitise or wash hands. Useful natural loo roll includes moss – but watch for ants! And for ladies there is always the ‘Shewee’, a female device that allows you to pee standing up.
Mountaineering Scotland has excellent online guidance on how to dispose of your natural waste.
I hope, like me, you will wish to continue to enjoy nature and take the time to care for and immerse your senses in this beautiful world we live in.
Safety in the Outdoors
Please continue to adhere to current guidelines as set out by the government, exercise responsibly and use appropriate clothing and equipment for your chosen outdoor activity. Consider informing a contact about your route/whereabouts and don’t forget your phone, snacks, drink, any medication/first aid supplies you may need and to check weather conditions. Please keep your dog under close control, especially around livestock and wildlife, and be aware some open areas of moorland may have snares in use. Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.