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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Deer Stalking, an adventurous activity?

This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Professional Mountaineer Magazine and was the last of three articles of mine published there on the topic of access and the potential conflicts and common grounds between the outdoor education/adventure sports industries and the countryside management (in particular gamekeeping and deer stalking) sector.

In this particular article I look closely at what makes up a days deer stalking and compare it with the experiences which might be had by anyone else pursuing a recreational activity out of doors. 

Keep an eye out on this blog next month where I will examine this relationship between countryside pursuits and outdoor education even more and suggest how bushcraft might bridge the gap between them.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; Stealth Camping

Stealth fighter
The F-117 'Stealth Fighter' (By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) but should we be adopting stealth tactics when we are camping and bushcrafting?

The phrase 'wild camping' is normally used to describe camping away from an established camp site, where you might have no access to running water or wash facilities. Most often associated with moorlands and uplands us bushcrafters seek something slightly different from the normal 'wild camp' as we are not only looking for a remote area to camp but somewhere we can collect fire wood, have a fire, and whittle. 

My 'Wild Camp' in the Southern Alps of New Zealand in 2005.

So are there bushcraft friendly 'Wild Camping' areas?

Unfortunately these are few and far between, even to wild camp in upland areas you need the landowners permission unless there is a by-law which grants permission to camp, such as on Dartomoor where wild camping is permitted given certain rules are taken into account. No camping on farm land, on enclosed areas of the moor or on sites of archaeological interest etc... (Dartmoor national Park

But even where this permission is granted that doesn't give you a right to have fires, cut wood or do other bushcraft tasks. What you need is specific permission from a landowner to carry out the activities that you have in mind. Permission to erect brushwood shelters, have fires, carry knives and axes, shoot or trap rabbits etc.. 

A partly completed brush shelter, building these structures can denude woodlands of important dead wood habitats for invertebrates and if left intact can give bushcrafters a bad name. 
The problem with stealth camping tactics, and I can understand the frustration with not being able to find a suitable place to practice your hobby, is that it gives other bushcrafters a bad name. Accessing land without permission, lighting fires etc.. can disrupt the work of gamekeepers and other people who work on the land, and however stealthy you are; ultimately you are trespassing.   

We may feel that we have a moral right to access the countryside for recreation but unfortunately the law does not always allow this, although we do benefit from much more lenient access laws than have traditionally been imposed in this country we still don't have the right to unlimited access to the woodland areas we might like to bushcraft in. 

I can't say with honesty that I have never camped anywhere I didn't have permission to be but I haven't recently and I intend to keep it that way. As a gamekeeper and deer stalker by training I recognise the disruption that can be caused by people accessing land without permission and luckily I currently have access to plenty of areas  to practice my bushcrafting but there have been times when all I've had to practice in is my own garden which never seems enough.

There is a lot to be said for garden bushcrafting, I lit my first friction fire in the garden, and my son learned to use a knife in the garden. This picture, taken a few years ago shows him starting on his first ever whittling project. 

My advice would be to seek the permission of a local farmer who has pockets of unmanaged woodland on his land, maybe get involved in beating on a local pheasant shoot and ask the keeper if you might be able to use an out of the way corner for some bushcraft practice but please don't trespass and when you do find a place to practice always follow the country code

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Strawberry Tree; Foragers Diary

The strawberry tree Arbutus unedo is an unusuall plant, also known as the cane apple it is native to Western Europe and the Meditaranian, some parts of France and, strangely enough, Southwest and Northwest Ireland.  It is not native to England or Wales but is occasionaly cutlivated.

There just happens to be one growing in along the roadside on my walk to to work which has yielded quite a lot of delicious fruit recently.
The unripe fruit of the strawberry tree and it's white bell shaped flowers.

Birch bark and strawberry tree fruit all collected on the way back from a walk to the corner shop.

A bowl full of the ripe fruit
 The fruit is delicious on it's own althought the rough skin gives it a bit of a strange, gritty texture and is hard to remove without completely squashing the fruit.

