How to Leave No Trace When Visiting Ireland’s National Parks

If it’s beauty and nature you seek, then a visit to one of Ireland’s national parks is a must. We are fortunate to have six amazing national parks on the Emerald Isle. These are;  Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, Connemara National Park, Glenveagh National Park, Killarney National Park, Wicklow Mountains National Park and Burren National Park. These protected areas of natural beauty provide a home for wildlife and an oasis for communities. Unfortunately, human activity is a major cause of environmental degradation here, so it’s crucial that when visiting we all play our part and take the necessary steps to minimise our impact. These steps are laid out in the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare Before you go, check the park’s website to see if your activity is permitted. For instance, permits may sometimes be needed for certain activities such as camping, fishing or mountain biking in the area.

Check the weather forecast and always be prepared for changing weather conditions. Wet, cold or unprepared visitors are more likely to abandon Leave No Trace techniques for safety’s sake.

Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use. Visits to popular destinations during peak use periods, such as holidays and weekends, are often fraught with traffic, crowding, delays, and conflicts with other groups. Instead, visit at other times or, explore out-of-the-way places.

Look realistically at the capacity of local facilities. Is there adequate car parking so that gateways, forest entrances and narrow roads are not blocked, or not made impassable? The emergency services and NPWS staff need access at all times.

For environmental and safety reasons, keep group numbers small Be prepared to split larger parties into smaller groups to help minimise the impact you leave on the environment and other visitors.

2. Be Considerate of Others

Share our trails. We all enjoy the outdoors in different ways. Pay attention, expect to encounter others and be courteous.

Let nature’s sound prevail. As much as possible, try to keep the noise level down, especially at night and in remote places.

Avoid the use of bright lights, mobile phones, radios, electronic games, and other intrusive urban devices. If you must carry something that makes noise, carry earphones in order to keep the noise to yourself. To some, technology is a necessity even in remote places. To others, it is inappropriate. Avoid conflicts by making a conscious effort to allow everyone his or her own choice in experience.

3. Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife

As more and more people visit our national parks, wildlife in these areas are increasingly affected by visitors’ presence. To help keep wildlife wild, give animals a wide berth and observe them from a distance. As a simple rule of thumb – if the animal moves in response to your presence, you are too close.

Never feed wildlife. Feeding damages their health, alters natural behaviours and exposes wildlife to predators and other dangers.

Check signs and follow area dog regulations. Keeping your dog in control keeps people, dogs, livestock and wildlife safe. Other visitors may not appreciate your dog’s company; if not sure, ask before allowing your dog to approach them. Please do not let your dog approach or chase wildlife. When wildlife is chased or harassed, they change eating patterns and exert more energy that can result in poor health or death. Please keep your dog on a lead, for their sake and the sake of others.

4. Travel and Camp on Durable Ground

Stick to established trails. Give plants and wild animals their place in the outdoors. Creating new trails scars the landscape, causes erosion and intrudes on wildlife habitats.

Travel in the middle of the trail. Studies show that when we trample vegetation on the side of the trail, there is a greater chance that non-native / invasive plants will replace the native ones. While stepping through mud may be a good option, if you are concerned about slipping, trampling vegetation or getting muddy, choose a different dry trail or hard surface – just until the trail dries!

Please avoid areas that are unmarked, closed for revegetation or signed as sensitive. We can all have fun in our natural areas and share with wildlife if we just stick to the trail.

Camping in a national park can be a little confusing at first glance. Each location will have different policies in place regarding camping. This is due to the variety of habitat that each location contains. It is a good policy to check whatever location you wish to visit and not assume the same policy applies to all locations.

Information on camping at each national park in Ireland can be found by following the links below:

If you are permitted to camp, then remember, good campsites are found, not made! The best campsites are often well away from water sources and trails. If you need to alter a site to make camp, there is probably a better site nearby. If not, make your best choice and naturalise the area with leaves or other available cover upon your departure.

5. Leave What You Find

Conserve the past; archaeological and historical artifacts such as old walls are reminders of the rich human history of the landscape and belong to all people for all time. Structures, dwellings and artifacts should not be disturbed. Observe but do not touch them.

Leave natural objects undisturbed – load your camera, not your packs. Let photos, drawings and memories comprise your souvenirs. Objects in nature derive much of their beauty from their surroundings and never look quite the same back home.

6. Dispose of Waste Properly

Please take out all litter – yours and others. Even biodegradable materials, such as orange peel, apple cores and food scraps can take years to break down and attract scavengers that harm other wildlife. Waste is unsightly and ruins everyone’s outdoor experience. Studies have shown that by leaving waste we attract scavenging birds and mammals that drive away or kill native birds. Let’s all enrich everyone’s outdoor experience and take out all litter.

Although the topic of human waste can be a particularly uncomfortable issue with visitors to the outdoors, it is very important to address it directly. Never miss an opportunity to use a proper toilet facility. If you must go, in the outdoors, deposit solid human waste in a hole dug 10-12 cm deep at least 30 metres (70 steps) from water, campsites, and trails. This will promote decomposition of the waste and reduce the likelihood that other visitors may have unpleasant encounters. Cover and disguise the hole when you are finished and be sure to pack out all used toilet paper and hygiene products in an impermeable plastic bag.

7. Minimise the Effects of Fire

Even though campfires have been a part of the outdoors for a long time, the legacy of campfires and barbeques too often are charred park benches and rocks, large rubbish-filled fire rings, damaged trees and uncontrolled wildfires. Fires can cause lasting impacts and be devastating to forests, natural habitats and farmland. You are not permitted to light fires in any of Ireland’s national parks without a permit.

To learn more about the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, you can view or download our Skills and Ethics booklet here.