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Monday, 30 March 2015

Bushcraft and the Law: Woodland

This post really follows on from the Applied Bushcraft post from March where I discussed the overlapping skills between Bushcraft and Woodland Management, and how we had used them in our recently started woodland management project. This post discusses some of the legal considerations we had to make before we got stuck in with the actual management work, and some other more basic considerations for bushcrafters who use, or want to use, woodland for recreational purposes too.

A view of the bottom portion of the coup we cut in 'our' wood in February.
Notice for later than the vast majority of the stacked wood is relatively small.

As with any area of land there are some basic rules we must remember. With regards working in woodlands when that involves felling or removing wood or trees and other plants, there are certain restrictions. In practise these affect Bushcrafters very little thankfully because woodland is a prime place to practice and enjoy bushcraft, but are nevertheless worth bearing in mind. The most formal of these guidelines have been aimed at forestry workers or land owners and as such deal with quantities of timber and sizes or numbers of trees far greater than the average Bushcrafter would ever deal in. Nevertheless, a little knowledge goes a long way and this info may be useful, if for nothing else than being able to defend yourself with some facts to anyone who may challenge you while undertaking legal activity. 

1) Access and Permission: 
I hope it goes without saying that land owners permission is essential for any activity within woodland, even just being there. As nice as it would be if it did, a public footpath or other right of way 'through' a wood does not constitute free or unrestricted access to the whole wood or forest area. Woodland which seems unused or unmanaged does not mean it is un-owned, there will always be a landowner no matter how uninterested they are in the land. It may be that the owner has no problem with members of the public roaming the wood but never assume. (Geoff covered similar issues in his post: Stealth Camping).

FC guidelines on ensuring public safety
around their operations - don't make
their job harder!
Similarly, you may think removing a couple of hazel wands or picking a basket of edible wild fruits or mushrooms or whatever it may be will make no big difference to the wood or its owner, but at the end of the day without permission you still shouldn't. Having said that I doubt even the most unfriendly land owner will make an issue over someone picking a hand full of black berries while walking along a footpath or along a boundary. (Geoff again covered similar issues in his post: Legal Foraging). 

One other issue regarding access and permission is that of safety surrounding other operations being undertaken in the wood. Deer management is undertaken in many British woodlands to protect regenerating timber, commercial forestry operations or ground flora in conservation areas, or just as a sporting enterprise. The safety implications to stalkers of unauthorised, and therefore unexpected people in woodlands where they are working go way beyond the inconvenience of startled or spooked quarry! Felling operations are also potentially dangerous - while signs are often put up warning of ongoing forestry operations in woodlands where there is no public access this is a case of best practise not legal requirement. Falling trees and bullets meant for deer rarely take prisoners! Stay safe and legal.

2) Woodland Classification or Designation:
Not all protected areas are 'Nature Reserves'. Various levels of environmental protection exist (such as SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and others) with many of them never widely publicised or documented unless you know where to look (DEFRA's on-line mapping tool MAGIC can show you a wide range of information on the protection status of an area). Some of these designations come with strict guidelines as to what management or activity can or cannot be undertaken in the wood. Felling or thinning operations, and removal or disturbance of other plant species, are commonly restricted or pre-prescribed. 

In these areas the most basic of foraging or material harvesting tasks can become illegal due to the site specific guidelines issued by the relevant nature conservation body (Natural England in England; Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland, Countryside Council for Wales in Wales), and there is a fine associated with damaging or disturbing these areas: ignorance will not be a suitable defence, even less so if you didn't have permission in the first place. The moral of this story is that even with landowners permission care should be taken to remain within site specific requirements; don't assume that because there isn't a Nature Reserve sign up the land is not protected.

Related to these protective statuses but even more unlikely to affect bushcrafters are Tree Preservation Orders (TPO's). This grants a specific tree protection, often due to some historical significance. The fine for felling one of these can be £10,000 per tree! 

3) Felling Rules and Reg's:
As coppice less than 15cm diameter
at 1.3m from the ground no licence
is required for this sort of felling.
When bushcraft activities blend into larger scale woodland management then Felling Licences have to be considered. These are sought from the Forestry Commission when required, but there are exemptions which allow some felling or woodland management to go ahead without applying for a licence depending on a number of things. Our woodland management work has not yet required the application for a licence because several of these exemptions apply as follows:

Type of Tree Work - Pruning and Pollarding do not require a licence.
Quantity - No licence required if felling less than 5 cubic metres of timber in a calender quarter.
Tree size - No licence required for cutting trees less than 8cm in diameter, 10cm in diameter if thinning and 15cm in diameter when coppicing (all diameters measured at 1.3m above ground level). 
Legal requirement - No licence required for trees which are dangerous or cause a nuisance. We have felled a number of dangerous trees with major rot in their roots in the early stages of the project and may yet have to fell a few more.  

(All above information taken from Forestry Commission web page on Felling Licences, anyone seeking additional information on the rules of large scale woodland management would do well to start here).

If you have read to the end congratulations - I realise these articles on law are not the most interesting to everyone but they are hopefully informative. This subject may not effect all bushcrafters but elements are well worth being familiar with and may be useful in the future. I hope it will prove to be useful for you as it certainly has for me recently!


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Applied Bushcraft (4 Continued); Gun Flints

After Martins article on Thursday I found some fascinating videos on youtube of some of the Flintknapping that went on in Brandon in Norfolk well into the early 20th Century.

