April 15, 2021

What a dump! Why ‘wild toileting’ has become a big pandemic problem

The number of people doing their business alfresco has shot up. But what else can you do when nature calls and there aren’t any public loos?

Name: Wild toileting.

Age: Dates back to Homo erectus. Urinating and defecating are part of the human condition – “I shit, therefore I am” (“Coshito, ergo sum”), as Descartes almost said – and was undomesticated until the Mesopotamians invented toilets almost 4,500 years ago.

Appearance: Don’t even think about it.

Is there a lot of it about? According to the Lulworth Estate, which manages Durdle Door and the surrounding coastline in Dorset, far too much. It says it saw a huge increase in “wild toileting” when lockdown was lifted last summer. It is calling on Boris Johnson to make responsible tourism a priority when travel restrictions ease this spring.

A government motion? I think the rule is that I do the schoolboy jokes. In any case, this is a serious subject: relieving yourself in public is a health hazard.

Is it on the increase? It was a problem even before public loos closed during the pandemic. Cash-strapped councils, which have no obligation to provide toilets, have been shutting them for years and relying on shops, pubs and cafes to fill the gap.

So, when the pandemic hit and shops, cafes and the few remaining public loos closed … Exactly; there was nowhere for people to go. There are piles of anecdotal evidence of stinking bushes and urine-drenched street corners.

What’s the answer? Well, it’s certainly not blaming the public in the way the Lulworth Estate seems to want to. Proper public loo provision is the key. Perhaps we should even encourage users to pay, as they do elsewhere in Europe. Whatever happened to “spending a penny”?

What do wild campers do? There is well-established toileting etiquette among wild campers.

Which is? Don’t do it near rivers or streams; dig a 15cm (6in) hole for excrement and cover it after use; take your toilet paper home with you.

That’s not really applicable if you’re caught short on New Malden High Street. True, which is why we need a crusade for public loos. Disabled people have been making this point for years.

It seems it’s not an issue that’s going away any time soon. Indeed. It’s also worth remembering that about a billion people have no choice but to defecate outside and that many more experience sanitary conditions detrimental to health. Remember those facts on World Toilet Day, which this year falls on 19 November.

Not to be confused with: Wild swimming: an admirable pursuit practised by 97% of journalists, most of whom have written columns or books about it.

Do say: “It’s time to give the health minister the turd degree on public loo provision.”

Don’t say: “Do bears obey the rules about wild toileting?”