How to protect nature when travelling

To mark World Nature Conservation Day on 28 July, Holly Tuppen explores how nature travel has evolved beyond just wild adventures – it’s now helping to regenerate the world around us...

5 mins

Wherever we travel, nature plays a leading role, whether we’re adventuring through wilderness in search of an elusive sighting or enjoying pockets of greenery and water in the most urban environments. Most responsible tourism providers recognise that nature is a critical part of any travel experience, and so they have a vested interest in not only minimising any negative impact but protecting and regenerating the natural world. By carefully choosing where and how we travel, we can do our bit too. With a biodiversity crisis in full swing (we’re losing species at up to 10,000 times their natural rate of decline), it’s more important than ever to think about what you do.

Becoming an ally of Mother Nature requires a careful balancing act. With too many tourists, ecosystems and wildlife can become irrecoverably damaged. Too few, and the local economic incentive to protect nature can dissipate. When a good balance is struck, however, the formula is magic: local communities protect flora and fauna, recognising that their livelihoods and well-being depend on its survival; responsible travel providers pour investment into local conservation and help to minimise negative or exploitative practices, land uses and pollution; and travellers, inspired by intimate and nature-based experiences, can develop a connection to the natural world. Many go on to fund or discover conservation projects closer to home.

Marsican brown bear is a protected species (Shutterstock)

Marsican brown bear is a protected species (Shutterstock)

How to find travel experiences that protect nature

As with all aspects of sustainable travel, when it comes to nature we need to adopt a two-way relationship – giving as much as we take. So, how can we seek experiences that have a positive impact on the natural world?

The most responsible travel providers work with conservationists and scientists to design unique experiences, rather than simply hand over funds. Much Better Adventures works with Rewilding Europe, Wild Sweden and the European Safari Company to create hiking, snowshoeing, torchlight-tracking and wild-swimming itineraries with guides who are experts in rewilding. In Sweden, adventurers head out from a wild camp base in a secret boreal forest to track wolf and moose and admire the work of the Scandinavian Wolf Project.

Exodus Travels also runs trips in collaboration with Rewilding Europe, with a focus on the rehabilitation of five wildlife corridors (connecting landscapes so wildlife can thrive) in Italy’s Central Apennines, home to wolves and the Marsican brown bear. Also in Europe, Intrepid Travel works with the MEET Network, which supports protected areas in the Mediterranean via tourism. Two of its trips, in Croatia and Crete, are designed to safeguard the natural environment while ensuring communities benefit from local conservation work.


Read next 6 of the best ways to see bears in the wild

Make sure you join a responsible turtle experience when visiting Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

Make sure you join a responsible turtle experience when visiting Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

Rather than exploring somewhere pristine, we can have a more positive impact by travelling to places that need funds for regeneration. Masungi Georeserve in the Philippines is a good example. Previously destroyed by mining and logging, this 3,000-hectare reserve now hosts a low-impact adventure trail, which has supported the recovery of a lush rainforest home to more than 400 species. Former poachers have been trained as park rangers, and over 100 local people are employed by the reserve.

Community involvement is critical. Nature’s regeneration and protection only works in the long term if locals are part of the process, and ideally, lead it. Not-for-profit SEE Turtles uses funds from running responsible turtle experiences in Costa Rica, Belize and other hotspots to provide training and education on turtle conservation to those living nearby. So far, over 100 teachers and community leaders have received training, and it has generated over US$1 million for turtle conservation and local communities. It’s not just a win for nature, but for everyone.



Reality check: Animal Welfare

Tourism has a history of exploitation when it comes to wildlife experiences. Several industry giants still sell inappropriate animal encounters, including dolphin shows. World Animal Protection has created a helpful set of guidelines for travellers, as has ABTA. Unacceptable behaviour includes any contact with, or the feeding of, larger predators; elephant rides; bathing, photo or holding opportunities where the animal isn’t free to get away; and whales and dolphins in captivity. 

Top tips for protecting nature

Try helping out

Citizen science projects are a great way to support conservation efforts while travelling. Reef Check trains volunteers to conduct data collection in reefs, while iNaturalist invites travellers to upload nature observations via an app. Biosphere Expeditions 
even designs global citizen science trips, including tracking the elusive snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan mountains.


Read up beforehand

The Nature Positive toolkit has some handy tips and advice for travellers as well as several case studies showing how tourism can protect nature, such as Cottar’s Safaris in Kenya, which has established a locally owned 30 sq km conservancy in the Masai Mara area.

Support projects

The introduction of Whale Heritage Sites, such as those found in Australia’s Hervey Bay, Algoa Bay in South Africa and the Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area in Spain’s Canary Islands, is part of an initiative designed by the World Cetacean Alliance. They designate areas where cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) are celebrated within the cultural, economic, social and political lives of local communities. For travellers, it ensures an easier, more transparent way to select responsible whale- and dolphin-watching tours.

(Thea Taylor, Sussex Dolphin Project)

(Thea Taylor, Sussex Dolphin Project)

Thea Taylor is the project lead for the Sussex Dolphin Project, based in Shoreham, UK. She explains how visitor experiences can better help the protection of our marine environment.

“The Sussex Dolphin Project is a citizen science programme designed to identify individual dolphins and pods and to better understand their behaviour. To do that, we need the public to send in sightings, so raising awareness is important. It’s very difficult to get people engaged in a project when they are not aware of the existence of the very species we are trying to protect. Our boat trips have helped to change that. There is no better way to get our community and visitors engaged with the marine environment than to get them on the water and reveal the diverse marine life we have just off our beaches. As a charity project, we also require funding to do our daily work. Our team is mostly volunteer-based, therefore the funds we raise from boat trips go directly towards our ongoing campaigns and research. We can receive multiple sightings a day in summer, especially if a pod is travelling close to the shore. But while we can’t guarantee sightings, these boat trips are part of our research programme even when the dolphins aren’t present. We always get valuable insights into other marine life as well as intelligence on the variety of marine habitats we visit.”

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