environmental responsibility - Jules McKim - a climber, traveler and writer exploring connections, cultures, and the mysteries of life.
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Nature never did betray the heart that loved her                  

William Wordsworth

But she can’t keep giving. Now, more than ever, we need to give back, to reciprocate. Our climbing game, particularly here in the UK, is built on our ability and our freedoms to access our land. And it is our land, as much as anyone else’s, whatever the fences and signs say. But caution and consideration is needed. As much as I am a fan of trespass, care is needed with the sensitive access agreements to some of our crags and edges and we should follow the landowner’s guidance to allow access to continue. Some of this access was hard won. We don’t want to blow it.

Where nature takes over – which is especially so on our vertical landscapes – there is a sense of relief with more balance, more natural order. As participants and witnesses of these natural, vertical spaces we have a duty to not only tread lightly, but to be voices for these wild places. Who else is going to champion the rights of rocks and cliffs?

As climbers, we are drawn to the beauty and challenges of the natural world. Our thirst for adventure can lead us to remote and pristine landscapes, and the odd urban quarry, where we test our limits and deepen our connection with nature. There’s something about trying hard that focuses the mind: the micro-beauties of nature grow in your field of vision. As we pursue our climbing game, it’s good to recognize the impact our activities can have on the environment and take steps to minimize it.

Climbing inherently involves interacting with the environment, from the rock faces to the delicate ecosystems we navigate. The increased popularity of climbing has led to higher foot fall in many climbing areas, which has caused erosion, vegetation damage, and disturbance to wildlife. Additionally, the construction of roads, car parks, and other infrastructure can alter natural habitats and contribute to pollution. We’ve all seen it: the braiding footpaths and stepping stones through the moors, the worn routes covered in chalk, the chopped down trees and broken bottles and the endless parked cars shimmering in the summer heat waves.

By adopting environmentally responsible practices, we can protect the environment, preserve climbing access, and ensure that future generations can enjoy these wild places.

Top Tips for Environmental Responsibility

    Stay on established paths. Avoid cutting corners or creating paths. This helps prevent soil erosion and protect the surrounding vegetation.

    Dispose of waste properly. Pack out all rubbish, leftover food, and any litter you find. If you’re camping, use biodegradable soap for washing dishes and yourself, and dispose of wastewater away from any water source. If you must poo at the crag bury it and pack out (or carefully burn) paper. Go far away from me and anyone else. If very close to other people, please don’t make eye contact.

    Minimise your impact at the crag. Avoid trampling on vegetation or disturbing wildlife. Be cautious when developing new routes to minimise rock damage and preserve the natural aesthetic. Minimise chalk use, brush it off and remove tick marks when you leave. Pick up those bits of finger tape and cigarette butts. Leave it better than you found it – every time. Get into the habit of picking up and packing out any rubbish you find; keep empty rubbish bags in your pack.

    Respect any local regulations. Follow posted rules and guidelines, such as those regarding camping, fires, and group size. Obtain any necessary permits or passes, and always practice those leave no trace principles, you know the “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” idea. But I’ve always tried to add to that…take experiences, take memories, take lessons and give too…give back love and care, practical regeneration and give it your voice, to argue its case.

    Be an advocate for the environment. Get involved with local climbing organisations and support their conservation efforts. Participate in crag clean-ups, footpath maintenance events, and other initiatives aimed at protecting climbing areas and promoting environmental stewardship. Donate to local bolt funds and climbing communities that help preserve your favourite crags.

    Car share and minimise vehicle emissions. When planning a climbing trip, car share with friends or use public transportation to reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, consider investing in a fuel-efficient vehicle to further minimise your environmental impact. We tried an electric van one summer, after Stella, our old VW died. The range anxiety gave us a whole new twist on the ‘will we ever get there’ van adventures. But things are set to improve.

    Use eco-friendly gear: Many climbing gear manufacturers are now producing environmentally friendly products, from recycled materials to non-toxic chalk. Research and choose gear that aligns with your environmental values.

    Educate fellow climbers. Share your knowledge of environmentally responsible climbing practices with your friends and climbing partners. Encourage others to follow common sense principles, leaving no trace and contribute to preserving climbing areas.

    Support sustainable travel. When planning climbing trips, research the environmental practices of accommodations, tour operators, and other businesses. Choose to support those that prioritise sustainability and responsible tourism. Limit your flying; yeah, I know. Our days of flying around the world exploring are numbered. We all need to be more local.

    Volunteer and donate. Give your time or resources to organisations working to protect climbing areas and the environment and our rights of access to common lands.

    Climbing gyms also play a role in promoting environmental responsibility within the climbing community. As hubs of climbing culture, gyms have the opportunity to educate and inspire their members about environmentally responsible practices, both indoors and outdoors. More and more people are starting to visit climbing gyms. They need to know how to make the transition outdoors, not just from a safety point of view, but in their whole relationship with the natural world. Covid caused chaos in the countryside here in the UK. People using the outdoors who weren’t used to being in the outdoors. Piles of rubbish left in the most beautiful places. Using the countryside but not with any care or reciprocity. It comes down to education.

    We can always do more and it feels like now, more than ever, we need to. Ours is activity that is increasing in popularity so we need to look after what we’ve got.

    Love the rock!

    5 simple ways to reduce your impact on the outdoors on your next adventure (thebmc.co.uk)