Thanks to economic and Coronavirus-related issues, many UK-based readers will be contemplating taking their 4×4 on the NC500 or similar trips within the British Isles this summer. With that in mind, it might be worth talking about a couple of issues that affect wild camping and vehicle-based camping around the UK – campfires and “wild loo” techniques.
The British Isles are small, and crowded. We haven’t got huge areas of wilderness like Canada or the Sahara to explore. Most land is owned by someone, and much of it has trespass regulations of some sort that affect it. Wild camping is illegal in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and land that has been camped on often bears the scars of that camping – rubbish, vehicle tracks and abandoned equipment. It’s worth taking a bit of care to ensure the “footprint” of our camps is as minimal as possible. Nobody should know where you camped – ideally, you should leave no trace behind.
There’s actually an excellent organisation that helps promote this – and it’s even called Leave No Trace. They have seven principles for wilderness travel and wild camping – Plan Ahead & Prepare, Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimise Impact of Campfires, Respect Wildlife and lastly Be Considerate Of Other Visitors. To find out more, look at the Leave No Trace website https://lnt.org – you might consider becoming a member.
Campfires should be avoided, unless arranged in such a way that they don’t damage the environment. They are often part of the Big Wilderness Dream that so many of us cherish and seek. It’s also true that the black scar of an old campfire looks pretty horrible, and it can cause massive damage to the soil, plants and wildlife. For these reasons, many folk are instead buying off-ground firepits which enable you to have a campfire, but keep the flames and scorching off the ground. The flatpack “notebook” BBQ firepit design is ideal for this, and priced at between £15 and £30 in places like Amazon and Go Outdoors it’s very affordable. If this isn’t possible, you should avoid fires really. If it’s a situation where you need one for safety, minimise damage to the soil by either digging a pit around six to eight inches deep in which to build your fire (and saving the turf, if there is some, and soil to refill it afterwards) or putting a protective sheet or layer down, upon which you build your fire, and which you clear away afterwards. The six to eight inch depth of the fire pit, by the way, is because it’s the top six inches of soil that hold all the useful microbes and enzymes of soil life, which fire destroys. Digging a pit and saving the soil removes them from harm’s way, to be replaced afterwards. If you line a campfire with rocks or build a fireplace, take it to bits afterwards and spread the scorched rocks over a wide area so they are less obvious. Finally, never cut and burn live wood on your fire. There will always be enough dead wood lying around. Live wood smokes and spits more anyway, so your fire will be easier to sit by if you use dry, dead timber.
When putting a fire out, burying it may not be enough. Embers can continue to burn underground and can make peat soil (for example) catch fire. This can lead to wildfires and forest fires (lighting fires in the dry season or in dry, wooded areas is a really bad idea anyway, and illegal in some countries). Water is the way forward, and make sure it’s all out. Again, try to avoid campfires where possible.
As for the Call In The Wild, a wild loo for a wild poo isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but sometimes it’s necessary. Many carry a Porta Potti or similar (UK sales are at an all time high!) and eBay or Amazon will show a wide array of possible options – many discreet and foldable like the excellent Bivvy Loo. You should try and use one with biodegradable bags for the “doings”. If you haven’t got this sort of kit, the solution is pretty easy – bag it, and remove it – dispose of it when you get back to built-up areas. If this still isn’t possible, bury it in a one-use hole six inches deep (so right in amongst the soil bacteria we mentioned earlier, the ones that cause decomposition) and as far as possible from water sources. This sorts disposal of the – “stuff”, and burn the toilet paper, filling the hole in afterwards. I usually carry a bottle of lighter fluid and matches for this. Why burn it? Because poo decomposes relatively easily, but toilet paper does not. Actually the US National Parks Service now says take your used toilet paper away with you (rather than burn it), because of the danger of starting forest fires whilst burning it. When dealing with non-biodegradable wet wipes and sanitary items, they should be bagged up and packed out to a disposal point in “civilisation”. For further info here check out the excellent book “How to Sh*t in the Woods” by Kathleen Meyer.
One last idea. It sucks to have to clear up after others, but we’ve all seen and been distressed by waste and rubbish left behind by some folk in beautiful places – ⋕2MinuteLitterPick and ⋕2MinuteBeachClean also leave a place better than the state you found it in… worth a thought?