How to leave no trace when eloping in Scotland

I consider the Scottish outdoors my ‘office’ – and without its vast wildness, my work would be meaningless. This is why caring for Scotland’s environment is something which is incredibly important to me and how I run my business.

Leave only footprints

Take only photos

Kill only time

I’m super chuffed to say I’m now officially a Leave No Trace Aware Photographer having passed the “How To Leave No Trace Course – for Wedding + Elopement Photographers” by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Maddie Mae, Anni Graham & The Foxes Photography.

What is Leave No Trace?

The course-makers summed it up perfectly by saying it’s ‘the best practices we can follow to enjoy AND protect the outdoors at the same time’.

Whilst the course is US based, the principles cross over to different countries easily. I was so fortunate to be one of the first photographers to access and pass the course which was really exciting as this is something which is close to my heart – I’ll confess I binged my way through it!

Before I go much further into this big topic, let me say – I am not perfect when it comes to Leave No Trace. And I’m sure even the most dedicated outdoor professional would say the same. But as I’ve learned – it’s not about striving for perfection. It’s about trying your hardest to minimise your impact and trying to make the best well-informed choices you can in the moment.

I shall be updating this blog with more in-depth reflection on the course, it’s principles and how it relates to local guidance here in Scotland so keep an eye out for that coming soon!

Leave no trace in Scotland - keep Scotland wild and beautiful for future elopements - Isle of Skye elopement location

Why should you care about Leave No Trace when eloping and having your photographs taken in Scotland?

Let’s take a quick detour into the history archives (I promise it’s relevant!)… The Victorians (c1800’s) had a little penchant for ‘collecting’ mementos from their travels to show off their worldly well-travelled ways to their friends and neighbours. They would often take a piece of a natural wonder or ancient site home with them (like stones from the Callanish Standing Stones on Isle of Lewis or pieces of basalt columns from the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland). This popular little trend quickly caused irreparable damage to some of our most historic and important places of wonder. We’re now horrified to think how much we’ve lost due to the cumulative damage of each individual traveller just wanting to take a small piece home.

It’s an important lesson to take heed of… our small ‘harmless’ individual actions can ripple through to bigger unintended consequences. The rise of Instagram and other visual platforms has shone a spotlight on the natural world – hidden gems are no longer hidden gems and people are flocking to previously quiet places in huge numbers to ‘get the shot’. We’re already seeing devastating impacts on places that were relatively unknown but are now crumbling under the pressure of high-profile travel tourism.

It’s exciting to be able to find and visit beautiful ‘new’ places but we don’t want to look back at this time and feel shame for our actions. We want to look back at photos from amongst these fragile complex natural wonders and historic sites and know that we treated them with respect and care.

Important reasons to care about leave no trace in Scotland

  1. We’ll be able to return to enjoy it again for years and decades to come. Imagine having eloped somewhere to find that you won’t be able to visit on an anniversary because it’s now closed to the public or to find it greatly damaged or so heavily regulated/maintained that it’s lost its ‘wild’ feel.
  2. Our care also keeps the places beautiful and open for future generations to enjoy. We’re incredibly lucky that roaming in Scotland is very easy – if we don’t act responsibly in the outdoors this may change in the future.
  3. When we care for a place, we demonstrate its importance and therefore makes it far less likely that the area will be developed for commercial or residential purposes. Let’s hold onto our public and wild places with dearest ferocity.

We want to know that we did everything we could to leave no impact during the course of our session or elopement. A guilt-free amazing experience.

They took all the trees

And put ’em in a tree museum

And they charged the people

A dollar and a half to seem ’em

Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

When social media awareness harms special places

Leave no trace in Scotland - keep Scotland wild and beautiful for future elopements - Isle of Skye couple eloping

I’d like to look at a specific example from Scotland… Here is a truly magical glen in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. This place used to be a locals hidden gem – a special retreat for local walkers and avid island explorers. It’s become a bit of an Instagram must-see bucketlist wanderlust hot spot. There is a near-constant stream of motorhomes and cars battling down the single track road, parking in passing places to see this beautiful place. It’s no longer a quiet serene haven.

