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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Zero Tolerance - tools of the trade!

With Christmas being a season where we often indulge in good food we thought it would be a good time to teach you just how to make sure your rifle is shooting strait so you can put something tasty on the festive table.

Speaking of tasty things for the table keep your eyes peeled over the next few days for a game pate recipe and a report on the venison steak and kidney pie that Geoff accidentally made using the puff pastry his wife had set aside ready to make sausage rolls with.  


A hunting firearm is, of course, completely useless without a sighting system that will allow you to put a bullet precisely where you want it to achieve a humane kill. In simple terms, as a deer manager, I need to be able to hit a tennis ball at a 100 yards, every time and a golf ball is better!

Getting ready for a couple of zeroing shots on misty morning with my Browning X-bolt chambered in 6.5 x 55 mm
I'm sure that I could write a small book on the subject and I'm sure others have, so I'm going to keep this simple. I need the point of aim and the point of impact to coincide at my chosen range or at the very least, to have a known point of impact with reference to my aiming point. For my deer rifle, I have chosen to have my bullet strike the target one inch above my aiming point at 100 yards and that means that it's one and a half low at 200. So I can shoot at any range from 25 yards to 200 without having to worry too much about adjustments, the same point of aim at any of those ranges will have the bullet strike that same lethal, palm sized target area.

Adjusting sights to achieve this is called zeroing and it will be required when a new sight is fitted or if the existing one takes a knock or just drifts off under constant use and handling, a change of ammunition will also require a check to ensure zero is maintained.


Today of course, most people use a telescopic sight but the same principle existed in bygone days when open or 'iron sights' needed to do the same thing, deliver a bullet exactly where required to do the job. Almost 40 years ago,  I regularly shot at targets at 600 yards with open sights and people still do that at targets but hunting with a rifle at any range nowadays is almost invariably achieved with a telescopic sight.
M1911 Hausse.JPG
Adjustable rear 'iron sights' on an old rifle, iron sights normally consist of a rear 'notch' and a front 'post' which must be aligned with the target. They are normally a permanent part of the firearm unlike a telescopic sight which can be removed.
"M1911 Hausse" by Bouterolle - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I am fastidious in attaching a 'scope, with screws tightened sequentially and in small increments at each turn so as not to have everything biased toward the first screw which you tightened so darned tight. Once it is firmly attached, you can secure the rifle and check that the scope and the bore are pointing at the same target, you can make adjustments even at this stage if you are confident enough and if you are inclined to, you can buy a small laser device to chamber like a bullet and that takes out some of the estimating out of the process.

Now there is no option but to fire a couple of rounds at a target after you have ensured the safety of the target area and it's back stop of course. I tend to use squared or good old graph paper to make the corrections easier to calculate and have a 1 inch 'bull' at its centre. For this process you can fire groups of 3 shots to establish a mean point of impact or you can fire single shots and use those for corrections.

My process would be to fire a shot and use the squares to establish that it was 'x' inches right of my required impact point and 'y' inches above (or below) my desired impact point. The adjustments on the sight will typically 'move' the impact point by a quarter of an inch (at a hundred yards) per click, so convert the required adjustment from inches to clicks, make that adjustment and fire again to see if you got it right first time or not, repeat the exercise until you get it 'spot on'.

Here I'm firing a zeroing shot from a prone position off a bipod, it's important when zeroing to do so from as stable as position a possible so as to take as much human error as possible out of the process. 

The acid test is then in the field and in the event that you miss or hit the target somewhere other than where you were aiming, you need to check zero and get it spot on, there can be very little tolerance to achieve what is required, we owe it to the target species to get this right.

Take care in the field!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Felling Fellow.

Nategeofound2
By N.E. Beckwith (NatGeoFound) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I love trees and I love the woods, I've spent thousands of hours there, engaged in a variety of activities from walking to bird watching, camping to commercial felling.

I could write a modest book on the subject of felling trees and I'm sure that the forestry commission have got pamphlets, books and all sorts of training aids, even though I suspect that harvesting machines now fell a thousand trees for every one that is cut by a man with a chain saw.


