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Friday, 23 September 2016

Adapt and Improvise; The Combat Jacket.

Simple Survival Aids (although perhaps not those as bulky as a firesteel) can be secreted in clothing ready for an emergency

Thinking back over thirty years, I can recall spending hours making my clothes into a very basic survival kit. The reason will be obvious, it was all camouflaged clothing and my intention was to survive after being separated from my heavier kit. We called it E&E (escape and evasion) and some of us were good at it and others less so. For some it would be a miserable time, for some it was more about being a nuisance to the 'opposition', for me it was slipping away in to the woods and disappearing until I could get back to somewhere I could be useful, reunite myself with something more deadly than a rock in a sock or a club with some barbed wire wrapped around it and neutralise the enemy without getting up too close and personal.

I believed (and still do) in the 6 Ps, Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pathetic Performance, there were 7 but these 6 publish better! Never go under-dressed, under-gunned or under-informed, never give a sucker an even break and do unto others before they do unto you, quite contrary to my Christian beliefs but back then I believed it and was ready to put it in to action if necessary.

So let's see if you've got the idea;

"what does a smart guy take to a knife fight?" 
"No, not a big knife, a 9mm pistol, an Uzi would be better! Now you get it? Good!"

Surviving for long periods in the most basic of circumstances will never be easy, POWs in a number of past conflicts have demonstrated the human body's resilience to abuse, neglect and deprivation but starvation is a poor companion, one to be avoided at all costs and my 'little kit' was designed to aid me in that goal. All my kit was very light and selected and secreted in such a manner as to be very hard to find even if searched. Below is a list of the things I had, the list is not exhaustive and should be modified based on likely local conditions in the area you are to survive in or transit through, most of this kit remained in place for years remember.

  • Something to cut and skin which is basic. I had a 'key ring size' knife but also a scalpel blade carefully wrapped in foil so that it neither blunted in storage or burst through its containment and stuck in me, a short piece of scalpel handle is also useful and easily concealed in the heel of a boot for instance. 
  • Fishing line, fairly light, with a couple of hooks and a few weights, 
  • needle, 
  • thread, 
  • a couple of waterproof matches, 
  • a couple of puritabs, 
  • a miniature compass,
  • para chord 
  • snare wire. 
Many of these items were wrapped or sealed in tiny zip lock bags, the wire of course was designed to live unprotected. All of these items were then sewn into the jacket or trousers in a place where the material was double or treble, seams, buttons or zips, so their bulk was concealed by that particular feature in the garment.

I had rehearsed the likely scenarios and they were these.

1. If I was taken prisoner on my own or in a small group, I would take additional measures to prevent a thorough search, these included urinating on the garment or vomiting on it to discourage a thorough search of the portion containing something useful. I could also fein injury in that area again attempting to prevent a thorough search.
2. If we were taken en mass, I anticipated the processing being more cursory and it being unlikely to discover my stash, as the many hours of work had been successful in making these items near undetectable.

In addition to these few items, I had the lightest of all survival kit, knowledge, experience and the right attitude. I WAS going to survive and fight again, I WAS NOT going to starve in the wilderness and when I got fully kitted up again, I WAS going to be a real nuisance!

I strongly suggest that you put some really useful stuff into a favourite coat, a ruck sack or anything you have with you nearly all the time and forget it's there until you are in trouble. I carried a lifeboat ration pack for years at the bottom of my ruck sack, I only ate anything from it once as I recall, when I was really in need. It had a 5 year shelf life so I didn't have to swap or rotate it, it was just always there, just in case.

Now go and give some thought to what you may need sometime and put it somewhere that it will always be when you need it. Maybe the glovebox in your car, a credit card survival tool in your wallet (caution, airport metal,detectors will find it but the search won't,) just think through likely scenarios and mitigate the risk by stashing something somewhere you can find it when you need it most.

Plan ahead, live long and prosper


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Adapt and improvise; Kydex belt loop

I hate having to take my belt off to hang or remove my knife from it, and if you've seen my previous post about knives and the law you will know why I think it's important that you are able to easily remove your knife from your belt and store it when you are not using it.  And while some knives come in sheaths that allow them to be easily clipped on and off of a belt not all do, so I made something that solves the issue. 

A sheet of 3mm thick kydex was easy enough to cut to shape and after a bit of heating in the oven was pliable enough to fold into the shape below. One 'roll' to the left now houses my firesteel with it's home made laburnam wood handle, the whole thing then wraps around a belt and is secured at the bottom with a carabiner. It will fix securely to a belt without the carabiner but it's that that allows me to then hang my knife from it. The knife can then be easily removed and stowed in a rucksac and re-attached whenever necessary. The clip it'sef can be left on the belt once the knife is removed without causing offence or alarm to anybody or equally it can be removed as well without the need to take your belt off.  

