As we seek ways to promote the health of our outdoor spaces and ensure their survival for future generations, the issue of biosecurity has become more important than ever before. By ensuring that we are aware of the importance of biosecurity and begin to practice it ourselves, we can positively contribute towards reducing the risks it poses.
Biosecurity and Why It Matters
Biosecurity refers to action which can be taken by anyone who uses a natural outdoor space to prevent the introduction and spread of potentially dangerous and harmful organisms into the environment. Increasingly, forests and other natural environments are at ever-greater risks from pests, especially tree pests, and other diseases.
The introduction and spread of non-native tree pests, deadly tree diseases and other organisms which cause disease, such as fungi into the forests and woodlands in particular, can have a negative impact upon the natural environment. Not only do they pose a risk to the health of the trees, but they can subsequently have a devastating impact on the rest of the ecosystem which depend upon the trees.
Some tree pests and diseases do spread naturally through animal migration, via water or the wind. However, the introduction of diseases and non-native tree pests is on the rise, accelerated by human use. Once introduced, these pests and diseases can spread quickly through the environment, destabilising the delicate ecosystem.
What We Can Do
Helping to protect the forests and other outdoor spaces is simple and only requires minimal effort on our part. It simply involves adopting some new habits which can have a big impact on our natural outdoor spaces.
Forestry and Land Scotland promote the Keep It Clean initiative, which promotes ways in which everyone can be responsible for the forests and promote biosecurity. The key points of the initiative are very simple – clean your boots and shoes, bikes, tyres, toys or other equipment, as well as your pet’s paws before you go out to the forest and again upon your return.
Tree pests and diseases can enter the forest through the mud and other debris found on the bottom of our shoes, on tyres and on animal paws. As we move through the forest, we can unwittingly carry them into the forest and accelerate their spread.
However, by simply brushing off any visible dirt before we begin our trip and again at the end, with a stiff brush and some soapy water, we can help to minimise the risk and any potential spread. This applies to all footwear and to bikes and tyres. If there is a wash station available, make sure you use it to wash down your bike. When it comes to pets and their paws, we should ensure that we wipe them before entering the forest and again once we leave. The whole process need only take a few minutes at the start and end of our trip.
Using the Outdoors Responsibly
The natural outdoors has provided us all with much-needed space to reflect and recharge during the course of this year. However, it’s essential that we all take small steps to ensure that these spaces continue to be healthy and thrive. As such, it’s important to be aware and conscious of our human impact and presence in these spaces when we use them.
Whenever we use a natural outdoor space, be it for a walk, to meditate, engage in embodied practice or to play and explore, it’s important that we take care not to disturb or destroy the ecosystem, as far as we possibly can. This includes ensuring that we do not unnecessarily break branches, trample on plants or disturb nests and wildlife. We should also ensure that we take any rubbish with us and that we leave these spaces clean and tidy.
Similarly, it’s important to educate children about the importance of our human impact upon the natural world. Whenever you go out with your family to enjoy the natural world, take the opportunity to help them develop conscious and responsible habits that they can use throughout their lives.
As we continue to use and explore the outdoors in all weathers, we also invite you this week to consider ways in which you can adapt your usual behaviours and habits to ensure that you are accessing these wonderful spaces in a responsible and sustainable manner.
If you don’t already, begin to incorporate the Keep It Clean initiative into your preparations and rituals when going outdoors. Involve your family in the preparation and the clean-up. Consider this important act, not simply as a chore, but take it as an opportunity to begin getting into a calmer mindset, even using it as an opportunity to engage in some mindful breathing.
What may seem like a very small, very simple step can in fact have a big impact. If everyone begins to take greater care and responsibility for the natural environment and adopting more positive habits, we can help to protect and maintain the forests. We can begin today to develop more conscientious habits and practices, which will benefit our environment, educate our children and most importantly, ensure that these spaces continue to exist in future for others to also enjoy and benefit form.