Neil Reid is one of a team of two that maintain Corrour bothy in the Cairngorms. This remote hut in the Lairig Ghru is among the most popular of all Scotland's bothies, and this inevitably means a lot of rubbish to deal with. Of course he is sick to the back teeth with the mess. It is not just the people who drop it originally that get his goat though, but all those who subsequently see it, tut-tut, and then fail to carry it with them back to the nearest bin. Pick it up and become part of the answer, or turn a blind eye and be part of the problem; it's that simple, Neil reckons. And who'd dare argue with him?
Litter. There's nothing like it for getting folk riled. I should know.
I rather sporadically write a blog (Cairngorm Wanderer) with all sorts of fascinating nonsense about the Cairngorms, and on an average day I'd reckon on getting about 100 page views. This weekend I wrote about rubbish left at Corrour Bothy and in less than 24 hours the views for that post topped 800. A couple of photos posted on a Facebook group got so many comments I could no longer keep track of them.
And you know what? It bored me almost as much as finding the rubbish in the first place.
I've done it before: a rant about rubbish left in bothies and the lazy bastards who leave it, then a storm of righteous indignation from all the masses who are horrified that anyone should desecrate our wonderful countryside.
Along with the outrage there's the fan mail: an embarrassment of praise for all we do to look after Corrour. But I wish nobody even thought to praise us simply for clearing up rubbish.
"Perhaps the masses of hill-goers and bothy folk who unleash their righteous anger every time litter is mentioned aren't so good as they like to think"
Okay, let's go back a bit.
Five weekends ago Neil Findlay and myself cleared up all the rubbish at Corrour. This weekend just past I went back to change over and scrub out the toilet - and on top of the job that I'd expected to be doing I found myself burning the rubbish and mouse-chewed food which had collected in the bothy since my last visit. It took over four hours, and it wasn't a pleasant job.
You can't just throw a bag of rubbish on the fire, because there is occasionally a gas cylinder in there; you have to empty the bag out carefully, almost piece by piece into the fire. There's a lot of food waste in there, it's rancid, mouldy, and, on this occasion, infested with small black flies. As well as the burning, there were tin cans to be crushed and carried out, along with the bottles, the gas cylinders with hardly a shake left in them, the half bottle of meths, the pair of trousers, the two beanies and the cheap sleeping bag.
So, yes, everyone on Facebook and in blog comments went spare. One guy even seemed to be proposing some form of bothy vigilante patrol to tackle miscreants in the act of littering.
Time and again, people were remarking on how it was a few bad eggs who were spoiling it for the well-behaved majority, and how good it was that I would go all the way in there and do this job.
Why? Why is it so good of me? Why isn't it routine that someone should pick up rubbish when they find it? Why isn't it so absolutely, boringly routine that no-one would even mention it?
Perhaps because the masses of hill-goers and bothy folk who unleash their righteous anger every time litter is mentioned aren't so good as they like to think. Sure, they would never think of leaving their empty food packets lying on the bothy floor. Great. But perhaps they don't care quite enough to pick up others' rubbish when they see it, too.
I know they don't, because if they did I would never find any rubbish in Corrour, or in any other bothy.
In fact, speaking as someone with long years' experience of bothy rubbish, I reckon some stalwart-in-his-own-head soul had gathered all the bothy rubbish into that one bag - and then hung it up behind the door, where it acted as a breeding ground for flies. That's not helping, that's just kidding yourself on.
If you don't like to see rubbish lying in bothies, why not just take it home, or burn it in the bothy fireplace? You don't like the hills covered in other poeple's litter - so why not pick it up as you pass?
No individual can achieve very much on their own, but litter picking does two things: It leads by inspiration, and it persuades by peer pressure. It becomes socially acceptable to pick up litter (seems daft to think otherwise, but many people really would be embarrassed to be seen doing it). And when you see someone picking up litter it makes it harder for you to drop it.
If you're in a bothy with others, make a point of mentioning rubbish, make a show of burning it or packing it out. And really pack it out; don't leave a bagful of crap hanging on a nail like the bin lorry was due on Tuesday or something.
It's not enough just not leaving your own rubbish; let's make it socially unacceptable for others to leave rubbish too. And if they go ahead and leave it anyway? Then just pick it up. Whether the real culprit is there or not. Pick it up and become part of the answer, or turn a blind eye and be part of the problem. It's that simple.
Helping or littering? A basic guide
A lot of what we have to dispose of from bothies is just plain rubbish, but there's also a fair bit of stuff left with good intention. (A grey area, though; how much of it is genuine good intention and how much is people trying to justify their laziness to themselves?)
- Food in paper or foil wrapping will be chewed by mice.
- Tinned food keeps but, really, few folk turn up at a bothy with no food. Just take it out.
- A gas cylinder can be handy, it's true, but if there's already one sitting, don't leave more.
- Mess tins, cutlery, cups? Would you use some of the manky utensils you find in a bothy? No. Take them out.
- That sleeping bag you won't need again? Vermin like them, people tend to avoid them and they just get dirtier and dirtier.
- Clothes? Just take them home. The naked rambler is probably in prison again and most other folk arrive already dressed.
- A tent? Take it away. (Yup, in eight years at Corrour I've carried out at least half a dozen festival tents.)
The short answer is, if it's coal, wood or candles, then by all means leave it for the next person. A box of matches maybe, or a lighter. Otherwise, burn it or pack it out.
- Bothy Renovation - A Volunteer's Eye View 24 Sep, 2012