Felling snags on fire line around the Coquille CCC camp, Siskiyou National Forest (3226072285).jpg
And before we felled with chainsaws this was the only option;
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Felling snags on fire line around the Coquille CCC camp, Siskiyou National Forest (3226072285)" by OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons - Felling snags on fire line around the Coquille CCC camp, Siskiyou National Forest Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under No restrictions via Wikimedia Commons.

My simple rules and suggestions for felling are very few and very simple:

1. If in doubt, don't!
2. Gravity always wins!
3. Death can be Fatal!
4. Get some training.
5. Get proper equipment, especially protective equipment (eyes, ears, hands, feet and legs) a wedge ( or 2), a sledge hammer and a turning bar / felling lever.

I've cut thousands of trees as a pro feller, the majority of which were in a plantation and these are often but not always, relatively simple. They are usually straight and as a consequence of being in a plantation are not encumbered with a multitude of side branches to catch up and roll the main trunk as it hits the ground or worse, that hold the main trunk way off the ground when it comes to rest, which makes for a dangerous clear up!


Compare the twisted and tangled deciduous trees in Riddy Wood .....

Clearing in conifer plantation - geograph.org.uk - 342596
...with the straighter conifers in a plantation, while easier from a felling and timber perspective the plantations aren't so biodiverse.
Espresso Addict [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  
Exceptions of course are 'edge trees' and plantations on a substantial slope. First the edge trees which do grow side branches, often asymmetrically toward the outside world where there is plenty of light. This asymmetry of course, puts the weight on one side and tips the balance (no pun intended) toward the heavy side and whilst you can fell at 90 degrees to the weighted side, you can't go beyond that (unless you have a gale blowing in the direction you wish to fell but one hazard at the time!)

You have to have a decent hinge, strong enough to hold the falling trunk to the stump but not so strong that it resists the initiating force to get the tree moving in the desired direction. 

StateLibQld 1 89188 Two timber workers felling a tree on the Atherton Tableland, 1890-1900.jpg
"StateLibQld 1 89188 Two timber workers felling a tree on the Atherton Tableland, 1890-1900" by Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.These timber workers are starting their hinge higher up than I normally would on smaller trees but in this case they need to get above the huge buttresses on this tree to fell it neatly. This is another example of 'applied bushcraft' the skills that we would now consider recreational bushcraft are certainly being put to good effect here. Working all day with a chainsaw certainly isn't easy but this kind of massive scale felling with hand tools is in a whole other league. 

This initiating force can be a push or a pull and could be from a winch or a wedge, my preference is the good old fashioned wedge as I want everything precisely in my control and literally in my hands. If there is the slightest doubt as to the way it may go, you MUST have an escape route or better still 2. These must be clear paths that you can move along at warp speed without climbing, jumping or squeezing through gaps, because if that tree snaps off it's hinge, you have no control what so ever, gravity and wind now have it 100% and that escape route can be the difference between life and death! no doubt about it! So take some time to cut a track if needs be.

The beaver takes a slightly different approach to felling than we do, it works all the way around the tree until the remaining central wood fibers no longer support the weight of the trunk and gravity takes over, we need to be a bit more predictable and controlled than that.

Now this a blog post not 'war and peace' so I'm going to keep this brief and issue the warning that my comments should not be regarded as guidance or authoritative, just an account of my experiences which may or may not be useful or relevant. As most of the non routine felling jobs are unique in so many ways, the best preparation is a detailed risk assessment and then an assessment of any and all possible scenarios. In the case of a dangerous tree with a lot of rot and / or is hollow, you could easily spend more time in the assessment phase than in the the felling itself, this is where I start:

  • What have you got to cut? I.e how big or bad is it
  • Where is it now? Relevant to tracks, structures or trees that you want to preserve.
  • Where do you want it to be when it drops? Ground position.
  • Where is the worst possible place for it to go?
  • Is the size, damage or weight distribution heavily influencing where it's going?
  • Is there enough good wood to form a hinge?
  • Are there any 'hang-ups' or significant fragile parts which could detach and drop during the fall or at any point in the felling process?
  • Is this going to need a rope assist?
  • Is the wood solid enough to take a wedge with any effect?
  • Etc, etc, etc.......

Don't let that tree go anywhere that your head hasn't been already!



