Nature & Mountains

How you can protect the mountains this summer

Every summer, millions of tourists flock to the Alps in search of fresh air and open spaces. Of course, they are also drawn by the huge range of activities that are available in the summer season and the breathtaking scenery.

However, this seasonal migration and the holidaymakers’ growing attraction to the mountains are not without consequences for these fragile ecosystems. Deteriorating air quality, pollution of rivers and lakes, noise pollution which can harm wildlife, erosion of mountain ranges, degradation of forests, melting ice… The mountains are subject to numerous environmental impacts.

If we want to continue to enjoy these magical places in the light of climate change, we need to do things a bit differently. Here are six actions and ideas we can adopt to protect the mountains in summer and reduce the environmental impact of our holidays.

Whether you’re in a resort or out in the heart of nature, there are a few good practices we should all be aware of which can help to preserve the fragile heritage of the Alps. Here are some of them

1. Dispose of your rubbish carefully

The mountains are not a rubbish dump, and waste does not melt with the snow. Rubbish dumped in the mountains can take many years (even hundreds or thousands of years) to disappear completely.

So, if you’re planning to stop for a picnic during your hike, don’t leave anything behind. Collect all your rubbish and put it in a bag until you find a bin where you can throw it away. This should be something you automatically do to protect nature in summer.

Smokers – the same applies to cigarette butts. A pocket ashtray or a small box is ideal for storing cigarette butts until you can throw them away after your hike, but under no circumstances should you dispose of your cigarette butts in the wild. It can take up to 12 years for a cigarette butt to degrade in nature, poisoning ecosystems and animals that might accidentally swallow it.

In most resorts, you can find sorting areas with bins for recycling and collecting waste (plastic, glass bottles, household waste, etc). So even on holiday, it’s important to remember to recycle, whether you’re at your rented accommodation or out for a walk…

If you really want your trip to make a difference, you can take part in one of the many waste collection operations organised by Mountain Riders, an association which aims to educate people about ecological issues in the mountains.

In 2022, nearly 50 operations were carried out by the group’s volunteers. These initiatives have resulted in the collection of 11 tonnes of waste, or 66,000 litres of rubbish. These 11 tonnes included 2,766 face masks, 23,355 cigarette butts, 977 glass bottles, 1,213 plastic bottles and 1,110 cans.

2. Travel by train or share a car

Two people with rucksacks wait to board a train
Leave your car at home and take the train © Veerasak Piyawatanakul Pexels

Almost 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in a mountain resort are caused by the way holidaymakers travel. To reduce our carbon footprint and protect the environment, we must consider our method of transport when we plan a holiday.

The Ademe website (France’s ecological transition agency), has a section that allows you to estimate the carbon footprint of your itinerary according to your mode of transport. This is a good way of finding out the impact of journeys and encouraging people to think about more sustainable alternatives.

Travelling by train is one of the least polluting modes of transport. More and more resorts are now accessible by train and provide a shuttle system to take holidaymakers from the station to the heart of the resort.

Alternatively, you can consider carpooling, a simple and efficient way to get easily from A to B. And you can meet some very nice people on the way!

Once you get to your resort, try to avoid using your car and instead think about “soft mobility” such as cycling, walking and public transport. There are many ways to get around the mountains in a more ecological way! The French website Changer d’approche, part of the international Mountain Wilderness campaign, provides information on this and suggests many activities you can try in the Alps, by train, bus or shuttle.

It’s a great way to protect the mountains in summer!

3. Respect the flora and fauna

Wild flower in a mountain meadow
Resist the urge to pick wildflowers when you’re out walking © Office de tourisme de Val Thorens

The mountains are rich in biodiversity, where all kinds of animal and plant species live together. Chamois, ibexes, marmots or bearded vultures, flowers like venus hoof, Martagon lily, edelweiss… the ecosystem is extremely rich, but extremely fragile.

