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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Can we 'live off the land' just from wild food's in the UK?

Living off the land is more than just the occasional foraging outing for a few fungi some elder flowers and sweet chestnuts. The phrase 'Living off the land' to me means much more than that, that in actual fact you would provide all your food from the land. This demands much more in time, energy, skill and commitment than collecting the occasional bit of wild food. But is it possible to 'live off the land' in the UK today?

A selection of wild soups, nettle (back) and alexander (front), the issue is that these soups were not made entirely from foraged ingredients; seasoning and cream, and in the case of the alexander soup potatoes, were all ingredients from the kitchen. 
The whole population of the UK certainly couldn't live off the land, before agriculture when the inhabitants of the British Isles would have lived a hunter gatherer lifestyle there would have been  a few thousand people roaming these islands moving from one seasonal glut to another, taking advantage of hazel nuts in autumn, birds eggs in spring, and other animals and plants as the seasons and availability dictated. But now with a population of around 60 million those resources would never support that number of people, instead we rely on agriculture both from within the country and imports to provide our food, even ingredients which could be foraged and found wild. There is no way that our naturally occurring 'wild' flora and fauna could be sustainably harvested to feed the population of the UK if they were to try to live off the land.   

A brief autumn foraging session yielded a basket full of shaggy ink caps, but how long would this feed you for? and how much time would you need to spend foraging to feed your whole family?

Even on an individual basis the laws which we now have which govern access, animal welfare, wildlife and countryside issues, hunting and fishing etc.. make it impossible to move around the country to take advantage of wild food with the freedom that would have been allowed in the hunter gatherer era. Without this access we can't always take advantage of the woods where the hazelnuts grow if they are owned by someone else or shoot the deer that would feed a family for a week because we don't have a firearms licence or the permission to shoot it. So in short, no I don't think we can live off the land in the UK, certainly not as a society anyway, maybe individuals with the right knowledge and skill but even that would be very difficult bearing in mind the restrictions now placed on the methods we use to hunt and the ownership and authorisation to use land and pick or uproot plants.

Three Chinese Water Deer culled as part of the management of an invasive species on agricultural land. These are excellent wild food and something that our hunter gatherer ancestors would have been completely unfamiliar with as they were'nt introduced to the British Isles until the 1890's.

I would love to think that we could live off the land but realistically I don't think it possible in the UK at the moment. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; Air Rifles

The second in the series on bushcraft and the law.

For those of you who want to take furred and feathered quarry as part of their involvement in bushcraft air rifles are normally going to be the most easily accessible and affordable option for you (unless you are planning to collect road kill; and bear in mind that animals killed on the road are often mangled beyond the point where you would want to eat them and the meat often tainted by burst guts, massive bruising, and the beginnings of decomposition).

Despite not needing a 'firearms' licence for most air rifles, the exception is for air rifles which fire a projectile with a muzzle energy of 12ft/lbs or more, all air rifles are still  classed as firearms. The definition being a weapons which has a barrel and fires a projectile. This means that by law you could be punished as harshly for a crime which involves an air rifle as with a full bore rifle.

There are several age limits that apply to air rifles; 

Under 14; you can use an air rifle under the supervision of someone at least 21 years of age on private premises with the permission of the occupier. You can't shoot without supervision AT ALL nor can you own an air rifle having received it by purchase, hire or as a gift, this also applies to air rifle ammunition.

14-17; you can borrow an air rifle and ammunition and use it without supervision where you have permission. You can't own an air rifle having received it by purchase, hire or as a gift. If the air rifle is 'yours' it must be purchased and looked after by someone else who is at least 18 years old. Although you can shoot unsupervised where you have permission you can't have an air rifle in your possession in a public place unless supervised by someone over 21 or have a reason; "I'm on my way to go shooting".

18; no restrictions on purchasing or owning an air rifle, it can only be used on ground where you have permission to shoot.

Permission to Shoot

You must have the permission of the land authoriser to shoot over land, this can be the owner or tenant of the land. If you access land where you do not have permission to shoot while you have your air rifle with you you are committing armed trespass. You can carry it in a public area as long as it's in a case and unloaded but not on private property without permission. The permission to shoot, whether given by a land authoriser or you are using your own land extends only to that land, this means that not only must you fire your air rifle from within the boundaries of the land but the projectile must land within those boundaries, if the projectile goes beyond your boundaries you can be prosecuted. It is also an offence in England and Wales to fire a weapon within 50 feet of the centre of a public highway if a user of that highway could be injured, interrupted or endangered.


Although powerful enough to kill game birds such as pheasants and partridges with a well placed head shot it is not 'the done thing' to shoot game with air rifles. Land owners will rarely, if ever, give permission to shoot game with your air rifle in the first place and bear in mind that if you are caught shooting game without express permission not only will you loose your shooting permission but will leave yourself open to action from the landowner. You should restrict your pursuit of live quarry to pest birds as set out by the general licences and the smaller pest mammals; rabbits, squirrels, rats etc.. This does not mean that all pests are suitable quarry for air rifles and legislation does state that animals should not be caused to suffer so you have a responsibility, moral as well as legal to kill your target with the minimum of suffering and distress. This means you should practice and be confident in your ability to hit a target consistently before you shoot at a live target and that you should only take on live quarry which are suitable for taking with the air rifle. So quarry as large as lesser black baked gulls, mink and foxes although pests should not be shot at with an air rifle.