Taditionaly used as a plant for bees the fruit is also used for jams and beverages but I'm yet to experiement with any recipies.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hearth Boards, Bearing Blocks, Drills, Bows and Strings

The basic materials for bow drill fire lighting can all be gathered from the woods and hedges of the UK without any difficulty, with a knife and saw they can then be relatively simply turned into the four main components we need;

A bow, ideally slightly curved, inflexible and strong.

A hearth, choose one of the suitable woods I wrote about in 'Bow Drill Trouble Shooting' which are also explained in my recent post 'Selecting the right wood for friction fire lighting'.

A drill, the easiest thing is to take this from the same wood as the hearth but circumstances or the lack of appropriate sized material may demand that they are made out of different pieces and even different species of wood.

A bearing block, something we can hold in our hand to apply pressure to to the drill as we spin it.

There are two additional items in this picture though?

One is an ember pan, this can really be made out of anything, I often use a leaf or a small piece of bark, but making one out of wood is quite convenient as it wont flex under the pressure of the hearth being pushed onto it, making it easier not to spill or squash a fragile ember. The other though is a string, a vital part of the bow drill firelighting kit.

Yes we can rely on carrying a man made string with us such as the one in this picture made out of climbing accessory cord but how about going a step further and making one from wild materials.

Some of the natural material options for bow drill cords. 

Lime bast

Cordage from elm bast.

Fibres from horseradish leaves.

As great as these materials are though, they are not always reliable. Lime bast takes weeks to process, elm is fairly uncommon and the place you are most likely to see horseradish is along roadsides. Also the cord you make from these fibres is often fairly brittle and has none of the forgiving flexibility that modern synthetic cord does. Yes they can be used to make cord strong enough for bow drill friction fire lighting but for a more reliable natural material how about rawhide;

A plaited rawhide bow string. 

 The rawhide will have a certain degree of elasticity so it will not break as easily as the more brittle plant fibre strings but you will need to stretch the string before using it as it other wise it will continue to stretch as you drill and will loosen as it stretches.

The rawhide string is more than strong enough for repeated uses on a bow for friction fire lighting.

You can even tie knots in it, although it will be slightly bulky. 

A bow with rawhide string and all the other paraphernalia of friction fire lighting.

 If you are interested in making or using rawhide I will be publishing a blog post in the next few weeks on how to make rawhide using a Chinese water deer skin.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Shaggy InkCaps; Foragers Diary

Perhaps not the most obvious edible mushroom as it decays into a black inky mess over time but actually delicious if harvested when young enough.

A group of particularly large shaggy incaps. make sure you are selctive when harvesting the taller one in the centre of the picture has already started to decay.

These are more like it, the smaller ones which still have pure white gills are the ones you want, don't bother with the others even if they have only just started to turn. 

This is what they eventualy tourn into if left, make sure you always leave some, you shouldnt be harvesting all the mushrooms you find you should always leave some.

Washed, cut and ready for the frying pan

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Working with land-based industries to increase outdoor engagement with nature.

From the 17th-18th October the Institute for Outdoor Learning held it’s bi-annual national conference for outdoor educators and practitioners. 

It took place this year at the Holywell conference centre in Loughborough. The conference included key note addresses from Dr John Ashton CBE; Director of the Faculty of Public Health and from Lofty Wiseman; Author of the SAS Survival Handbook. It also included workshops and master classes delivered by experienced outdoor educators and professionals.

I delivered on of these workshops on the topic of: Working with land-based industries to increase outdoor engagement with nature.

In the workshop the overlap between the two sectors of outdoor education and land-based studies was discussed and the fact that students in either subject area seem to cite ‘being outdoors’ as a key motivation in choosing the topic they study was raised as a potential area of common ground in what can sometimes be a strained relationship between two industries which share the same outdoor space.

