Like many of Instagram’s 700 million monthly users, my morning routine generally consists of at least ten minutes of scrolling through dozens of photos, double tapping as I go. About three quarters of the people that I follow I don’t know, and will never meet. I follow them because I like their photos, or I like to read about the adventures that they are on. The majority of my Instagram feed is made up of ‘outdoorsy’ shots; mountains, lakes, oceans and rivers from all over the world. I, like many, use Instagram as a source of inspiration, but the more people I follow and the more photos that fill up my feed, the more location repetition I see, and that could be a problem.
On any given day I could scroll through the top 100 photos in my news feed and I would, without doubt, see the following locations… Roy’s Peak, That Wanaka Tree, Milford Sound, Old Man of Storr, Durdle Door, Winnat’s Pass, Moraine Lake and Trolltunga.
Undoubtedly, all incredibly beautiful locations, but absolutely not the only beautiful locations that this world has on offer and not the only places that should be on your bucket list.
Take Roy’s Peak in New Zealand for example. There are hundreds of mountains on the South Island and incredible views in pretty much every direction, but the power of the Instagram influencer has turned Roy’s Peak into a ‘must do’ for every backpacker that visits New Zealand. A quick search of #royspeak will show that almost 20,000 photos have been shared from that location and for me, that opens up a few questions.
How many people hiked up to Roy’s Peak five years ago in comparison to today? How many people have done this simply because they have seen amazing photos and wanted to see it for themselves? And, most importantly, what impact does this ‘insta-tourism’ have on the environment?
Durdle Door is another example of a beautiful landscape ‘trending’. I’d never heard of Durdle Door a couple of years ago, but now a day doesn’t go by without me seeing photos of it in my Instagram feed. I’m sure that most people know of Durdle Door now, but what about the Green Bridge of Wales, have you heard of that?
I suspect that for a lot of people, the answer to that is no.
The Green Bridge of Wales is a limestone archway on the Pembrokeshire coast, a spectacular arch that reaches out from the cliff face and into the sea, not at all dissimilar to Durdle Door in terms of looks and photography appeal. Even the most amateur of photographers could turn up to Pembrokeshire with an iPhone and take a great photo of the arch, but the Instagram stats show that it is a world away from Durdle Door.
Wikipedia states that Pembrokeshire welcomes around 4.2 million tourists per year, compared to Dorset’s 3.9 million, so, if anything, you would expect the Green Bridge of Wales to have more more visitors and consequently more photos taken.
Although impossible to quantify, it looks as though the role of the social media influencer plays a huge part in where people are choosing to travel.
I’m not suggesting that’s always a bad thing. Anything that inspires people to get out and explore is a great thing, but there are an abundance of beautiful places out there to explore and any location that becomes a social media trend could have a negative effect.
Recently, I took a guided kayak trip along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door to paddle through the famous archway. Our guide gave us commentary along the way and we talked about the local wildlife in particular. On most stretches of coastline like this, you would expect to see seagulls flying around and be able to spot nesting sea birds on the cliff faces. On this stretch of coast there is a distinct lack of anything flying around and our guide informed us that this is due to the Peregrine Falcons that nest near Durdle Door, meaning that any sea birds flying in these parts could quickly become prey.
Our guide proceeded to tell us how the Peregrines near Durdle Door are at risk this year due to the number of tourists disturbing them and hiking near to their nesting area.
Despite certain areas of the clifftops being fenced off to try and protect the nesting area, it is evident that these fences and signs are being ignored by the irresponsible minority and I saw for myself the damaged fences and clearly worn paths where people had climbed over, or under, the fence and carried on up in search of a different vantage point and a place to set up the camera and tripod.
There will always be a minority of people who will do this sort of thing, unfortunately, but 1% of 90,000 people can have a far bigger impact than 1% of 300 people and that’s where increased popularity of places can have a negative impact.
Is Durdle Door’s new found popularity sustainable for the Peregrine Falcons or will they eventually move on and find somewhere else to nest? Will the once barely worn track to Roy’s Peak be able to support the thousands of additional hikers per year? What impact will the increase in popularity have at Winnats Pass where dozens of people are scrambling up the limestone pinnacles to pose for a photo each day?
Instagram is a source of inspiration for many, and it always will be, but maybe instead of tagging specific locations everyone should just be encouraging others to get out and find their own amazing locations. Without doubt there are incredible places and perfect angles out there that haven’t been seen on Instagram yet, maybe we should all be searching for those instead of trying to get the perfect shot of a location that has been tagged thousands of times already?