That old carpentry analogy "measure twice cut once" isn't enough, you may need to measure, assess and plan a lot more times than twice and it's worth it, you need to give it to gravity on your terms and not let gravity take it from you on his, that will always end badly!

It's possible to drop a tree all the way to the ground still attached to its hinge but often not, the butt may rise dramatically in the later stages of the fall, it may also back up or swing either way, dependent on which piece of the falling tree hits the ground first.

I hope that this paints a scary picture, it's meant to. In coming months we will try to capture some of the felling in Riddy Wood as we take down some dangerous and badly neglected trees and post them on the website, watch this space and that one and that one, because the tree could arrive in any of them if it goes badly.
Take care in the woods!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Woodland Management: Not without its red tape (Felling Licences)

An adapted version of this post will also appear on the NEW Riddy Wood Project blog 
- if you've not seen it already check it out HERE!

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I will happily tell anyone who asks why I decided to work in the conservation sector that it was to allow me to play with chainsaws, 4x4's and fire for the rest of my career. So far that plan is working out fairly well. I've got those all important felling tools and a vehicle to get me into the woods, often the fire burns through the day to help reduce the sheer quantity of brash being generated by the thinning and coppicing and, most importantly, the tranquillity that comes from being the only person in the wood (often) and all the wildlife which goes with it. Wonderful! 


I have realised by now of course that it isn't all fun and games! The insects in the woods in the summer for example, are merciless. For us on the edge of the Fens its Mosquito's, I know in other places it is other species, midges perhaps, but they are ... unpleasant! It is hard work, but I can live with that, it helps me sleep at night. The safety gear makes me sweat like a woolly pig in a heatwave! - but better safe than sorry. The financial side of things is less than ideal, especially to begin with while firewood is seasoning: nothing is life is free! I'm certainly not in it for the money at present let's put it that way.

On a more serious and informative note, another facet of woodland management, and to a certain extent other conservation activities, I hadn't put too much thought into when I embarked on my chosen career path was the associated paper work. With my work in Riddy Wood, and our other woodlands too, we had to bite the bullet and look into the legal conditions of felling licences to ensure our project was all above board and correct. Here I'll try to give a brief but broad run down on felling licence legislation, how it applies to our work, why its there and the benefits to woodland management as an industry.

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First it is worth stating for the record that at present we at Riddy Wood DO NOT have a felling licence. Second it is certainly worth explaining that at present all our work is performed legally within the exemptions of felling licence conditions. The general rule is that a felling licence applies to all felling, but with exemptions. These exemptions include certain locations where permission is not required, certain situations under which a licence is not required but the relevant portion to our work currently is in regard to 1) the size of the trees we are felling and why we are felling them and 2) the quantity of trees, or more specifically the volume of timber, we fell per calender quarter. 

The majority of the felling we are carrying out at present is either thinning or coppicing

Thinning involves felling selected trees to reduce the density of trees in a given area allowing the remaining trees 'growing room' to establish and to reduce the density of the leaf canopy. When thinning, trees under 10 cm (4 inches) diameter at chest height (1.3 m above ground level) do not count towards the quarterly timber quota (more on that in a minute). 

Coppicing involves felling a broad leaved tree at ground level with the intention of allowing it to regrow, allowing regrown material to be harvested from it in a regular cycle. For coppicing trees under 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter at chest height are not counted in the quota. 


Another type of felling, Pollarding, is similar in principle to coppicing but trees are cut off above ground level to prevent regrowth being browsed, or eaten, by mammals such as rabbits or deer. This type of felling does not count towards the quota regardless of size. Our pollarding at present is limited but we may explore increasing the number of trees we pollard due to the heavy toll deer browsing has on regrowth in Riddy Wood. 

When trees to be thinned or coppiced are above the size limits described above a total of 5 cubic meters can be felled per calender quarter (Jan - Mar, Apr - June, July - Sept, Oct - Dec) before a licence is required. Therefore when we are felling if we encounter larger trees which are planned to be felled we keep track of both diameter and height to allow us to calculate what volume of timber we have felled,  ensuring we remain within the quota. At present, the woods having been unmanaged for so long, there are a some trees which are within our management plans which exceed this size, although so far not so many that we have had to delay any felling to keep within our legal limitations. 