Delegates who took part in this workshop produced the above diagram illustrating the areas where the opinions and motivations of people in the two industries diverge but also where there is common ground, including highlighting programmes such as the John Muir award which effectively link the two subject areas.
As part of this workshop I also shared the results of some research carried out at Reaseheath College to gather opinions of countryside and game management students compared to the opinions of adventure sports students on a range of topics related to outdoor activities. This survey involved students expressing their thoughts and opinions of a number of different activities which take place out of doors, ranging from deer stalking, to kayaking and mountain biking. Over 100 responses were gathered and the following conclusions were drawn;
  1.     Although all students surveyed had an interest in the outdoors the activities they preferred differed vastly (which was to be expected based on their choice of course at the college)
  2.          Some of the opinions expressed were negative towards those activities which were not considered part of ‘their’ industry.

 The word cloud above demonstrates the frequency of the words used by adventure sports students to describe the land-based and outdoor activities they saw pictures of (for those pictures and to take part in the survey yourself use the following link

Likewise this word cloud shows the frequency of words used by countryside/game management students in describing the same pictures.

It is clear that the students held different aspects of the environment they work in as more, or most, important, with the countryside students focusing on the need to maintain the environment and a concern over unauthorised access while the adventure sports students were more concerned about access to areas for recreation, the inconvenience and disappointment of limited access and some very specific potential environmental impacts.

3.        Thirdly the percentage of students who were opposed to the fieldsport elements of       outdoor activities (shooting, fishing, deer stalking etc..) was very small. In fact              there was considerable support for these activities from most people with the caveat      that all animals killed in the name of field sports were then used appropriately (ie;       eaten). So this area, which had the potential to be the biggest conflict between                students, was actually not a major issue, the biggest area of conflict was actually the      discussion over where access was and wasn’t permitted.

The workshop concluded with delegates sharing how they reconcile and link these two distinct sectors working in the outdoors.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Venison and Mushrooms; Foragers Diary

As Chinese water deer season started on the first of November I thought it would be appropriate to share some ideas for  preparing and cooking some venison with other foraged ingredients.
A Chinese water deer doe hanging from an apple tree ready for jointing. It was gralloched (gutted) just after it was shot and has been hung for two days.  

removing the best cuts; the 'backstraps'

A group of common puffballs.

Slicedand ready for the frying pan

Medalions of Chinese water deer bakstrap frying in butter.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Shooting and Recreation in Upland Areas

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of The Professional Mountaineer Magazine and was one of three articles of mine published there on the topic of access and the potential conflicts and common grounds between the outdoor education/adventure sports industries and the countryside management (in particular gamekeeping and deer stalking) sector.

Having been involved in both outdoor education and countryside management for quite a while I can't help thinking that perhaps there is more common ground than we think and one activity springs to mind that seems to sit somewhere on the periphery of both industries; can you guess what that activity is?  

That's right it's Bushcraft, it includes many of the skills used by countryside managers in various roles, whether it's woodland management, handling game etc.. but also can be used very effectively to meet the outcomes of outdoor education such as improved self esteem, confidence etc.. 

Bushcraft has a lot going for it not just as a recreational activity but as a tool both of the outdoor educator and as a way of prolonging and preserving the traditional skills of countryside management. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


From 2010 to 2011 before starting to teach full time at a landbased further education college I ran SurvivalHobbies. I was originally asked to teach some bushcraft and survival skills sessions to a Duke of Edinburgh's Award group as the skill section of their award and things grew from their to include delivering regular courses for that school and also environmental education, Forest School and other activities for a range of groups. 

Writing the curriculum and delivering courses and perhaps more than anything else choosing a name for SurvivalHobbies played a big part in my personal understanding of what bushcraft is and also helped me realise just how important and significant it could be when used to supplement, support and enrich educational activities.

