A sustainable Christmas

December means time spent with family, winter warmers, festive feasts and winding down. It is also married with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, overeating, waste and commercialism. Over the Christmas period we tend to shut off from our usual duties and indulge in the season’s treats. In fact, over the festive period, the UK produces 30% more waste than usual. Should all our festivities cost so much for our environment? How do we tackle Christmas waste and make the season of giving a gift to our environment as well as our families? Here are a few ideas that might help.

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O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…

Both natural and artificial trees cause an environmental impact. Approximately 6 million Christmas trees are discarded each year; which equates to 250 tonnes of Christmas trees that are thrown away after Christmas instead of composted/recycled (London Cleaning System). Whilst real Christmas trees - evergreen conifers - are replanted in rotation, providing an ongoing home for wildlife, Christmas trees plantations offer limited diversity for natural habitats. Poorly managed plantations can lead to soil degradation (Woodland Trust). Obviously, the use of a Christmas tree is a short-lived gift and most Christmas trees end up in landfill, despite being renewable and biodegradable. Artificial trees are also not so ‘green’. They are made with Petroleum-derived plastic PVC trees are non-renewable and are polluting; adding to the emission of carcinogens. In addition, lead is often used to create the needles which can cause negative health impacts presenting a real hazard! Asking people to forego their Christmas tree experience is going to be a challenge to say the least! So, here’s a few things we can spread the word about:

Picking a Christmas Tree

• Artificial: There is no such thing as an entirely eco-friendly artificial tree. Let’s not mistake reusable for green. Once these trees have fulfilled their Christmas use they will end up in landfill. What can you look for to lessen your impact? Try a PE plastic tree which is made from polyethylene rather than PVC and lead. Keeping your artificial tree for as long as you can will reduce it's impact. 

• Real: Try and find a locally grown tree. Look for sustainable growers such as Christmas Tree Sale Centres. After Christmas think about shredding and composting your tree, burning it for firewood or recycling. Check out your council’s Christmas tree scheme – they might even pick it up from your house.

• Alive: If you want a real tree – think about a potted tree. Think of UK grown trees to cut down on transport: Blue Spruce or Nordman. At the end of Christmas, the family can celebrate by replanting their tree for a few years’ time (trees may take a few years to recuperate). This is a great way to do something outdoors with the family, foster a sense of responsibility for our Christmas trees and reap the rewards of growing a tree year after year.

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…

Whether you are a high street shopper or do your shopping online, Christmas calls for presents! Gidgets, gadgets, novelty gifts, basics, his & hers are some of the things we end up buying and gift wrapping before the big day. Some of these things we use and are grateful for, some of which end up being forgotten all too quick and discarded. Along with the presents 30,000 tonnes of card packaging, 1 billion cards and 227,000 miles of wrapping paper are thrown away at Christmas time. Here are some ideas to limit waste when sending gifts this Christmas:

Sustainable Gifts

• Consider where you are buying from. Santa travels all the way around the world to deliver his presents – as do most of our gifts. 4,000 tonnes of Christmas presents come from China each year. Support small businesses and buy locally – this has the added benefit that you can refuse any extra packaging at the till such as plastic bags.

• Look for sustainable, battery-free and durable gifts. There are plenty of options out there including recycled materials for clothing and children’s toys. Replace plastic toys and gadgets for more durable materials such as metal and wood.

• Make your own. Making your own gifts is special, cheaper and more festive than a ‘click-click’. A simple start is to make your own wrapping paper and cards. From there who knows… hand knitted gifts, home-made sweets, hand-carved ornaments… There are endless ideas for package-free and thoughtful pressies that will really impress! Check out Pinterest for endless ideas!

• Pass on the gift of sustainable living. Look for pressies that will promote a sustainable lifestyle. A reusable coffee cup, a bicycle, a national trust pass or subscription for something outside; gardening starter kits or a seasonal veggie box subscription. Gifts that keep on giving.

Bring me some figgy pudding…

“I can’t eat another bite” is a sign of a happy Christmas. We certainly get bombarded with advertisements suggesting more sophisticated feast ideas. But what happens to all the waste food? Approximately we throw away 2 million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and 17.2 million brussel sprouts each year. Followed by 13,350 tonnes of glass which is thrown out in the UK. In total it is estimated that food accounts for 19% of domestic waste! Our food travels from around the world to end up being discarded before its eaten. Or costing us further by taking up space in land-fill. Here’s a few ideas on how to reduce food waste:

Reducing food waste

• Try organic turkey’s sourced locally or rear your own.