Friday, 5 August 2016

Father and Son Bushcraft Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I took Michael to Riddy Wood for a Father and Son overnighter, partly to make some preparations for the family Bushcraft event that we ran last week, but mainly just to spend some time together and to build the 'yoda hut' that he has been wanting to build for some time. 

You remember Yoda's mud hut from Star Wars right? Well we had thought about making a very close replica using the clay that is plentiful in Riddy Wood but we decided in the end, partly in the interest of time, to make use of some of the elm logs we coppiced last October. 

Elm logs stacked after coppicing last October 

If you remember this elm is a bit of a conundrum for us as it can't be moved off site without being stripped of it's bark and as a lot of last seasons coppice wood was elm and we don't have time to strip all the bark right now we've got a lot of wood that isn't going to be used strait away. Elm however is a fantastic timber for construction, it's very resistant to moisture and can withstand repeated saturation and drying, so much so that it used to be used for pilings for jetties and to build lock gates.

Oxford Canal at Marston Doles - - 432841
Massive gates like these, which needed to hold back tonnes of water and last for years used to be built of elm.
Picture by; Maurice Pullin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

So having rejected the idea of a mud hut Michael and I decided to build a cabin out of elm logs;

Making sure it's going to be long enough for Michael's bunk

Michael did a lot to help with his cabin.

It's getting taller...

...and taller.

The first bunk is in, and Michael had to double check it was strong enough.

We had to have a break at midday so Michael could prepare our lunch

Having a snack on the top bunk.

Almost full height and the ends have been neatened up. 

The door went in towards the end and Michael swept out all the sawdust and offcuts.

Two bunks installed and just the roof to go ready for Michael and Lillie to spend their first night in the cabin at the family bushcraft event.

We had a great time together and really enjoyed building his cabin, it certainly isn't a model for great log cabins but it was great fun building it and Michael and Lillie loved sleeping in it last week.  


Thursday, 4 August 2016

Bushcraft Family Event


This time last week we were relaxing after the first BushcraftEducation family bushcraft event held at Riddy Wood.

Michael and Lillie got to spend a few nights in their new cabin during the family bushcraft event. Check the blog in the next few days for an account of my Father and son trip to the woods with Michael to build this cabin. 

We had a great time delivering it and hope that everyone who was there enjoyed it too. 

We made willow whistles (you can find instructions on how to make one yourself here)

We played with some clay and made beads, bowls and 'tree faces' like these. 

We did some baking in our new ovens and lasty Tuesday night we baked pizza for fifteen people. So much for 'roughing it'.

We also spent some time learning to identify some of the different trees that grow in Riddy Wood, to practice tree ID yourself check out some of these tips on identifying tree species just from their bark and twigs. Being a bushcraft event there was plenty of fire lighting, on the first day the challenge was set to light a fire with nothing but a knife, axe, log and single match. That proved a challenge for some and hopefully drove home the lesson of just how important it is to put time and effort into preparing your fuel and tinder, but the next day we progressed onto firesteels and fire by friction. All in all the event was great fun and we look forward to more in the future, we have one coming up at Halloween, book now to guarantee a place. 

We got some great sun sets while we were at Riddy Wood for the event. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Foragers Diary Blog

There is a new foragers diary blog available for your to all look at and use, the Foragers Diary series here on the Bushcraft Education blog has proved popular over the last couple of years and I really enjoy preparing posts for it and hopefully we have been able to share some really interesting tips, experiences and how-to's but to make the most of all the wild food that is available I've started a new 'micro-blog' and aim to share something about wild food almost every day.

I eat a lot of wild food and it is rare that a day passes without me at least spotting some form of wild edible, even if I don't have a chance to pick it and use it that day. So you will see shorter more regular posts on foraging on the new blog, sometimes it will just be a few pictures and ID tips of something I've seen that day;

Like these redshanks.

Other times it might be a info on a recipe or a meal I've made with wild food;

Like our wild Christmas dinner from two years ago
Sometimes perhaps a hunting or fishing experience;

Where you will share my varying degrees of success at converting the local wildlife into tasty meals. 

I hope you enjoy the more regular wild food updates and perhaps learn something from them.

To get to the new blog click HERE   

All the best

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Why It's OK to be bad at Bushcraft

Practising bushcraft can be wonderfully empowering for children and having a chance to use 'grown up' tools and make fires like a 'grownup' can give children a real sense of achievement and build confidence.  But we shouldn't expect children to be able to replicate the skills that we try and teach them straight away.

