Please Don't Build Fairy Doors Along Trails

One person's whimsy is another person's eyesore. Plus, it's bad for the trees.

fairy doors
A child looks at a fairy door along a trail in Crewkerne, England.

Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images

The first time my children ever encountered a fairy door along a hiking trail, they were enchanted. Tucked into the bottom of a tree with space between its arched roots, the tiny rounded door suggested a secret world—one inhabited by fairies and other magical beings. They crouched down to study it, reached out to touch it with a fingertip, and came away feeling as if they'd picked up a bit of the fairy dust themselves.

Over the past year and a half, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of fairy doors popping up along urban trails. These are installed by whimsical individuals who believe they add an element of fun and curiosity to an otherwise ordinary walk, but not everyone shares this view. 

The city of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, put out a directive on social media in May, asking people to stop drilling into trees, as it makes them susceptible to pests and diseases. Dave Beaton, Guelph’s program manager for forestry and sustainable landscapes, told Maclean's magazine the city "needed to press pause... Trees are under increasing stress with climate change and invasive species. We want to reduce the impact on our stressed trees."

People were not happy. They accused the city of being anti-fairy (Beaton assures it is not) and struggled to understand how city officials couldn't find the doors delightful. Maclean's cited one Guelph dad who was responsible for installing a bunch of them. He said, "You’re overhearing people walking down the trail and discovering them, and the giggles that would come out of the kids’ mouths put a smile on your face. It was addictive."

little child opens a fairy door
A child opens a fairy door along a trail in Crewkerne, England.

Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images

Leave No Trace, the organization that implores people to enjoy nature with as little impact as possible, tells Treehugger it too has seen an increase in the number of fairy doors built during the pandemic. A spokesperson for the Irish chapter said it is a result of more people using the outdoors for recreation at this time, and it's troubling for various reasons.

"Where fairy doors and houses have appeared without permission, they have often been nailed or screwed into trees, leaving them at risk of disease. Over time the doors also deteriorate quickly in poor weather and attract additional items in the form of gifts that blow off the trails, littering forests and other outdoor areas. Fairy doors also have a very limited lifespan and over a short period of time as they deteriorate they leave exposed rusting nails and screws, giving rise to potential injury to visitors and animals."

The organization says it wants families to spend time outdoors, but its role is to ensure that happens responsibly, in a manner that does not harm woodlands in any way. 

"Specifically in the case of fairy doors, if people are going to put them up, then permission of the landowner should always be sought and the use of nails, screws, plastics ought to be avoided. Leave No Trace asks all people in the outdoors to let photos, drawings and memories be their souvenirs, leaving natural objects undisturbed."

There is more than enough wonder in the natural environment to keep a child entertained, without needing additional decorations to make it interesting. Parents might do well to direct their energy toward helping children identify species, learning the names of trees, birds, and plants, recognizing seasonal changes, and reading trail markers. These little snippets of knowledge build on each other and create a more familiar yet engaging environment for a child, without needing additional inputs like fairy doors.

At the very least, parents should think about the message such fairy doors send to children—that it's fine to nail random "cute" objects into trees and to create visual clutter for others also using a trail. It's important to remember that not everyone's idea of what's amusing is shared by all, and the best way to leave a natural space is unmarred by any of that.