A large proportion of the larger timber we have on the ground in the wood at present actually fell down of its own accord and we have simply processed it along with the other timber. Our first few work trips to the wood after we first took on the management were taken up largely with processing fallen trees, and several more have fallen down since then. This obviously doesn't apply to felling licence conditions as it is outside of our control. As I write this Storm Barney is moving across the UK in the footsteps of Storm Abigail (I think that was her name): when I arrive in the woods next week I wouldn't be surprised to find another one or two trees have been blown over or least damaged by the high winds. 

The video below is me clearing up one of the last trees to fall. Another has come down since!



Felling licences also do not apply to dead standing timber which allows us to remove some of the standing dead wood we have. We would never remove all of these trees because standing deadwood is an importance ecological resource for species living in the woods and is often in short supply in managed woodland: we plan to buck the trend in this regard by retaining plenty of deadwood, both standing and lying, for those species which utilise it. 

To this point the red tape component has been fairly easy going. We simply have to be aware of the limitations within which we are working, keep track of volumes felled on applicable trees and ensure we plan our work effectively so at not to risk pushing the boundaries. The time may well come when we do need to apply for a licence because working within the exemptions will be too restricting. When this time comes we have already got the ground work in place. 

For a start, a check with the local district council confirmed that no TPO's (Tree Preservation Orders) apply to any of the woodlands which we have taken on. This is good news for us because of the potential limitations placed on woodland management where these do apply. Further none of the land has any statutory protection or conservation designation (e.g. SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), NNR (National Nature Reserve) etc). Land so designated has management restrictions placed upon it to protect either species or habitat features found in or on that site. That's not to say that woodland management WOULD NOT be allowed, because it is very beneficial to a wide range of species and in fact it may even be legally REQUIRED in certain areas depending on the reason for the site designation. 

We also have a general management plan in place already (you can read it here), but it needs to be updated and expanded with regards to the spatial specifics; details such as exact coup sizes and boundaries, rotation patterns etc. to make it as comprehensive as we would like it to be. This is something which is ongoing - a habitat management plan is a working document, it should not be static but dynamic allowing changes to be made even after it is 'completed'. The principles we have laid down will not change, except in very specific circumstances for carefully considered reasons, but the spatial application may be altered to suit depending on the woodlands themselves. This is one of the things which makes practical habitat management so fascinating to me, it cannot be done effectively without intimate knowledge of the area the plan is written for! Gaining that knowledge is the process which keeps me on the edge of my seat so to speak. 


A habitat management plan would be essential were we to be applying for a felling licence. It would document for example details and locations of trees to be felled and why, but a felling licence goes beyond that. It is a legislative tool to protect woodlands. For example a felling licence places ongoing conditions upon the land where the felling takes place including restocking provision, timing of felling adjacent areas and others. 

I am confident that our plans would be in keeping with the guidelines the Forestry Commission (who grant felling licences in England and Scotland - in Wales it is now the remit of Natural Resources Wales) having discussed them with a FC representative a few months ago. An example would be the replanting of areas where natural regrowth isn't successful - with Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus formerly known as Chalara fraxinea) already confirmed in our woods and surrounding woodland there is a very real chance that the Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) we are coppicing will die in its early stages of regrowth. If this does happen we will replant these areas with different species, probably Hazel (Corylus avellana) to ensure that tree cover is not lost. Another condition mentioned to me was relating to the proportion of the woodland to be managed in any one year: it should not be above 20% of total area; our plan involves managing perhaps 5 - 7.5% maximum of any of our woodlands in anyone one year. 

We could discuss further the details of this application process but I think we have covered the basics and hopefully given you readers who may not have had similar experience a taste of what is required in managing a woodland legally. While it is red-tape, paper work, and even requires working with computers and in a office, it doesn't take away from the job satisfaction for me because it confirms that work is being carried out sensitively and appropriately and that the woodland habitat won't suffer as a result.  

Richard

NB: all details on Felling Licence applications can be accessed online through the Forestry Commission website (for England) - www.forestry.gov.uk.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Coppicing

Coppicing is a very ancient traditional method of woodland management, all hard wood trees will re-generate to a certain extent if cut and we can take advantage of this to provide us with a sustainable source of timber for a whole range of tasks. We can probably thank the longevity of our native ancient woodland to hundreds of years worth of management but now it is easy to find woodland that I would class as derelict, which has not been sympathetically managed for many years and which certainly wouldn't be productive as a commercial coppice woodland but also does not support the same level of wildlife as it might if managed properly. 

