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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.

Bushcraft Education Videos