An Acceptable Level of Impact?

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar” – Bradley Miller

A lot of our focus here at FNS is on environmental education and awareness where we strive to create not only a respect for nature, but a love and sense of belonging in nature for our students.  Accordingly a lot of what we do takes place in wild, natural spaces and we certainly do have an impact on our surroundings.

So how do we mitigate this?

It’s a balance (and an imperfect one at that) where we try and determine an acceptable level of impact.

Our first step – education.  We follow the the 7 Leave No Trace Principles*:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
We think of this as “Know Before You Go!” and encourage students to be prepared for anything!  This can help us address any safety concerns, help us achieve the other LNT principles, and allows for a more enjoyable time.  It empowers students to take control and builds self-confidence, leadership and teamwork skills.


Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Though we don’t overnight camp (yet!), we often will set up camp sites for the day, tear them down and return things to the way they were.  We have previously established areas that we use to minimized impact, and rotate through these campsites to give the areas a “rest”.


Dispose of Waste Properly
At minimum we pack out what we pack in! And better yet, we leave areas even cleaner than before we entered.  Once, we even had a “cat hole” derby – a relay race style where everyone dug holes as a “toilet” 200ft from a water source or campsite. We have also engaged in Community Clean Up Programs beyond our site.

Leave What You Find
This is one of the most challenging principles to follow and understand for our students.  After finding a really fascinating fossil or shell, we are often asked, “Can I keep it?”  This experience usually begins an interesting conversation where we (together) weigh the options and make a decision about “keeping nature”.  These challenging conversations* exist because children are naturally drawn to nature and have such a strong desire to keep it (and show someone at home!) and when we acknowledge this connection and explore it together, children are usually pretty good at letting nature be nature, or putting it in a special place and adding it to our class map, or taking a photo and looking at it  later. This engagement further compliments their desire for storytelling and reminiscing.

But sometimes we do take things with us back to the classroom so we can study it and use it as a sample so we don’t have to take others, like bee hives and feathers. And sometimes, after our thorough dialogue, students will decide to take something special home. And that’s okay. Because for us it’s about a balance and knowing. And we believe it is important to reinforce student’s interest in nature and empower their connection with, and curiosity for, nature.

*Some helpful guidelines for us during these conversations look like: Imagine the person who found this before you took it home and you weren’t able to find it? Should we leave this for someone else to discover?  And pretty soon, some of the students who have been exposed to Leave No Trace Principles are guiding others on the importance of why we should leave things where they are, allowing us to step  back!

Minimize Campfire Impacts
We have campfires almost every week in our designated fire pits.  Once in a while, we’ll practice LNT fires and return our area back to how it was beforehand ensuring that we choose our site appropriately to minimize impact.  We’ll even use pie tins to ensure no plants are harmed when we make small, practice fires.

Respect Wildlife
Last year we shut down one of our campsite’s (now known as Ducky’s Campsite) because a Mallard made it’s nest there.  We avoid areas known for nesting at certain times of year (ie. bank swallows), practice catch and release while fishing, and generally observe animals from a distance.  We do get close to insects, and do our best to not interfere.  We’ve even seen students impose their own limits when catching frogs by washing their hands, having short time restrictions on how long they can stay in the bucket, or holding them close to the ground.  In this way, it’s not a complete “hands-off” approach, but a respectful approach.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Other people use our area often – weddings, the museum, dog walkers and more.  We follow these principles to ensure others have the opportunity to love this place like we do.  And we always strive to be inclusive of people and courteous, the students love when given the opportunity to take people on tours of our special areas.

These are just some examples of how we try to encourage a low environmental impact.  In practice, these usually come in teachable moments, where students weigh out options and feel empowered to make a choice.

ie “What else might have a stake in these grapes? How many could/should we eat?”

And sometimes it’s just about FUN. When it comes down to it, we know that people won’t protect what they don’t love or know.  And how can we truly know something without really getting into it?  And really getting into it is bound to have an effect.

So, this “acceptable level of impact thing – it’s all subjective.  It’s a dynamic process that happens in the moment that’s inclusive of everyone and everything around – it’s a continuously open dialogue.  It’s about role-modelling and nurturing our students’ (and our own) ecological identities.  It’s about discovering our connection, values and sense of self in nature.  It’s an appreciation and sense of belonging.  And it looks different for everyone.

And perhaps that’s the key..?

Source: LNT Canada –

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