A sign of unmanaged woodland, scars where trees have rotted all the way down the ground, including their roots. 

Another sign of unmanaged woodland, hazel is normally coppiced on a 7-10 year rotation, this is more like 25 years of growth and certainly won't yield useful poles for walking sticks or hurdles. The problem is hazel is a relatively short lived tree and if it isn't coppiced may only live to  seventy or eighty years, there are coppiced hazel 'stools' still alive that are several hundred years old.
An old hazel 'stool' that has recently been coppiced. The caut faces should be angled to allow water to run off so it doesn't pool on the stool and encourage rot. 
Plenty of useful material can be harvested from each coppice stool. 

Managing a woodland can be a battle and if you'r not careful your nicely coppiced stools will end up like this, this stool has been browsed by a muntjac which has left no leaves on the newly emerging shoots. 

This stool was 'brashed over' protected by hawthorn branches stuck into the ground all around it to stop the deer browsing the new growth. It was coppiced at the same time as the stool in the last picture but has clearly been much more successful.

Throughout history just about every hard wood species has been coppiced at some point and each different species would have had it's unique uses, some are explained here;

Species
Normal Habitat and Distribution
Uses
Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Damp ground, wet woodland, marsh and water courses.
Durable when wet, traditionally coppiced for charcoal and gun powder production. The wood has also been used for sluice gates and pipes.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
One of the most common trees in Britain and common throughout Europe as well. One of the dominant canopy species in a lot of lowland UK woodlands.
Coppiced for firewood and charcoal, makes excellent tool handles as it is shock resistant and very strong. It burns green due to the oil content in the wood.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
A species of free draining chalky soils, where there is a lot of beech there is often very little growing beneath the canopy as the dense carpet of leaves and nut husks and the shade of the dense canopy suppresses most other growth.
Fuel, furniture making, tool handles, the nuts are edible and beech trees were often planted to mark boundaries. They are now also often used as hedge plants.
Birch; Downy (Betula pubesence), Silver (Betula pendula)
The two British Birch species are very similar and often hybridize. The Downy Birch is more common in Scotland but both are common in down and heath land and are among the first tree species to colonize grassland and scrub-land which will eventually revert to woodland.
Birch is one of the bushcrafters friends, the bark from these trees makes excellent tinder but was also once used to tan leather.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Common Hawthorn (Cretaegus monogyna) and Midland Hawthorn (Cretaegus laevigata)
All thorny species yielding edible flowers and fruit. And commonly planted in hedgerows.
Walking sticks and tools, charcoal and woodwork. The wood of all these species is incredibly hard and tough.
Elm (Ulmus sp.)
We have a number of elm species in the UK the English Elm, Smooth Leaved Elm, and Wyche Elm. All have suffered to one degree or another from Dutch Elms Disease but are now most commonly found in hedgerows and some woodlands, there are very few large mature elms left anywhere in the UK.
From a bushcraft perspective the bark can be put to use as cordage and containers. The wood is particularly touch and useful in applications which bring it in contact with water. It has been used to make pipes and also in turnery and woodwork.
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
One of the most commonly coppices species it is found throughout the UK in lowland areas often forming dense stools.
Thatching spars, hurdles,
Lime (Tilia sp.)
Common to lowland Britain and present throughout most of the Northern hemisphere , it is very rare to find woodland dominated by lime today. Limes prefer moist but well drained soils.
Exceptionally good for carving and the bark makes excellent string. Lime sprouts strongly at the base with or without coppicing producing long strait stems which can easily be harvested.
Oak; Sessile (Quercus patrea) and Pendunculate or English (Quercus robur)
These species are superficially similar and do hybridize, they can be distinguished by the shorter leaf stalks and long acorn stalk of the English Oak.
Oak was traditionally a building timber, boats, gates and beams for building. It is also used in expensive furniture and flooring.
The bark is used in leather tanning and the wood burns long and hot for excellent cooking fires.
Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)
An introduction to the UK (probably during the Roman occupation) but planted extensively since the 18th Century.
The species coppices easily and is useful for building, fencing and green wood crafts.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)
Another introduction to the UK but common enough to be very important to people who spend time in the UK woods.
Sycamore can be coppiced easily and for those concerned with the spread of a non-native species coppicing it does prevent it from setting seed. It does produce useful wood for craft projects.
Willow (Salix sp.)
There are many species of willow in the UK and all favor wet habitats.
Willow produces soft wood some of which is durable and the larger species can be used for traditional crafts, cricket bats are traditionally made from Willow. Willow coppice can be used to produce withies. And for weaving and basketry.


