The photo above was taken on Sunday evening, at a popular roadside take-a-photo layby between Capel Curig and Pen Y Pass. It is far from unusual unfortunately – every summer we see piles of rubbish left behind by visitors on the paths and trails to the tops of our favourite mountains, and in every layby and parking area. It ranges from the odd piece of plastic wrapper or fluff that has fallen out of a pocket to piles (literally piles, sometimes waist-high) of litter and discarded food cartons and other items.
The attraction of Snowdonia and the mountains of North Wales is the rugged beauty and largely unspoilt landscape, free from motorways and industrial estates and home to unique ecosystems and environments. This makes it an important tourist attraction, and that tourism interest needs careful management. The Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri (Snowdonia National Park) staff spent a disproportionate amount of time tidying up after visitors, be it on the mountains or in the visitor toilets and car parks. The Snowdon Mountain Railway transports tons of rubbish from the cafe back down the mountain every year, but piles of rubbish remain on the summit jammed between rocks or left to blow down into the surrounding valleys.
So why do people do it? Is it laziness? Or a misunderstanding perhaps? Are they expecting a council refuse worker to come and collect their carefully stacked crisp packets and drinks cans later that day? Or is there just a disconnect in the brain somewhere – they have pulled over, stood and admired the twin lakes under Moel Siabod, the late afternoon sunlight on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), maybe taken a photo or two. Then dumped a substantial amount of rubbish on the grass, neatly tied up into bin bags and carrier bags (which ironically are charged for in Wales, partly to prevent littering!). Within a short distance of these bags was the remains of a disposable BBQ, broken glass and a poorly-hidden attempt at an emergency latrine.
The latest social media trend – the ALS/MDNA Ice Bucket Challenge – has led to plastic buckets, stools and ice bags being left on the summit of Snowdon after repeated ‘challenge’ videos have been recorded. This is another common littering tactic – carry something heavy and unwieldy to the summit of Snowdon for charity, but then lack the enthusiasm to carry it back down again. It even happened with a 4×4. Twice!
So what to do about it? How can we help prevent the increasing amount of plastic rubbish permanently deposited in our mountains? I already have a reputation for running after those who have dropped litter, returning it to them and refusing to let them leave until they reluctantly put it in their rucksack (which will probably get me in trouble someday) – but that is probably not the best or wisest way to deal with it. So here is a short code of conduct for everybody who heads into the mountain for pleasure (or work, for that matter):
- If you carry it in, you carry it out. That includes ALL litter (banana skins, apple cores and cigarette butts too)
- Keep an eye on your gear. Strong winds and steep slopes mean that scraps of litter can escape away from you all too easily.
- Carry a rubbish bag. If you have somewhere safe to put rubbish without contaminating the rest of your kit then you are much more likely to use it!
Finally, something we like to do on our guided walks in Snowdonia and across North Wales is to collect some extra litter as well as anything we generate ourselves. The mantra of the mountain visitor should be “Leave only footprints, take only photographs” – but if we can also help remove a tiny fraction of the rubbish left by other than we are doing more than the bare minimum. We are trying, even in a small way, to make a positive impact on the environment – and I urge you to do the same.
Thank you for your time.