• Cut your carbon footprint by buying fruit and veg locally or try a local food box.

• Refuse packaging. Buy loose veggies and scan them without plastic packaging at the till. Buying loose fruit and veggies is sometimes cheaper than those that are packaged!

• Compost your waste! At Christmas we get clogged up with waste in the kitchen, waiting for the next bin-day to arrive. Make it easy. Start a compost bin and enjoy a guilt free trip to the garden to make up new space in the kitchen.

• Cut down on meat or go vegetarian. Meat is a major contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing or replacing meat dishes with tasty vegetarian dishes is one way to help reduce your carbon footprint.

Being sustainable is certainly not at the top of the list when it comes to most people’s Christmas. Statistics on waste don’t exactly spread Christmas cheer. But you don’t need to turn into the Grinch to make a few alterations at Christmas time. This Christmas take small steps to pass on the message.

Merry Christmas!

Minimum Impact Fires

Now I don't think there is a person amongst us who can't appreciate the warmth, security and entertainment a camp fire brings when we're enjoying wild, outdoor places. But fires are all too often misused, and frequently damage the landscape and surrounding habitats. 
 

When I ask outdoor users about the need for a fire answers usually fall into one, or more than one, of three categories:

"We need it to cook and keep warm"

"We enjoy sitting around it, it encourages conversation!"

"It keeps away wild animals"

 

Well yes, having a fire can serve a purpose. They can transform a camping experience into a enjoyable, social gathering. They certainly have their place amongst outdoor education as an ultimate way of brining students 'back to nature', learning new skills, and gaining an appreciation of managing risk and danger. 

Let's not forget the relationship between humans and fire is one of the oldest, and the power to control fire separates humans from the rest of the animal world. But, as I'm sure I've heard somewhere before...'with great power comes great responsibility'. 

 

The thing is, fire is no longer essential for comfort or food preparation. Many of the lasting impacts associated with campfires are easily avoided by carrying a light weight cooker and pot. Using a cooker also removes the requirement to forage for wood, and eating habits are likely to be a lot cleaner - attracting less animals in the longer term. 

 

If you insist on having a fire, a few simple guidelines can ensure greatly reduced impact:

Judge wind, weather, wood availability. Is it a safe and responsible place to make a fire?

Is there any provision for a fire? An existing grate or stove, have you thought about carrying a lightweight fire pan?

Do you have the time to build a 'Leave No Trace' fire and clean up appropriately?

 
Building a 'Mound Fire' fire: Mound fires are built on piles of sand, gravel or soil. The mound sits on top of a tarp, or even a bivvi bag or bin bag. Whatever you use, the edges can be rolled and buried under the mound to prevent any singeing.  

It's easiest if you carry a small trowel to collect material for your mound. The kinds for digging 'cat holes' are ideal. The material can be collected from a nearby location and carried in an old stuff sack or bin bag to your fire site.

Your tarp (or whatever you choose) is laid on the floor, and the soil placed on top and compacted into a mound 6-8 inches thick and 18-24 inches in diameter.

A good sized mound prevents heat from the fire reaching the ground, and provides a manageable platform that doesn't encourage the fire to grow bigger than needed.

When looking for fuel, dead and downed wood is most preferable - ideally sticks that can be broken by hand and no larger than  your wrist. Larger pieces of wood play an important role in nutrition and soil productivity, as well as providing shelter for small animals and many plant species.

Smaller firewood burns completely to a fine ash, making cleaning up easier. Half burnt logs are difficult to dispose of and encourage future, larger fires. Once the fire is completely out, bearing in mind the amount of time needed to burn all those little stick ends, the ash can be scattered, or mixed with the soil from the mound and returned to the ground where it was first taken.

Before leaving, try to restore the appearance of the fire site by replacing any surface debris and sweeping the area for litter and food waste.

The choice to become a responsible outdoor user is ultimately yours, but as more people spend time in our wild places it's surely important to encourage minimal impact. By thinking about your location and purpose, and by following some straightforward guidelines it is possible to enjoy a fire outdoors without leaving any trace! 

If you're interested in learning more Leave No Trace techniques, have you considered joining one of our courses?

Leave No Trace Training Courses and Workshops

 

 

 

 

Signs of Animals in the Snow

Winter time is great for tracking animals, not only does it provide an interesting activity when the higher summits can be somewhat inaccessible, it also happens to be the time when animal tracks are easiest to spot and follow.

