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Thursday, 28 November 2013

"Rich in Potential, Strong, Powerful and Competent"

A pine resin candle made by eight year old visitors to a residential environmental education project.

I was doing some reading as part of my studies towards a Masters degree in outdoor education recently and came across this quote in a paper; the author describes the children he is working with as being trusted to be "Rich in Potential, Strong, Powerful and Competent" (Edwards et al 1998), this was describing children in an indoor mainstream nursery setting but it stuck me that this quote can sum up the aims of forest schools, and early years outdoor education in the UK.
The social development and empowering of children is a key aim of these programs; is there a better way to empower children than give them opportunities to be outside, use tools, light fires, cook food and have their own adventures. I don't really think there is, however much responsibility you give to a child in a classroom they are still ultimately controlled by their surroundings, the layout of the classroom, the walls, the rules of being indoors; don't be too messy, don't be too loud etc.... By taking them outside and letting them explore and discover they are empowered to develop their own understanding and skills, with some element of guidance and facilitation from a supervising adult of course, but that freedom of being outdoors and being told to "go and explore" or "here's a firesteel, make a fire" must be far more empowering than being inside, mustn't it??    

A 'Fairy boat' made by seven year old's 


Edwards, Gandini L, Forman G (1998) The Hundred Languages of Children - Advanced Reflections. Greenwich Connecticut. Ablex Publishing; cited in Harker E (n.d) How can I carry out Masters level educational research without abandoning my own educational values? available from [accessed on 04/11/2010]

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Countryside Management and Outdoor Education Teams up at Moulton College

As a lecturer at Moulton College I have recently been able to work with other staff to provide opportunities for Countryside Management and Outdoor Education Students to team up to take part in a range of activities, check out the Moulton College countryside management blog for more details;

Moulton College Countryside Management: Trading Skills in Countryside Management: Countryside Management students have teamed up with students studying outdoor education at Moulton College, Outdoor education students have...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Bushcraft Isn't Fun

I love bushcraft and am passionate about it and of course it is fun but do I feel that it's fun when I'm absorbed in practicing or teaching it?
For me probably not, and I can say that of a number of other subjects which I am equally passionate about, for example when I am engrossed in coaching someone on how to shoot a rifle or light a fire by friction I am not conscious of having fun, this has been described as a 'flow state' (Csikszentmihalyi 2002) perhaps more commonly referred to as being focused or 'in the zone'.
I've seen this in my students as well, recently they have been working on friction firelighting as part of a bushcraft element of the BTEC skills for landbased outdoor and adventurous activities module which I teach them. Although I think they enjoy learning the bushcraft skills I am teaching them there have been times, especially while working on their friction fire projects, where some students who would normally be very prone to loosing concentration, chatting with friends instead of working or surreptitiously using their mobile phones while they think my back is turned have concentrated on their projects to the exclusion of all else. They have found their 'flow state' they will work and work and work. Those that have reached this stage have always been the ones who make fire first. The same goes for other subjects, some students get engrossed in deer management or firearms but for those who find the 'flow state' the subject becomes more than that, they become passionate about it and able to dedicate their time and attention to it beyond what they normally would.

Is reaching your potential and finding a subject to be passionate about more important than fun?


Csikszentmihalyi M (2002) Flow London. Rider Press

Monday, 11 November 2013

Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose

From Top Clockwise; A crook knife made from an old hacksaw blade in a cherry wood handle, a blade from a broken set of secateurs destined to be turned into a bushcrafting knife. Two smaller knife blades made from a broken silky saw blade. 