Friction fire, fine carving, tanning skins and trapping are all part of Bushcraft but children need to start somewhere and perhaps just playing with saw dust is a good place to start. 

Just taking part in bushcraft activities will be beneficial, and developmental and although I have
said in the past that bushcraft can be more than just fun, for children it doesn't have to be. It would be very easy to scare a child off bushcraft if we are too insistent that they produce results, work hard and do things the 'right way'. 

I have had cause for disappointment a few times of over the last few years by some opinions I've heard, particularly in a survey I carried out a while ago, that described programmes of nature engagement, such as Forest Schools, as 'namby pamby'. Perhaps because it's not 'hard core' enough, or because the skills taught aren't advanced enough, but where do you start with children?

A Lapp family, Norway, 1890s
A Sami Family in Norway in 1900; (public domain).
Even though the children pictured here would have had very different experiences from your average child in the UK today, even these children would not have been expected to carry out the tasks that adults performed. Like the Huron (Wyandot) mocasins pictured below, children wouldnt be expected to produce work like this strait away although they might begin to learn young and have been able to to play at these skills from an early age. 
Huron moccasins, c. 1880 - Bata Shoe Museum - DSC00641
By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 We need to understand that children can't do everything we adults can do and adjust our expectations and approach to teaching them accordingly. Even real hunter gatherer societies and First Nation peoples, who still practice primitive or traditional skills have to start somewhere with their children and that isn't by expecting them to bring down large or dangerous game before they are able, or expecting them produce exquisite craft items before they have the strength, skill or knowledge.

Think of the bushmen whose children start making bows at a very young age or the Yanomamo Indians of South America whose children make tiny bows with sharpened slivers of bamboo as 
arrows. They are not expected to feed the entire village, they are expected to play and learn, perhaps 
quicker than in a westernised society, but they are not expected to function as an adult straight away.

Yanomami Woman & Child

Yanomami Woman & Child

By Cmacauley [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

We need to be careful that we are teaching our children bushcraft and allowing them to experience nature and giving them chances to play at bushcraft and develop a healthy relationship with the natural environment. We should not be training them for an impending apocalypse, attack by zombies or SAS selection. 

I'm not criticising those whose practice of bushcraft has a 'survival' orientation at all what I'm suggesting is that when dealing with young children we should be 'playing' bushcraft rather than 'training' bushcraft, and children don't have to be good at bushcraft to be able to play at it.

Bushcraft doesn't just have to be about the acquisition of skills and the ability to survival in any situation, the Scandinavian philosophy of 'Friluftsliv' typifies this: While most Scandinavians have a much closer relationship with the outdoors than we do in the UK and are probably as a result of this much more practised in the skills of outdoor living than most people in the UK, the idea of the ‘Friluftsliv’ culture and philosophy is not one of technical skill, expertise or mastery, but one of a relationship with nature and positive experiences in natural environments. This is what we can provide for our children through bushcraft.

I feel particularly strongly about this at the moment because I think I have put my son Michael off bushcraft a bit recently by making it too much about getting things done rather than having fun. I work a lot out of doors and a lot of my opportunities to practice bushcraft with the children have been when they accompany me to Riddy Wood while I get some coppicing done, mill ash planks, burn charcoal, split firewood or build outdoor classrooms. So Michael, who is six, has spent a lot of time stacking, bagging and sorting firewood, making dead wood habitat piles and feeding the fire. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but when we spoke about going to the woods during half term the other day he wasn't as keen as he normally would be and said he didn’t want to stack wood, he wanted to play. So in a few weeks we are off to the woods together to build a 'yoda hut' and play. 

Bushcraft isn't all about skills it's about playing in the woods, being bad at things and getting better, 
learning and enjoying nature, and every child should have a chance at it.


Monday, 4 July 2016

Bushcraft and the Law; Trapping Update

Fenn and Magnum trap
As bushcrafters we are often inspired and amazed by the stories of the mountain men of North America and their exploits across barren wilderness regions like the Rocky Mountains and their ability to live with little more than what they carried in their ‘possibles pouches’. What brought the mountain men to the frontier was the availability of beaver. At the time beaver skins, or ‘plews’ as the mountain men called them, were in high demand for the manufacture of hats and thousands of beaver were trapped over the years between the mid seventeen hundreds to the 1830’s when the demand for beaver hats, and the availability of beaver themselves crashed. Gone are the days though of the leg hold traps used by the mountain men and the wholesale, unregulated trapping of the mountain man era, and here in the UK we are expecting some fairly major changes in the laws that relate to trapping in the next few months.