I wanted a name for my company that didn't imply I would be teaching 'survivalism' or trying to prepare young people (remember most of my courses were delivered to DofE groups and school children) for an impending apocalypse. Yes there may be call to educate them on the kind of skills which will help them in a wilderness environment such as navigation, basic pioneering skills (knots, lashings etc..), first aid and weather interpretation especially if we are planning to send them out on multi day expeditions (which the DofE groups I was dealing with would have been doing). But we don't need to train them for a zombie apocalypse

What I wanted was to teach survival skills (or bushcraft) as a fun recreational activity, I think if we focus too much on a perceived need to be proficient in these skills in case of emergency or impending survival situations we can take a lot of the fun and enjoyment out of the learning, in fact instead of learning it becomes training. What I wanted was to help people love the outdoors and enjoy the more primitive/traditional aspects of the wilderness/outdoor experience and develop skills which just a few years ago everyone would have had. Skills like being able to whittle simple objects, improvise repairs for equipment and tools instead of just buying new ones, identifying plants and animals, cooking on a fire and sleeping outdoors. That's why I called it SurvivalHobbies. 

As my personal philosophy of what bushcraft is and how I can use it to educate has developed I have moved away from using the word survival skills almost completely. I think the two are separate and should be treated as distinct entities. My definitions follow;

     Bushcraft; is the art of living sustainably and reasonably comfortably in a wilderness or ‘bush’ environment.But it is not solely about the long term 'living' skills it includes things like foraging, camp craft, traditional skills, woodland management, wood work and really can be as broad a subject as you want. 

Survival is simply that; to survive. Many skills of bushcraft could be applied to some survival situations (not all though) but ultimately survival is the goal and our bushcraft skills MIGHT help us reach that goal. 

I would now definitely consider myself to be a 'bushcrafter' rather than a 'survivor'? Does that make sense? I would like to think that my bushcraft skills would help me survive but when I practice and teach bushcraft it is not with the ultimate goal or aim of; "when my plane crashes I'll need to know this" or "when society collapses and there's no more electricity or gas this is how I'll survive" but rather I would like to think that the bushcraft skills I teach could enhance someone's understanding of nature, give them a better understanding of a traditional countryside skill such as charcoal making or coppicing, or help develop skills which someone might use in their work like tracking or ecology. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Trading Places

In this recent article published in the Institute for Outdoor Learning's Horizons magazine I report on some 'skills swaps' carried out at FE colleges between outdoor education/adventure sports students and countryside and game management students.   

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Shortcut to Mushrooms

I've spent quite a bit of time on Cannock Chase recently with a couple of groups of students and my family. The reason for the trips was to see the Fallow deer; it is their mating season, known as the 'rut' at the moment, which is an excellent time to see the buck's fighting and displaying.  It's also a great opportunity for students to develop their ability to stalk deer quietly and interpret the indirect signs they see.     

A melanistic (meaning darkly coloured) fallow doe

Deer aren't the only things to be seen on the chase, there are plenty of birch polypore to be seen.

A group of deer including one rather large mature buck (furthest to the left) moving through the heather at speed

Tell tale sign of a deer, this stem has been roughly bitten off. Deer do not have two opposing sets of incisors like humans instead their lower incisors bite against a gristly pad in their upper jaw leaving this rough bite rather than the cleanly bitten shoots left by rabbits and hares which have two opposing sets of incisors. 

A group of adult does, with some younger ones (born earlier this year) in tow. 

As well as the birch polypore there were lots of these large parasol fungi to be found. Here my daughter Lillie performs her  favourite chore of chopping the mushrooms I have foraged. 

A delicious (and very cheap) meal mushrooms fried with bacon in a bit of butter. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Shrooms; Foragers Diary

I particularly enjoy foraging for edible fungi, mainly because I particularly enjoy eating them but also for a bit of a challenge. One of my favourite fungi is the parasol, it has a slightly nutty flavour and large specimens are quite common. 

I found these ones on Cannock Chase over the weekend;

Parasols have quite widely spaced pure white gills.  

A large flaky cap 

They have this typical 'snake skin' type surface to their stem, and a pronounced ring left on the stem when the cap opens which can be slid up and down the stem. 

This was the primary reason for visiting the chase though, to look at the damage that deer can do to woodlands, look at the browse line here where the deer have cleanly bitten off all the twigs and leaves of these beech trees below a certain height. Notice that they don't enjoy the bracken as much though. 

Deer will often scrape tree bark with their antlers either to de-mark their territory or just to rub the velvet off their antlers. 