There is something satisfying about being able to take food from the countryside whether that food is from plants or animals/fish/birds and an air rifle is going to be a fairly cheap and hassle free way of achieving that.


Friday, 13 June 2014

Research Proposal; the effect of knife use on the development of manual dexterity in children.

Children are not normally given access to knives, there may be a number of reasons for this in our modern UK society, perhaps we don’t feel they are necessary in everyday life any more, perhaps we are concerned that children will hurt themselves or perhaps it is because we think of knives as weapons.

Whatever the reason; it may be that we are actually depriving children of opportunities to develop a responsible attitude towards knives, an understanding of the risks associated with using them and how to protect themselves by developing a safe technique. Imagine also the further developmental potential of helping children learn to use knives: The self confidence that will come from being able to use a tool which they think is very ‘grown up’, and the satisfaction of being able to do or make something with a knife. What I’m particularly interested in though is the potential physical development in terms of dexterity and fine motor skill which may come from regular use of knives and hand tools. Other cultures seem to introduce knives to children from a younger age and we can presume that this exposure will equip them with the skills to use that knife. Eventually our young children will need to use a knife in a kitchen or for other activities and I propose an experiment to test whether more general dexterity can be developed and improved as a result of knife use over a period of time.


This study will look at children taking part in Forest Schools (or similar programmes) and will only look at children under the age of 11. Before commencement of the programme of learning involving the use of knives a questionnaire will be completed about each participant to record what activities they may be involved with which could influence their level of dexterity. They will be given a simple dexterity test and their performance will be recorded.
The participant will complete the programme of learning involving the use of knives (and other hand tools where appropriate), suitable tasks that children of this age could get involved with include; 

   Peeling and cutting vegetables and fruit
  Cooking tasks
  Shaving bark off a stick
  Sharpening pencils
  Making sticks for toasting marshmallows on a fire
  Cutting string
  Splitting kindling for the fire

The dexterity test completed before the commencement of the programme will be repeated after at least six weeks of regular involvement with using knives and the results will be recorded.

I aim to compile the results of these surveys and the results of the dexterity tests and draw conclusions as to whether using knives regularly can help the development of dexterity. 

If you would be interested in participating in this research please get in touch at  to register your interest and receive a full method for the project. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bushcraft and Agriculture; are they both living off the land?

This post is the first in a series of four answering the questions I posed a few weeks ago in Wild Soup Recipes and Some Thoughts on Foraging and the Accessibility of Wild Food in the UK.

When we talk about living off the land in the context of bushcraft what we normally mean is foraging, trapping and collecting our own WILD food but the phrase 'living off the land' is also used in terms of subsistence agriculture and gardening, is there a relationship between the two?

The foraging or hunter gatherer lifestyle which we may adopt when practising bushcraft is not the normal way of life any more, large populations are not supported by this method of gathering food and probably couldn't be supported by a hunter gatherer lifestyle. It was the development of a more static and intensive form of agriculture that allowed populations to expand to the point they are at now. 

I will not address large scale commercial agriculture here as although it may be necessary to support large populations what I don’t want to do is turn this into an article about the pros and con’s of intensive agriculture versus permaculture/low impact farming. 

Much of the knowledge that you would use to forage for your own wild food or practice bushcraft in General can cross over to small holding/subsistence agriculture/homesteading;
Physical skills such as wood cutting, sharpening and maintaining tools etc..
Botany and a knowledge of plants and their seasons and when to harvest them etc..
A knowledge of wildlife ecology (in farming perhaps most importantly a knowlegde of pests and predators which can impact your crops or livestock and a knowledge of how to control them, interestingly many of these species are the same as the species we pursue as food in a bushcraft context)
Knowledge of weather and environmental factors that will impact your activity.
Knowledge of how to humanely kill livestock/game/vermin and prepare it for the food chain.
Knowledge of how to store and preserve seasonal and/or perishable foods.

This list is not exhaustive but gives an indication of the extent to which bushcraft can relate to different subjects and I spoke about this at length during my recent talk at the 2014 bushcraft show

Agriculture was a natural progression from a hunter gatherer (bushcraft) lifestyle as people started to apply their knowledge of plants and animals to make their food supply more predictable and reliable. At first this agriculture would have used a great deal of their manual bushcraft skill but as over hundreds or thousands of years of progress in terms of science and technology we now see an industrialisation of agriculture to which the skills we practice as bushcraft apply to a much lesser extent.
I think large scale industrial agriculture can and clearly is practised successfully without much connection with the bushcraft knowledge that would once have sustained people before agriculture but on a small scale (perhaps a smallholding, or a forest garden, or a self-sufficient home stead) there is a much closer relationship with bushcraft skills.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Bushcraft Education Videos