I hope you've enjoyed this introduction to coppicing, there will be more to come on the topic of woodland management over the next few days.

Geoff




Saturday, 12 December 2015

Duck!

After the Wild food and foraging theme of the last few posts on sustainability this week I thought I'd share how Lillie recently got involved in some wild food preparation.

Lillie isn't squeamish at all about carrying, plucking, skinning or eating wild food. Last Saturday she helped prepare two ducks for Sunday dinner and for soup later in the week.

You may have seen Martins post a while ago about how to prepare a pigeon for the table, we did these ducks in the same way, although I did take the legs as well.  Normally I would pluck a duck as there is a lot more meat on them than on a pigeon but we were loosing the light and in the interest of time we skinned these ones. 

Four duck breasts and four duck legs ready for dinner.

Lillie took the beautiful blue/green wing feathers for some art projects.

Duck and Pomegranate Soup adapted from a recipe from an excellent book which you can find at the link below, we changed it slightly and instead of the pomegranate molasses the recipe called for we used our home made mixed berry jelly.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Sustainable food from foraging #FLsustain

After yesterdays post on hunter gatherer diets I thought I'd share some of the foraged foods I use most regularly and which form a regular part of my families diet. We don't have an entirely foraged diet by any means but we do regularly eat food that has never seen the inside of a supermarket or a cellophane wrapper.


Every Summer  I make lots of meadowsweet root beer with my children, meadowsweet grows in large quantities in wet areas such as ditches. We collect bag loads of it from alongside country roads near where we live. 
Wood Blewits are a delicious seasonal fungi and have the added attraction of being a wonderful purple colour.   

I'm not fussy about fish, I'll eat just about any of them, rainbow trout like the ones in this picture but also the fish that most people wouldn't normally bother eating like the pike below.

None of these fish come from artificial farms which can impact the local ecosystem with the artificial feed that are fed like the Australian salmon farm pictured below.

CSIRO ScienceImage 2514 A Salmon Farm in Tasmania Australia
CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Traps like this were used for years by game keepers and are still legal for catching pheasants and partridges, while I most often catch up birds now to use as breeding stock to provide birds for the next year these are an excellent low impact way of catching birds for the table as long as you have permission. 


Burdock roots require a bit of sweat and hard work to dig up but one large root might be the equivalent of two fairly average potatoes.


Colts foot is a delicious vegetable but you may struggle to find it in lowland areas. Although I did find loads growing through the gravel of a service station car park last year. 

The wild garlic before it flowers, this is a really nice wild vegetable, often people think of wild food as very bland but actually there are plenty of ingredients to be found out there which can add loads of flavour. This is one of them but there are also plenty of wild cresses to add a bit of pepper, hedge garlic, lady's smock for a mustard taste and plenty more.  
I love foraging for fungi and these shaggy inc caps are very common, easy to identify and absolutely delicious. 

Even children can get involved with fungi foraging as long as your careful.

My children love egg sandwiches and a bit of foraged cress makes a welcome addition and this particular species, hairy bitter cress grows just about everywhere. 

As well as being pretty flowers can be a tasty sweet snack, my daughter Lillie has never managed to finish making a daisy chain because she eats them too fast. 

Rosehips are one of the best natural sources of vitamin C, these large Japanese roses are often planted in supermarket car parks and can be found all over the place, in fact they are considered an invasive species due to their colonization of some coastal areas. Our smaller native dog rose tastes just as good though. Every year we try to make a big batch of rosehip syrup which is delicious when diluted like a cordial and great for treating colds as well. 
Another supermarket car-park find, Japanese Raspberries 

Mulberries

The biggest puffball I have ever harvested, I have seen some larger ones but they have all been past their best and no good for eating. 
Last years Christmas Dinner a Mallard with a pigeon stuffed inside it. All shot by my own fare hand; there will be another post later this week about preparing duck.  