Saw this fascinating birch tree as well over the weekend. where it's limbs touch the ground it has sprouted new roots and formed this strange sprawling formation.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Edible Root No. 1 Burdock; Foragers Diary

If you want to take your foraging one step further to the point where you can actually survive from the wild food you gather you will need to find some starch and carbohydrate rich foods. Things we normally get in the form of potatoes, pasta and rice. Now these things are not available to us easily in the countryside instead we need to turn to other sources such as the root of Burdock. 

This is our normal view of the Burdock, and these burrs are often to be found attached to our clothes, this is of course the burdock's way of spreading it's seed. The burrs become attached to the fur of animals and peoples clothes and are distributed. But is this really a source of food? 

This is more like it, you can see the older burdock at the top of the picture but what you can see on the ground are the first year leaves of the plant just begining to die back. Burdock is a biennial plant, it's life cycle takes two years, producing the tall stem and burrs we are familiar with at the end of it's second year. At the end of it's first years growth it will not have that tall stem or burrs but instead under these leaves will be a fat root swollen with the plants food supply to keep it through the winter. That is what we are after. 

As well as a few decent sized burdock roots I found a huge field mushroom today. 

One option for your foraged burdock, these crisps have just been deep fried and are great with a bit of salt and vinegar. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Opinions of Outdoor Activities

I am collecting peoples opinions of the following pictures to try and gauge public perception of land based and outdoor activities. It's really aimed at people involved in the industries of agriculture, game management, countryside management, outdoor recreation/education and adventure sports but if you are involved in any of these activities as a hobby I would also be interested in your opinions as well.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Foragers Diary; Preserving Meat with Fat

There is a bit of a survival vibe to this post as it was originally written as a contribution to an American publication but the method of preserving meat I describe here is an excellent way of preserving any game. I normally preserve the legs from our annual Christmas goose like this to have a bit later in the year.

Wild game rarely comes along conveniently and regularly to provide us with a meal each day but rather in occasional gluts and long absences depending on seasonal migrations and potentially a run of bad hunting luck. That's why the invention of convenient refrigeration was such a breakthrough and possibly why it is considered to be a much more than just a modern convenience but a necessity. 

Root Cellar at Bay Roberts Newfoundland
A beautiful example of an old fashioned root cellar, the kind of thing we all would have been storing our fruit and root vegetables in not so many years ago. By Werner koehler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 
What happens though when you no longer have access to refrigeration? Even if you have prepared for such a situation with a generator and a stock of fuel you won't be able to run it on a permanent basis or use it to power all your appliances for any more than the shortest power outages. In this kind of potentially prolonged survival situation being able to store meat safely is going to be important. Canned meat from you storage may last quite a while but you may want or need to supplement that storage with meat taken from animals which 
you can hunt or trap. To preserve meat using fat you can use the following method;

To start with take the meat that you have collected and joint it, this picture shows a 
full butchered carcass of a Chinese Water Deer

This fat from the same deer carcass can be rendered and used to preserve meat 
using this method, alternatively the fat could be taken from other carcasses or from stored fats 
such as lard

Once you have jointed and prepared the meat you need to preserve you need to 
brown it in a pan as shown here, you can even preserve pre-processed meat, such as sausages, 
this way. At this point you can add spices and herbs, this may be especially important if you 
need to preserve meats which night not normally be palatable, such as fox or badger

Rendered fat shredded and ready for use, this should be placed in a pan in the oven 
to melt, you need enough fat to completely cover the meat

Now transfer the meat to a pan full of the rendered fat where it will be cooked in 
an oven until the meat is tender, almost to the point where it will fall of the bone

Once it is cooked through it can be transferred to a container, then the liquid fat is 
poured over it, as it cools it will set hard protecting the meat from the air and preserving it. 
If you are using plastic containers be aware that the heat of the fat may melt the container so 
consider ladling it in rather than pouring it all at once
You can now store this in a pantry or root cellar, and it will last for several months without refrigeration. This isn't even really a ‘survival’ food, it tastes good and it's relatively quick and easy to prepare.

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