Liked to death: Is social media destroying the great outdoors?
I for one LOVE the great outdoors – whether I’m climbing the National Three Peaks, cycling along the River Mersey or simply admiring the sunset from a vantage point. Naturally, I pair my adventures with my love for social media, often posting my adventures on Instagram Stories, the highlights of a trip to Facebook and shooting a summary of the day to upload to TikTok. Along with this, I often utilise the platform’s native tagging features, tagging my friends who I dragged along, geotagging the location I’ve discovered and using hashtags to join the #trigpoint community.
All of this free, user generated exposure can be a marketer’s dream when a new restaurant is wanting to boost its business by causing major #FoodEnvy, or if a drive-in cinema wants to sell more tickets and evoke a feeling of FOMO amongst others… but when it comes to the great outdoors, is social media negatively impacting its preservation?
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We live in a society desperate for likes and submerged in a true fear of missing out. Seeing an array of sunset silhouettes, beach BBQs and mountain tops angled to appear that little bit steeper all radiate that “WOW” factor and is enough to entice even the most amateur adventurer. #HikingUK has over 70,000 posts on Instagram and over 1 million views on TikTok. Unfortunately, images can be deceiving and leave out vital information such as the terrain, elevation, and distance which can leave selfie seekers in dismay or even danger.
Bleaklow Moor in the Peak District is a prime example of an underestimated yet overshared TikTok hotspot. Its heightened popularity can be attributed to the B29 Superfortress crash in 1948, of which the remains are still in place and visible up on the moorland. During lockdown, mountain rescue has seen a 70% increase in call-outs and Bleaklow Moor has been no exception with various groups being drawn to the crash site from social media underestimating its terrain. In November 2020, Glossop Mountain Rescue Team were called out to two separate incidents in just three hours. Again in January 2021 another group of Instagram seekers were rescued from “Artic conditions” which could have “potentially been fatal”. Peter Józefczyk, of Glossop Mountain Rescue commented that calls to the site during the Winter have been rare in previous years and condemns the increase, which is in part due to social media.
Not only does social media pose a threat to individuals misinformed about the route to the mesmerizing Instagram shot, but it also can be damaging to nature itself. Lee Spensley, a Hulme End resident has spent the last 12 months retrieving litter left by those exploring the Peak District in their new-found time during lockdown. Shockingly, he’s collected over 250kg of waste within just two miles of his home.
“Whilst our beautiful Peak District has become a vital place of sanctuary in nature during these challenging last few months, we have also seen a disappointing increase in litter in many areas” – Sarah Fowler, National Park Chief Executive.
Alongside litter, newly discovered “hotspots” have been littered with abandoned camp fires and BBQs, which are “not permitted anywhere in open countryside throughout the Peak District” . As well as this, people have been straying from the paths which has resulted in increased erosion and trampling on fragile habitats. With images being shared on social media, an increasing number of people are jumping on the bandwagon, copying what they’ve previously seen shared without considering the impact with a “someone else did it, so it’s fine, right?” mentality.
Interactive features such as hashtags and geotags have increasingly made it easier to find “cool” locations, which can bring an onslaught from the public. I myself have been guilty of this, often saving stunning settings to visit in the future, but with my knowledge of the National Parks and appreciation for the environment (and not wanting to get lost), I pair these desirable locations with maps and apps to gauge a better understanding of the lay of the land.
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Is it all bad?
Not at all! Gen Z has previously been labelled as “the indoor generation”, spending a huge 10.6 hours engaging with online content daily, which has been found to negatively impact health, wellbeing and productivity. Social media is “how a lot of people of my generation and younger are getting introduced to parks for the first time,” says Casey Schreiner, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Modern Hiker. Campaigns such as #BeAdventureSmart and #Walkshire actively encourage people to get outside and explore.
As well as the obvious Instagram gloat, being outdoors in general offers outstanding health benefits. From lowering blood pressure to improving your mood and focus – fresh air can help gain a fresh perspective. I personally encourage everyone to get out and explore more – for myself, being outdoors has provided moments of internal reflection, some of the best memories, personal achievements, and breath-taking views.
So how do we benefit from the great outdoors without damaging it?
I’ve collated a few ways to gain maximum enjoyment with minimum damage:
- Share responsibly – think about what you’re posting, not only considering whether you should tag a location, but what your content consists of; could others view your illegal campfire at the top of Snowdon as a good idea?
- Be aware of wildlife and keep your distance – contrary to popular opinion, Hamish the highland cow does not want to be in your selfie. Taking photos from a distance not only keeps yourself safe, but doesn’t disrupt animals in their natural habitat either.
- Lead by example – follow the countryside code and take all your litter home.
As satisfying as it is to share the places we love to visit, we need to ensure that they’ll still be there for future generations.