We often use the words Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose to encourage sustainable living and environmentally friendliness and some of my students have recently been taking that to heart and saving themselves some money on bushcraft gear too.
From broken and blunt hacksaw blades they have made crook knives and small whittling knives, from a broken silky saw blade they marked out two small knife blanks and have further plans to turn a broken set of secateurs into a bushcraft knife too.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Firearms and Bushcraft

Due to sometimes complex UK firearms legislation firearms other than air-rifles are rarely discussed in the context of bushcraft. In other countries this is not always the case perhaps particularly in the United States where firearms are much more a part of every day life than they are in the UK.
In my day job as a countryside management lecturer specialising in game and deer management I regularly teach students to use firearms as a vital part of their studies. Many of them will go on to be the game keepers, deer stalkers, pest controllers and park rangers of the future so a good understanding of the practical use of firearms as well as a theoretical knowledge of legislation, codes of practice and ballistics is going to be vital for them.
Yesterday for instance I was demonstrating the effectiveness of various types of shotgun ammunition using a pattern board to illustrate the spread of different shot types at different ranges before going on to coach students who were shooting at clay pigeons, some for the first time.

Here I have culled two reeves muntjac as part of a deer management plan to reduce numbers of deer in and near two woodlands which harbor vulnerable plant communities and on the surrounding agricultural land where the attention of too many Chinese water deer is damaging crops.
The rifle I am using here is a Tikka T3 Hunter chambered in .243 winchester with a T4 moderator and a 6*40 leopould scope.

One of the major skills associated with bushcraft is the collection of food whether that's plant food or food in the form of meat. There are a similar number of laws and codes of practice in the UK related to the use of traps as there are regarding the use of firearms so maybe it's time to look at the possibilities of introducing some firearms training courses for people interested in the use of firearms for gathering food in the context of bushcraft. Who would be interested?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ray Mears Tracks Raoul Moat

Ray Mears is one of the leading experts on Bushcraft and Survival skills in the world, In this BBC interview he talks about his involvements in the hunt for killer Raoul Moat and describes how he went about tracking him;

Tracking skills are often taught as part of the wide ranging set of skills which makes up 'bushcraft', although it's practical application to track murderers and criminals is the exception rather than the rule there are many real life applications of tracking. My countryside management students learn to recognise sign and determine from indirect observation of droppings, feeding signs footprints and other signs to determine the species of animal or bird and also to determine the population of a certain species and evaluate the amount of damage a certain species does. The following pictures show some sign and how it might be interpreted;

Typical damage caused to a young ash tree, in this case by a male roe deer (a buck), this bole scoring as it's known is caused by a male deer scraping upwards with the point or points of their antlers scoring the trees bark. The height of the damage above the ground is somewhat indicative of the species causing the damage. 

A reeves muntjac 'slot' or footprint. Reeves muntjac are the smallest deer found wild in the UK, as you can see here the slot could almost be covered up with the pad of your thumb. You can also see from the more faded, indistinct prints surrounding this print that this one is much fresher.   

A deer 'couch' a sheltered area, often under trees or in scrubby areas where deer lay up during periods of inactivity.

A picture from my time in Sweden, typical damage caused by a beaver. 

What Mr Mears describes are these same skills amplified by his many years of experience and used in this case to track a human, and there really are many people who use tracking in their lives and careers in the countryside.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Self Taught Bowyer; because school wasn't enough.

This fantastic talk by Dong Woo Jang, who was fifteen at the time he gave this talk, epitomises self directed experiential learning. Although teachers can guide and enhance experiential learning there is also the argument that true experiential learning must take place without the direct intervention or 'mediation' by a teacher.
Dong has clearly found his passion in bow making and to escape from the pressures of school he, of his own initiative, found and pursued an activity which he has mastered only through practice and self directed, self motivated study. Through his free time activity he has developed an interest in history and traditional Korean bow making, I think this begs the question; What kind of traditional skills could our youth in the UK reinvent?

Bushcraft would be a fantastic medium for awaking an enthusiasm in the younger generation for traditional skills such as green woodwork, archery, basketry, timber sports etc... There are surely many self taught people out there who like Dong have found an activity you enjoy and become proficient purely by your own practice and experience, WHAT TRADITIONAL SKILLS HAVE YOU LEARNED YOURSELVES?

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