Animals such as birds and some amphibians draw a fair amount of attention to themselves so it's easy to know when they're around. Mammals, on the other hand, are secretive and silent for most of the year. Fortunately, they leave the most definite signs of passage.

Read on to find out more about animal tracks!

The first thing to deal with is some basic tracking terminology that will help to explain and highlight certain things later down the line.  

A 'Track' is an impression left in soft ground, or snow.

A collection of tracks, as well as accessory marks such as tail or body drag,  becomes a 'Trail'.

Trails are able to tell us many things about a particular animal. For example its age, sex, condition and speed it was moving.

 

Successfully tracking animals does not rely on some mystic gift. It's really down to observation and placing together bits of information that have been laid down in front of you by animals that have passed by earlier.
 
Even just by having a good look for animal tracks you can turn any countryside walk into a view into the life of our animals! 
 
Animal tracks can be broken into two categories, those with Cleaves and those with Pads.
Cleaves belong to animals classed as 'Ungulates', either odd-toed such as horses or even-toed such as cattle, pigs and deer. The impressions of the cleaves are called 'slots' and sometimes a 'dew claw' is shown depending on species. Reindeer will show in any circumstance, as will Wild Boar, others when the ground is soft and others still never at all.

Those with pads include digital pads, interdigital pads and proximal pads. The digital pads are most likely to be presented, and proximal pads only usually presented if the impression is set deep into the ground, possibly if the animal has been running..

 

This is the track of a Hare bounding in the direction toward the photographer. The direction can be determined as the two larger pads (hind fore) strike the ground in-front of the smaller pads (front fore) before pushing the front fore forward again.
 
Distinctively different to the track of this Fox, whose arrow straight track (heading off toward Mont Blanc in this case!) is characteristic of predator tracks.
 

Notice how all four pads are in a single line, or very close to, the centre line of the body. There is also a direct registration of each pad, which differs from a dog who's pads frequently overlap, known as an indirect registration.

 Squirrel tracks are most often found (unsurprisingly?) at the base of trees. They are given away by their butterfly shaped outline, where the hind pads again land in-front of the fore pads and are further from the centre line. In the above  photo the Squirrel is heading toward the trees.

When's the best time to see tracks?

Seeing signs of animals is easiest when the sun is casting a slight shadow over the ground, so either in the morning or the evening. Of course they're still there at midday, but the overhead sun tends to drown the tracks out and make following them trickier. 

Looking at the best medium for tracks also provides the highest likelihood of finding something and being able to identify what kind of animal it was. A dusting of light, fresh snow on a hard surface, such as a back-garden patio makes an excellent medium for seeing tracks.

Deeper snow is great for finding small mammals and bird tracks as they leave crisp, detailed impressions. However with larger mammals, detail is often distorted and enlarged.

 

So next time your enjoying a winter walk, take a look below your feet and see what other animals are enjoying sharing the countryside with you! 

Leave No Trace in the U.K.

What is Leave No Trace

In its simplest form, 'leave no trace' is the practice of using our wild areas in a way that reduces impact to a minimum. The phrase was used  during the 60’s and 70’s in the United States following a large increase in the amount of visitors to wild areas due to the introduction of recreational equipment such as synthetic tents and gas stoves.

The ‘United States Forest Service’ in conjunction with NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School, developed the national education program of Leave No Trace in 1990. Since 1994 the “Leave No Trace Centre For Outdoor Ethics”, a non-profit organisation, has existed to educate about recreational impact on nature as well as how to prevent and minimise these impacts through utilisation of seven key principles.

The Leave No Trace organisation has since provided hands on training, workshops and events for over 9.5 million children and adults with representatives in more than 30 countries. There are now international centres in the U.S.A, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

 Leave No Trace Training Courses and Workshops

 The Seven Principles

 Plan Ahead and Prepare

Knowing where you want to go, being prepared for weather changes and emergencies. Where possible, avoiding times of high use and splitting larger groups into smaller.
Pre packing food and removing excess wrapping.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Sticking to established trails of rock, dry grass or snow. Where paths are muddy, stick to the middle rather than walking around.
"Good campsites are found, not made."

Dispose of Waste Properly

Check your campsites and stopping areas for rubbish and spilled food.
"Pack it in, pack it out."
Human waste in a 'cathole' at least 200 feet from water - take tissue out with you! Better still, refer to rule one. 

Leave What You Find

Avoid picking live flowers in delicate areas.
"Preserve the past"
Examine, but do not touch or move historic structures and artifacts.