Most animals will yield more than just a meal, skins for clothing, down and feathers for insulation or making fly's with which you can catch more food, bone for making primitive hooks or tools. 

Venison with peaches, so maybe the peaches would be hard to come by in the British countryside but venison is just as good with hawthorn ketchup, sloe jelly or any number of other things that could be found with ease in your average English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish field or hedgerow. 

Now this is just a small sample of the potential wild foods available to someone who wants to forage for food to make their diet more environmentally sustainable or just because they want to try their hand at foraging, you can find more ideas for foraged foods in our regular series Foragers Diary,  but if you were going to put a foraged meal on your table every day that would require more or less a full time commitment to foraging, certainly more time than is convenient to fit around a modern lifestyle.

So as a move towards sustainability foraging probably isn't the answer in densely populated countries but it's certainly fun and rewarding. TRY IT



Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Hunting and Gathering for Sustainable Food Production #FLsustain

During the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) I have been participating in over the last few weeks the idea that a hunter gatherer style diet or a 'Paleo Diet' could be more sustainable than a diet which comes from intensively farmed food, particularly livestock such as beef.

Bosquimanos-Grassland Bushmen Lodge, Botswana 08
By Mopane Game Safaris (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Having more than a little experience of foraged food I think this is a little over simplified, although there is no doubt that the diet the modern and prehistoric hunter gatherer societies had access to does not require the same impacts/inputs or withdrawals from the environment than a modern diet provided by agriculture does.

For example a diet provided by agriculture requires that we input fertilizer and insecticide for crops and medication for livestock, impact the natural ecosystems of an area by rearing non-native crops or livestock and changing the landscape to suit them, and withdraw water and nutrients. So yes a diet supported by agriculture does have those drawbacks and yes there are certainly some agricultural products which are more of a drain on the environment than others. For example we saw the agriculture of the British Isles change drastically during the Second World War; away from primarily pastoral farming to arable farming as it allowed more food to be produced per acre to support the population while food was rationed. 

It's not as simple as that though, when hunter gatherers last roamed the British Isles the total population was thousands rather than tens of millions. They migrated to take advantage of seasonal resources and their entire life revolved around gathering food and other resources that they would use to sustain life. Now I can't imaging the entire population of Birmingham travelling to the coast each year for several weeks or months to catch fish and collect limpets and if they did what would happen? That's right all the food would be used up very quickly. The British Isles can't support it's population through hunting and gathering like it once did.  

I don't believe that the reason for that is that people don't know as much about wild food or are too squeamish, although yes that is as a rule true, but if the circumstances demanded it, and by that I mean hunger, I think people would be very quick to adopt wild food into their diet. 

This is a bit hard for me to admit because as a 'bushcrafter' and wild food enthusiast I'd like to think I'd have a headstart on most people when it comes to getting food from the wild if I need to but people are adaptable and I honestly don't think it would take people long to thinking of blackbirds and field fares as just small bony chickens if they got hungry. Also if you look at wild food in general the ones that you would rely on as staples aren't the kind you would mistake for anything else; cat tails, acorns, burdock etc.. and meat and fish is fairly self explanatory. So it wouldn't take long for people to get back into the swing of using wild foods. It's just us wierdos that want to eat fungi, and black nightshade berries and to tell the difference between hogweed and hemlock and things like that that need to be really careful when we are foraging.       

The problem is if we can't provide a 'paleo' diet through hunting and gathering how do we get it, that's right we'd have to farm it and as soon as we have to do that we have the same problem as before with the impacts of intensive agriculture. Yes it wont be the same impacts, we wont be making the massive environmental water withdrawals that are required to rear beef, although in the UK this is hardly a problem especially given the recent weather. Instead we'll be 'farming' something else like limpets, which made up a significant and important part of the prehistoric populations diet in the British Isles, 

Now here's some homework for you; google 'environmental impacts of shellfish aquaculture' and just have a look at the environmental issues associated with it. 

You see as much as we need to do something to improve the sustainability of our food production the solutions aren't as simple as they sometimes seem.  

Geoff




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