How can I be a conservationist and a hill bagger? Is there a conflict?

A personal reflection from RHSoc Member, David Levey

Conflict exists in most things.  As a conservationist, I wish to use as little of the Earth’s natural resources as possible.  Yet, as a hill bagger, I cannot help but leave a carbon footprint.  So, how do I reconcile this conflict?  My solution is outlined below.  It is far from perfect, and I accept there is so much more I can do towards being carbon neutral.  

1. Travel.  I don’t drive so 90% of my travel is by public transport. Reaching remote hills is a challenge that I overcome using infrequent local bus/train services, my mountain bike and some very long walks along remote roads. 

I am actively campaigning for a reduction in national park bus fares so they are more attractive to young people which hopefully will help to reduce traffic.

Strathcarron station. All photos by David Levey, except where stated.

2. Litter. I carry a Mountaineering Scotland Tak It Hame bag when on the hills.  If everyone can be encouraged to pick up one piece of litter when out then the litter will quickly reduce.  My aim is to quietly influence others to take litter home without being confrontational.  

3. Hedgerows. The wildlife I saw as a boy has been lost.  I fought hard in the 1970s to protect hedgerows but despite losing that battle, I now fight for those that remain. 

4. Combining my interests. My main crossover point between hillwalking and conservation is through active support of the John Muir Trust which looks after wild land in Scotland and the Lake District.

5Hearts and Minds.  The conservation movement must win support from most of the population especially the young. The John Muir Award encourages young people to work outside on a conservation project in their locality.  In 2019 over 40,000 people completed the award. 

Striding Edge. Managed by the John Muir Trust

6. Mountain hares, wildcats, butterflies, moths and many others require help to survive.  Several organisations need to know about the current populations of these species.  Hill baggers can help by reporting sightings of rarer and threatened species especially on visits to more remote areas. 

Mountain Hare. Picture by Nigel Sprowell.

7. Grouse moors. Being a bit more controversial, I must express my deep concern about grouse moor management.  I love walking on moorland, but hate the way many moors are managed.

8. Farming.  Most farmers are not villains.  Many are doing good.   I try to engage with them whenever possible.  I come from a farming family so this is close to my heart.

9. Enjoyment. I try to always enjoy what I am doing.  When something is a chore, it becomes harder to achieve.  I try to stick to my principles and have minimal impact on the environment while encouraging others to do the same. 

on Aonach Beag
Approaching Ben Stack's summit

10. Staying focused. There are many organisations (too many) with a conservation agenda.  I can only support a few.  I monitor many others so I am aware of ideas, campaigns and issues but I keep focused on my core values mainly through John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland. 

And finally…. As a regular user of coffee shops, I try to use my own reusable cup whenever possible.  To borrow a well-known catchphrase – every little helps.

Editor's note. Our Relatively Greener page outlines other options to consider.

RHSoc Member contribution

This article was contributed by an RHSoc Member or invited contributor.

If you have any ideas for articles, or would like to contribute an article, please get in touch!

Add comment

Join Us

The Relative Hills Society is a friendly, informal group, aimed at helping folk meet their climbing and walking ambitions, and have fun in the hills.
We aim to promote an interest in climbing the British hills that are prominent relative to their surroundings.
We welcome new members. Members join us to read our Annual Journal, check out our Halls of Fame and join us on Members' Events and Trips including an annual trip to St.Kilda.
Learn more