Minimise Campfire Impact

Fires cause long lasting impact on the environment, consider lightweight stoves for cooking where possible. 
Use established fire rings or fire pans, and burn only the required wood to a fine ash.  

Respect Wildlife

Observe fauna from a distance and avoid feeding and encouragement.

Keep pets under control when appropriate.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Courtesy and politeness goes a long way!
 Pause in a convenient place to let others pass whilst walking, take breaks and camp off the path. 

More Than 7 Rules

At Life Trek Adventures we feel these seven principles offer a great basis for minimum impact outdoor recreation, they can be applied in any location during any sport or activity. They are also brilliant for teaching with younger children, and make an ideal starter point for those looking deeper into development of environmental ethics. 

However, Leave No Trace is also often reduced to seven principles to follow like a guidebook. It is clearly more than this, it is about developing an individual’s relationship and stewardship for the outdoors. For us, it is an area of education often missed within the curriculum and one that should substantiate and be at the heart of outdoor education. 

As more and more people begin to use the United Kingdoms wild spaces for their own recreational activities, it is of clear importance to promote practice that encourages sustainability. This can start from an early age and in easy to access locations such as a local park or woodland, even in a back garden. 

If you would like to attend a Leave no Trace Trainer course or Awareness Workshop, please get in touch using the contact page!

 

Mountain Flora of the United Kingdom

Foxglove

So named as naughty welsh fairies would offer the glove like flower to foxes for sneaking up on chicken roosts.

Through the winter when the plant loses its flowers, the leaves form a rosette to maintain a higher and more stable temperature.

The roots produce Digitalis, a drug used to treat Congestive Heart Failure.

Bilberry

A deciduous plant with a series of simple stalks which provide edible berries. Bilberry jam was given to WW2 pilots to maintain vitamin C intake.
Despite losing its leaves in the winter, the green stems still permit photosynthesis.

Stonecrop

Small white and pink flowers typically found on scree slopes and spoil tips.

Sphagnum Moss

Able to absorb up to 20 times its dry weight in water, commonly found lining a hanging basket! Sphagnum is a coloniser and changes the PH balance of the soil making it difficult for other plants to grow.

Used by injured soldiers in war to sterilise wounds.

 

 

Star Moss

Popular on the hills and growing in clumps in damp areas. The four-sided caps release spores into the air for reproduction. In some countries it is used to make tea to dissolve kidney stones.

Woolly Hair Moss

Growing on hills and exposed rocks. It dies out and becomes grey but once wet returns to green immediately.

Liverwort

Simple plants which grow in wet places such as streams.

Their thin leaves are poorly adapted to drying out.

Clubmosses

Fir – Alpine – Stag’s Horn

These plants have been around for nearly 400 million years and are one of the oldest plant groups still growing, pre-dating flowering plants by 275 million years. They would have grown up to 30m tall, and their remains are the bulk of the organic material forming coal.

 

 

Blood Eye Lichen

A crustose lichen that covers acid rocks in the uplands. Underneath the green lichen forms a snake like texture on top of which the fruiting bodies produce blood red discs. Often found on long abandoned settlements.

Devils Matchstick

Most commonly found lichen which flowers on top.

It grows on rotting wood and peat.

Dog Lichen

Its Latin name, Peltigera Membrancea means shield carrying.

It is one of the larger-lobed lichens with grey and brown colour when wet and found in open damp meadows.

Rhizocarpon Geographicum

Known as map lichen. A crustose lichen easily found on sunny acidic rocks.

It is bright yellow with small black fruiting bodies.

 

 

Pixie Cup Lichen

Small rounded cups, and commonly found on rotting wood, on walls and among mosses. It can withstand pollution.

The two types; Cladonia Pyxidata and Cladonia Fimbriata are easily confused. The latter used to cure the whooping cough.

Reindeer Moss

A fruticose lichen, growing in mats of white and light green colour.

It is a typical ‘model railway tree’ lichen, common on heaths and peat bogs.

Barren Strawberry

Low and hairy perennials with white flowers. Growing on dry grounds and in the woods.
The fruits are dry and not as yummy as real strawberries. Its welsh name LLwyn coeg-fefus means empty strawberry shrub.

Mossy Saxifrage

Creating a moss like mat to protect from the dry winds found higher upland.

It is an arctic-alpine species often found on rock ledges and seen in quantity around Cwm Idwal.