Weasel trapped using fenn trap
In the UK we still use traps in the countryside a lot but almost exclusively for the purpose of pest control, to reduce damage to crops, or prevent the predation of game birds. We already have whole rafts of legislation which controls these activities but we are expecting more to come into force which may drastically change the way trapping is carried out in the UK. I discussed the use of snares and the banning of gin traps in my previous Trapping and the Law article in issue 56 and while I won’t cover gin traps again as they haven’t been legal since 1958 and nothing has, or will, change that now. However there has been a slight change in guidelines regarding snares in Wales and I’ll cover that first.

The breakaway link on a snare approved
 by the new
Welsh Government ‘Code of Best
 practice on the
 use of Snares in Fox Control’
As well as the stops and swivels that a commercially purchased snare would have the guideless for use of fox snares in Wales now demand a ‘break-away’ a weaker link built in to the snare near it’s eye which allows the automatic release of larger, stronger non-target species if they are accidentally caught. This new guidance on snares is specific to Wales and comes from the Welsh Governments Code of Best practice on the use of Snares in Fox Control.  

Moving on to spring traps, there have been developments over the last few years which may have a drastic impact on the types of traps we can use here in the UK in the very near future.
In 1991 a proposed EU embargo on furs trapped in countries which allowed ‘inhumane methods’ particularly the use of leg-hold traps,  inspired the development of the ‘Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards’ (AIHTS). It took several years to finalise the conditions of AIHTS which was finished in 1997. It does specifically apply to animas trapped for their fur though: In the UK most recognised fur bearing animals are already protected; marten, beaver, badger and otter and couldn’t be trapped or harmed regardless of the ‘humaneness’ of the method employed. Mink and fox are both regularly used for fur but this fur is normally sourced from farms rather than wild animals and so these animals are not covered by AIHTS. The one animal specifically mentioned that is still regularly trapped in the UK is the stoat. In other countries it is trapped as a fur bearing animal  because of it’s desirable white winter fur, when it’s in it’s white coat it is known as ‘ermin’. Ermin are rarely seen in England or Wales as the climate does not demand their coat change for camouflage. It’s the fact that stoats appear on the list of species covered by AIHTS that spells potential change of trapping in the UK. In 1998 the EU committed to following AIHTS standards and a decade later in 2008 implementation of AIHTS began in all signatory countries after Russia agreed to it’s guidelines. After the 2008 implementation five years were allowed for testing and certification of traps with a further three years allowed for prohibition of traps which did not meet the new standards. That eight years brings us to July 2016 and the UK has been a bit behind in testing and implementing the use of approved traps.

DOC 200 trap approved for use
on grey squirrels, stoats, rats,
 weasel and mink
Several traps were added to the ‘Spring trap approval order’ in 2007 at the request of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in anticipation of the AIHTS standards being adopted, the DOC (Department of Conservation) range of traps from New Zealand were approved for use based on the fact that they had passed AIHTS standards for stoats in tests carried out in New Zealand.

Since then other traps have also been approved including the koro trap (added to the spring trap approval order in March 2016) which has already passed AIHTS tests in Canada. 

The main change in terms of the function of the traps is that rather than killing by a blow to the body, with the intention of breaking the animals spine causing death within 300 seconds, the trap must kill by a blow to the head and cause death within 45 seconds. These traps must all still be set in a tunnel as dictated by the specific conditions of the spring trap approval order  for example the DOC trap “must be set in an artificial tunnel constructed to the design specified by the Department of Conservation.”

A DOC 200 in it’s Department of Conservation designed tunnel showing how a target species can only enter the trap head first allowing for a clean kill

A KORO ‘Large Rodent Double Coil
Spring Snap Trap
The adoption of AIHTS standards will certainly mean that traps which have been commonly used for the control of stoats will no longer be permitted for that purpose in the UK such as the Fenn traps and Magnum traps which have already been found not to meet AIHTS standards in tests carried out in Canada and New Zealand. While the change may be as simple as prohibiting the use of these traps on stoats specifically it will likely have a greater impact as it will be almost impossible restrict access by a stoat to, for example, a fenn mark IV set for a rabbit. This may well mean that as of July 2016 fenn and magnum traps are no longer legal for use in the UK at all. 

Doubtless trapping legislation will change again in the future and traps will continue to be designed to meet future conditions of ‘humaneness’ as well as to make them more effective and efficient, we have already seen a gas powered trap in New Zealand which can automatically re-set it ‘self 24 times before it needs any attention and we are bound to see more innovation like this in the future. 

For the bushcrafter this is all fascinating, although we may prefer the simplicity of a Paiute deadfall or twitch up snare it is important that we are aware of the legislation that governs something that is a bushcraft skill.


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