Is It Okay To Pee In A Park During Lockdown?

We're venturing out a bit more and peeing in public has become commonplace – but how bad is it for nature?
Parks have been incredibly busy since social distancing was eased
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Parks have been incredibly busy since social distancing was eased

You’re reading our series Summer’s Not Cancelled, celebrating summer in this new normal. From rediscovering nature and cherishing time with friends and family, to virtual festivals and unforgettable staycations – summer’s still here, it’s just different.

First it was the odd person, now everyone’s doing it. In a Covid-19 landscape, bushes and trees in parks all over the country are being turned, grimly, into public toilets.

Where you once saw static green now you see the awkward shapes of humans, standing, crouching, squatting – their tapestries of synthetically-coloured clothing giving the game away, contrasting with the natural shades of green.

Peeing in parks has become a humorous new element of the ‘new normal’, but it also has potentially damaging knock-on effects. It’s a tough balance, because we must all wee: some of us need to more desperately than others and so, given the climate, it wouldn’t be right to judge every bush-dweller we pass.

The trouble is, peeing in the bushes is a temporarily solution to a long-term problem. There’s been no word yet from the UK government on public toilets reopening, and while the good weather stays, messes have been developing.

Certainly in central London, the shady innards of some particularly opportune trees are starting to resemble actual toilets, replete with toilet roll, puddles of urine cradled between tree roots and, yep, reportings of actual poo, too.

What’s The Problem With Public Peeing?

While weeing on mature trees isn’t likely to be a problem, say experts, relieving yourself on younger saplings could be detrimental to their growth. This is due to the components in human urine and their detrimental effects on the fragile ecosystems of developing trees.

So it’s best to stick to larger trees and bushes if possible, to reduce the urine ratio in terms of the tree’s daily, erm, intake of fluids from the ground.

Crowds enjoying the good weather in parks has a downside.
Crowds enjoying the good weather in parks has a downside.

The second major issue is soil, a party line most famously schooled by the Glastonbury festival, which asks punters to “love the farm, leave no trace” – no dumping your tent and absolutely no peeing in hedgerows or streams.

The issue is not that it damages flora and fauna, but that urine toxically pollutes the water table below the ground, which has adverse knock-on effects for wildlife, polluting rivers and streams. Shouts of ‘don’t wee on the land!’ are common at the festival, as punters rally around landowner Michael Eavis’ request against out-of-toilet trips and point out individuals breaching the rules.

“The ground water runs into the central Whitelake River and down the valley for miles around. Wildlife and fish are affected if 200,000 people pee everywhere,” organisers say in a statement on the Glastonbury website.

Glastonbury Festival politely ask punters not to wee on the land
Alys Tomlinson via Getty Images
Glastonbury Festival politely ask punters not to wee on the land

While the natural makeup of ground varies across the UK, it’s reasonable to suggest that weeing on the ground could have repercussions for water tables across the country, long after we’ve relieved ourselves.

Glastonbury’s approach is backed by scientists. Abraham Noe-Hays, research director at the Rich Earth Institute in Vermont, USA, recognises the benefits of urine on soil as a renewable source of fertiliser (a practice legitimised by the World Health Organisation), but insists allowing the liquid back into waterways is dangerous stuff.

“One goal is preventing the pollution caused by peeing in water — keeping pee out of the waterways and protecting water quality,” says Noe-Hays.

So there you have it: the amount of wee might be comparatively low, but a high enough volume could feasibly pollute our water tables up and down the country, which isn’t good news for taps.

Many of us feel the need to get out to see friends now we’re finally allowed to, so the odd wee is an inevitability as we’re all staying out longer and potentially drinking more while we’re out. All we can do is stay mindful of the issues.

For the sake of everyone’s cups of water.