You can come across many of these species when you’re out and about in the mountains, but please be careful to leave as few traces as possible. Here are some of the ways you can do this:

  • Stay on the marked paths and avoid any areas marked as sensitive to preserve the tranquillity of the wild animals and to avoid damaging the biodiversity.
  • Avoid sudden movements and noise pollution so that you don’t frighten the animals.
  • Don’t light fires.
  • Do not take your dog into unrestricted areas and keep them on a lead if there is a risk of them harming the wildlife.
  • Do not pick flowers or plants.
  • If you plan to pick mushrooms or berries on your walk, only take as much as you need, and make sure you are in an area where this is allowed.
  • Mountain animals have their own diet. Do not feed them and avoid leaving picnic scraps for them, as this could poison them.
  • Do not approach mountain animals or farm animals. Cows, goats and sheep are not domestic animals and are not used to humans. So walk around them to respect their peace and quiet, and beware of Patous – dogs bred to guard the herds and protect them from any threat. They do not appreciate strangers approaching their animals and can be aggressive.

These good practices are essential to protect the mountains in summer and preserve all the wonderful wildlife they offer.

4. Choose sustainable resorts

A turquoise lake in the green mountains of Courchevel, a sustainable resort.
Courchevel is a wonderful sustainable resort in the Alps © Office de tourisme de Courchevel

One of the ways you can limit the impact of your mountain holiday is by choosing a greener and more sustainable destination, such as those with the “Station Verte” label.

This eco-tourism label is awarded to resorts that offer “meaningful holidays, favouring natural, authentic, human and environmentally friendly tourism. These resorts can be located in the countryside, in the mountains, near the coast, or overseas and offer services and activities based around nature”, according to the official Station Verte website. These include the small resorts of Samoëns and Châtel.

To reduce your carbon footprint even further, it is also worthwhile to seek out eco-responsible businesses. Look for accommodation that carries the European Ecolabel: hotels, chalets, apartments, campsites, etc. Today, almost 350 establishments in France hold this label.

They guarantee that:

  • At least 50% of the electricity used comes from renewable energy sources.
  • Water consumption is reduced in taps and showers.
  • Low-energy light bulbs are used.
  • Staff are trained in environmentally-friendly practices.
  • All waste is sorted for recycling.
  • The packaging of breakfast products in individual portions is limited.
  • Consumption is monitored to avoid waste.

Thanks to these choices, holidaymakers contribute to the protection of the mountains in summer and to the reduction of their carbon footprint.

5. Buy local

Bottles of beer produced in the Alps, at the Brasserie du Mont Blanc.
Stick to local produce to reduce your carbon footprint © Office de tourisme Savoie Mont-Blanc

Beer, wine, cheese, cold meats, chocolate, sweets, honey, fruit juice… the shops and restaurants in Alpine resorts are full of good products from the mountains. So why consume food that has travelled thousands of miles when you can eat locally and in season?

As well as limiting the carbon footprint associated with transporting food, buying locally also helps to support the local economy and local producers. And that too is eco-responsible!

On most of the official websites of the Tourist Offices, you will find a page dedicated to local businesses. cooperatives, markets or small artisan shops, where you can stock up on delicious local produce.

6. Be informed and aware

A laptop on a desk opened at the Google home page
Do your research if you want to know how to reduce your carbon footprint © Caio Pexels

Trying to protect the environment also means keeping yourself informed and making those around you aware of environmental issues.

Before leaving on a holiday, make sure you know about local guidelines and the measures put in place by the local tourist office (and other players) in your holiday destination and ensure that you abide by them when you arrive.

On your return, share these eco-responsible gestures with others: after all, taking care of the planet is not just for holidays!

Increased traffic, water/energy consumption and waste production are some of the issues that impact the mountains.

It’s up to all of us to try to limit these harmful effects. Favour walking, cycling and public transport, control your water consumption, collect your waste, and buy locally. By integrating these few simple measures into our daily lives, we can all contribute to the protection of our beautiful mountains.

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