The local authority has even started cutting into the landscape to build a car park to cope with the sudden influx of visitors – this is much needed now but also really sad to see.

Leave no trace in Scotland - keep Scotland wild and beautiful for future elopements
Spot the diggers cutting into this beautiful landscape to cope with the influx of cars and motorhomes

I’ve definitely fallen victim to the charm of the glen – how could you not fall in love with it’s magical mounds and low-hanging mist! And the fairy ring too…. Oh wait. Let’s chat about that fairy ring.

Okay, here’s where I need to confess. Like a lot of people, I love the little bit of magic the fairy ring adds – I’m easily captivated by places with a hint of other-worldlyness. But I also know that this ring is responsible for a lot of damage. The ring is said to have been originally formed by tourists and more + more vistors added to it. Taking rocks from surrounding parts of the glen to add. The ring is constantly being dismantled by locals who know that the human displacement of the rocks is disrupting the natural development of the landscape and harming natural habitats the rocks create.

People believe it’s an innocent act but it does create unintended harm on the wider landscape. I would even hazard a guess that this fairy ring is also partly responsible for why the spot went viral on Instagram.

The rise of Scotland’s tourism

But this is only one such example (of many) and as Scotland’s popularity continues to soar we’ll see more and more human interventions and ‘compromises’ on wild places.

As a photographer, its a constant balancing act for wanting to experience the amazing places social media shows us, showcase them in creative ways and doing it in a way that is ethically sound. We need to take more responsibility for how the work we shows impacts a place. And know that sometimes we’ll mess up but that’s okay if we acknowledge it and learn from it. So I promise to try and think about the ripples of my actions before posting and I welcome any DM’s for constructive criticism – we can ALL do better.

Leave no trace in Scotland - keep Scotland wild and beautiful for future elopements

The 7 principles of leave no trace

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel + Camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimise Campfire
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Following these will help make sure we have amazing places to explore in the years to come.

Local Guidance: Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Unlike the US, most of our natural heritage areas are free to roam. We don’t have the same restrictions as you might expect from a National Park in the US. The Outdoor Access Code in Scotland was established as part of the Land Reform Scotland act 2003 and we’re incredibly lucky to have it. The code entitles members of the public to access most land (as long as you behave responsibly). As their website says – Scottish access rights apply, for example, to hills and moors, forests and woods, beaches and the coast, rivers and lochs, parks and some types of farmland.

Though the code is firstly an entitlement for freedom to roam, the access is given on the condition that you’ll do it responsibly. And this is where the Leave No Trace principles overlap… here are the 3 principles of the Outdoor Access Code.

  • Respect the interests of others
  • Care for the environment
  • Take responsibility for your own actions

The Code is downloadable from here and has a whole host of information about how to act responsibly in different circumstances whilst doing different activities. I’ll be sharing more specific information about how the act impacts the actions I take as an elopement and couples photographer soon.

Next steps for leaving no trace in Scotland

Leave No Trace and the Outdoor Access Code are two incredibly useful guiding principles and resources for leading best practice in minimising my impact in outdoor spaces but its only the start. And there’s always better ways we can do things.

I am currently in touch with NatureScot and local Rangers seeking further guidance about this. I want to know how I can tailor the Outdoor Access Code and Leave No Trace principles to make sure that I am doing the absolute best I can to keep Scotland wild.

My initial research hasn’t easily shown up any guidance specifically for photographers in Scotland. I feel there is a chance here to delve into the subject a bit deeper for myself and my Scottish peers. I’ll keep this blog updated on my progress and conversations!

Passing a course, getting a badge feels rather swish but isn’t the final goal for me here. (I welcome any feedback on additional resources or peer groups I can seek out!)

Leave no trace in Scotland - keep Scotland wild and beautiful for future elopements

Further resources

Visit Scotland blog – practical intro to the Outdoor Access Code, especially in relation to COVID-19

NatureScot – responsible for keeping the Outdoor Access Code updated (previously known as Scottish Natural Heritage)

How to Leave No Trace Course – if you’re an elopement photographer then I highly recommend taking the course too – it’s really eye-opening!

If you’re keen to hire a photographer who takes outdoor ethics seriously then pop me a note over on my contact page to chat! 😀

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