 

 

Wood Sorrel

A woodland species preferring shade, often confused with clovers or, when flowering, the Snowdon lily.

When fresh the leaves taste like green apples but should be eaten sparingly as they can bind calcium in the body leading to nutrient deficiency.

Heath Bedstraw

Grows small white flowers in grassy places from June to August and creates a dense mat like layer, mixing with other grasses.

Once spread on stone floors for its fragrance, although not everyone like the smell…

Milkwort

It can flower either blue, pink, mauve or white! Common in calcareous (lime rich) and acid (lime deficient) grassland areas.
The leaves can be used for tea. Named so as it is thought that the plant can increase the milk flow of a nursing mother.

Tormentil

A small four-petal flower with the nickname ‘walkers companion’.

Found between April and October and on every grassy hill. It looks small but can grow up to a meter searching for sunlight.

A tea can be made from the roots and is a medical marvel said to cure fever, diarrhoea, burns, cholera, dysentery, sore throats, irritable bowel syndrome & mouth ulcers.

 

 

Butterwort

Grows in nitrogen deficient bogs. Blue flowers group above the starfish like leaves. It is an insectivore trapping insects on its leaves.

Its leaves were once used to curdle milk and as a laxative.

Common Cotton Grass

Grows in acidic bog lands and shows where not to walk.

Used to cure diarrhoea.

Hares Tale Cotton Grass

Similar to cotton grass but only growing in tussocks and with one single flower spike.

Cross Leaved Heath

Usually the first of the three heathers in Snowdonia to flower and prefers wetter ground.
They tend to be pinker than bell heather and the flowers cluster around the head.

 

 

Sundew

Found in acidic soils and able to curdle milk. Another insectivore. The liquid is able to cure warts, corns and bunions.
Tiny pink hairs carry a sticky enzyme to trap insects.

Bell Heather

An evergreen that indicates dry ground.

Produces nectar and haunts for bees.

Ling Heather

Commonly confused with bell heather, it provides food for many sheep.

Crowberry

An evergreen which forms in dense mats. The berries are pink then ripen to black.

Easily identified from a white line on the underside of needles.

Gorse

Dense clumps of vegetation unpleasant to touch or walk through. It is a coloniser as it blocks the light of other plants.
However, it provides habitat for birds and rodents.

 

 

Snowdon Lily

One of the national parks rarest plants growing in just five craggy locations.

Mat Grass

Pale grass that forms dense tufts which always looks dry.

Large patches indicate unsustainably heavy grazing on mountainsides.

Purple Moor Grass

Reddish coloured grass that’s a good indicator of boggy ground. Green when young but red when maturing.
Sheep often avoid this plant nibbling around it whereas cattle would happily have a munch.

 

 

Bog Myrtle

A fragrant shrub also known as sweet gale which colonises damp areas. It is able to change its sex from one year to the next.

Midges also avoid bog myrtle making it a natural repellent.

Bracken

 

Originally a woodland plant, it spreads across the hillsides. Traditional uses include animal bedding.

However it can harbour ticks which pass Lyme disease to humans and cattle. The spores, released in the autumn are also carcinogenic.

Hard Fern

 

A common fern found in shady places and rock crevices. The fertile fronds will stand and remain evergreen whilst the unfertile fronds will die away during the winter.

It can be used as an emergency food source and is thought to alleviate thirst, however the leaves are carcinogenic.

 

 

Parsley Fern

A coloniser on scree slopes and restricted to well drained acid rocks.
It is a look alike but not taste alike to parsley.

Snowy Waxcap

A white and greasy cap found in sheep cropped grass or open woodland. It is pure white whilst young then tinges ivory with age.
Found late summer to autumn and inedible.

Shaggy Ink Caps

 

Also known as the judge’s wig, an edible species which can be found on lawns and roadside verges late summer and autumn and best eaten while young.

Not easily confused with other species, it will blacken and turn to an inky fluid.

Shiny Hay Cap

A tall mushroom found in cow dung in Snowdonia’s northern mountains. Growing up to 15cm tall and 5cm across.
When the cap is dry it is shiny- not edible!

 

 

Liberty Cap

Known otherwise as ‘magic mushrooms’. They contain the hallucinatory drug Psilocybin.
Growing in sheep cropped grass and distinctive with a pointed bell-shaped cap, tall stem late summer to autumn.

Butter Waxcap

Found in sheep cropped grass in small groups, its greasy cap and dry stem with an orange tinge become flatter as they mature.
They are inedible.

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