Leave only footprints: The impact of running on the natural environment

Lonely Goat Running Club is committed to improving our environmental impact. We recognise we’re not perfect, and there is much more we can do, but the environment is something we consider in our decision making processes as we embark on this journey of improvement.

Today is Earth Day 2021, so what better occasion to look at the impact of running on the natural environment?

Our journey

We have already made some progress. We signed up to 1% for the Planet and pledged to give one per cent of our revenue to environmental causes. Our club tops are made from recycled plastic, and we are supporting Keep Britain Tidy and their Great British Spring Clean campaign.

Another area where we can help the environment is by encouraging the Lonely Goat community to support and inspire each other to achieve their individual environmental goals.

To help this happen, we’ll continue to share articles about how runners’ actions affect the environment, and how we can make a positive difference – check out our recent article on plogging. In this article, we take a look at the impact of running on the natural environment itself.

The positives

Running has a relatively low environmental impact, especially compared to other sports. It might not seem like it all the time – especially when you have a hallway full of trainers and a drawer full of running clothes – but we don’t need much to run in. Just clothes and some comfortable shoes.

Yes, there are extras – a watch, phone, hydration packs, sunglasses, and other accessories, for example – but that’s still less kit than for many other activities.

What’s more, we don’t need specialist facilities, as we can run almost anywhere.

The negatives

Because we can run almost anywhere, runners have the potential to leave our mark in places where it may be detrimental to the natural environment.

We can run through distant forests, over mountains, and along the coast, as well as in the parks and streets close to home.

If we do so responsibly, then no harm may be done. However, should we choose to disrespect the places where we run, then our actions can have a significant negative effect.

The Westmorland Dales by Lonely Goat, Claire Brooks

Make your impact a positive one

Even small actions can add up to big consequences when they have been repeated by dozens of other people.

WIth this in mind, here is some advice on how to minimise the negative effects of running on the natural environment. Much of it is common sense, but it can’t hurt to have a reminder, and there may be something you had not considered before.

1. Drop nothing on the ground

There is no excuse for littering.

If you have managed to carry it there, then you can carry it home.

Even better than not littering, is picking up other people’s litter (if safe to do so) and leaving the environment cleaner than when you get there.

2. Don’t take shortcuts

Many natural environments are delicately balanced ecosystems. By taking shortcuts, we can increase erosion and throw these environments off balance.

Consider a narrow path through a forest or park. Run in the middle of the path, and it never gets wider. Run on the edge, however, and the path will get wider, further encroaching on the hitherto untouched landscape.

Cut the corners, or take a shortcut, and you risk making a new path altogether.

Paths in the right place are fine, but a path in the wrong place can lead to plants and habitats being damaged, or water pooling or draining in a manner that can cause further erosion.

On this same point, where possible, try and run through, or jump over puddles. If you run around a puddle, you’ll further erode the surrounding area. If you run through it, you may make the puddle deeper, but at least it won’t spread beyond its natural confines.

This might not be critical in a well-maintained urban park – beyond looking scruffy – but can have more significant consequences in areas that are susceptible to flooding.

If you have to take a shortcut, or are running somewhere without a path, then try to keep to durable terrain that can withstand the impact of your footsteps.

3. Preserve flora. Respect fauna

Don’t mess with flowers or animals.

With respect to plant-life, the above point about not taking shortcuts is important here. Try and avoid treading on anything that is delicate and may be irreversibly damaged.

Likewise, don’t pick flowers or take anything from the environment that belongs there. As the quote says:

Take only memories, leave only footprints.

As for animals, please do what you can to minimise disruption to wildlife.

Keep dogs on leads near livestock or in areas with ground-nesting birds. Also, try not to make unnecessary noise that will startle or disturb birds and animals. This is especially true at times of year when parents are looking after their young.

4. Respect local rules

If you’re running somewhere new, in the outdoors, take a moment to read any information boards. What is OK in one place may not be in another location.

Different environments offer different habitats for different plants and animals. If you’re unfamiliar with the area you’re running, it could be easy to accidentally cause harm to these environments.

If an area is taped off, or a sign says ‘No Access’, it might not be due to an unwelcoming landowner, but to protect an ecosystem at risk.

Lonely Goat, Jane Blatch-Gainey, in a puddle

Please be sensible and considerate

We are strong believers that most people are good people and wouldn’t knowingly cause harm to the natural environment. We all make mistakes, but what’s important is that we learn from them.

Ultimately, the above advice is uncomplicated common sense:

  • Don’t drop litter;
  • Don’t run where you shouldn’t;
  • Leave things where they belong, and don’t disrupt wildlife;
  • Check the local rules.

Stick to the above and you can’t go far wrong.

This isn’t just advice for distant trails, out in the wilds, but applies in urban areas too. After all, there’s a surprising amount of wildlife sharing our towns and cities with us.

If you’ve got any other advice for the Lonely Goat community on how to have a positive effect on the natural environment, please share it in our Facebook Chat Group, on Instagram, or on Strava.



The following sites were used to inform this article and may be of interest should you wish to learn more:

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