These videos got me thinking about some of the other traditional industries which are now all but lost and which we as bushcrafters probably still practice to a certain extent as part of the skills we call 'bushcraft' but which were actually once the skills of everyday life for many, many people, particularly those living in rural areas and relying on the work they could do with their own hands and basic tools to support themselves. 

I sometimes wish I had been born in an era when this kind of work was the norm rather than something most of us can only do as a hobby. 


(Note; I do not own the rights to any of these videos, they are freely available on youtube, There is some excellent further information available on this blog; pre historics)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Applied Bushcraft (4); Gun flints

In this extra issue of Applied Bushcraft this month Martin tells us a bit about the use of flint and the function of firearms. 

Flint, no spark without fire!

If the only link you can make between flint and weapons, is a lump of it lashed to a wood or bone handle by a strip of leather and being wielded by a stocky man dressed in skins or even the beautifully crafted arrowheads found on historic sites around the globe, then you have missed a vital piece of weapons history!

A vital piece of firearms history revolved around flint. Now I'm sure that you have seen Ray Mears and Bear Grills starting a fire with a flint and steel, well the same principle was used to ignite a charge of black powder in a ‘flint lock’ weapon to propel a not very sophisticated projectile from its barrel.

All ‘barrelled weapons’ work on the same basic principle i.e. a projectile (ball, bullet or charge of shot) is launched out of a tube (barrel) by the detonation of an explosive charge. In modern weapons, a cartridge will contain all of the necessary components to achieve this in a single unit. In the case of a rifle or pistol firing a single projectile, the bullet will be firmly retained in the neck of the cartridge, behind that will be a carefully measured charge of explosive or propellant and in the base of the cartridge will be a primer or initiating charge, which will detonate the main charge and drive the bullet down the barrel and onward to its target. The primer these days will invariably be struck by a firing pin and its shock sensitive contents thus detonated and initiating the whole process.

Modern cased ammunition

In bygone years, the barrel would have been ‘charged’ with a carefully measured portion of black powder, a felt wad may have been carefully and firmly tamped down on top of that to keep it in place before a single ball or charge of shot would be placed on top of the charge, this in turn would have been tamped into place and retained in position with a ‘top wad’. The clever bit was a small touch hole from the base of the barrel (containing the charge of black powder) to the ‘pan’. The pan was literally that, a shallow tray containing a small amount of black powder, strategically placed ahead of a steel striker plate which was in turn, placed in the path of a spring driven flint.

Musket gun-flints Palace Armoury Valletta

Gun Flints; © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

When the trigger was pulled, the flint would fly forward and strike the steel, the spark thus generated would ignite the powder in the pan and flash through the hole to ignite the primary charge and send the projectile or projectiles on their way. On occasion, a damp charge of powder or a blocked flash hole, would prevent the whole cycle working as planned and a ‘flash in the pan’ would occur (a term used today to describe an incomplete task or false start) when only the pan charge would ignite and leave the primary charge and its projectile still in the barrel.

Of the many critical components in this process, the subject of my little article today, is the humble flint and millions of them would have been collected and shaped for the weapons industry of yesteryear.

In Suffolk, the beautiful woods and heathland of the Brandon Estate, owe much of their fortune to the income derived from the industrial scale collection of flints for the British and other armies of the world, who were then dependant on flintlock weapons as their primary defence. This lovely little town and the surrounding area has Pubs bearing the name ‘The Flint Knappers’ alluding to the industry and process of shaping a flint. Flint can be flaked in to an incredibly sharp edged tool and smaller shards are almost as good as a scalpel for intricate cutting tasks.
19th century knowledge primitive tools gun flint knapper at work
By Sydney Barber Josiah Skertchly [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Even before the use of flint in firearms, flint was mined as far back as the neolithic period and ‘Grimes Graves’ is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Grimes Graves , neolithic flint mine - - 1007207
A view from the bottom of Grimes Graves byAshley Dace [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Flint is a hard, sedimentary form of the mineral; quartz, It is cryptocrystaline in structure meaning that the crystals which form it are so minute that their structure is vague even under a microscope. It is categorized as a variety of chert; another stone suitable for knapping. It occurs most often as nodules in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestone. Once broken open flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white or brown in colour, and often has a glassy appearance. A thin layer or 'cortex' on the outside of the nodules is rough and often chalky. 

So that’s what to look for when you visit an area rich in flint but if you want to try your hand at flint knapping and making modern day flint arrow heads, wear eye protection! Gaining an appreciation for its sharpness by getting a piece in your eye, is not recommended, oh, and you’re going to cut your fingers too. Enjoy the history, enjoy the outdoors, go find flint!


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Why I don't have time for archery

am not a good archer, and I have never spent any significant amount of time practicing archery or making bows, there may be some who would say that that is a serious gap in my knowledge as a bushcrafter. 
However: I would argue that my time is better spent developing skills in other areas, after all if my time is limited I would rather spend my time working on mastering a new method of friction fire lighting, practicing flint knapping or work on some deer hides. Not because I dislike archery or think that archery is less important than other bushcraft  skills but simply because in the UK, given the current laws, it is of no use to me. As a deer stalker I use a rifle to kill deer as a method of reducing damage to agriculture, timber crops and conservation woodlands but The Deer Act (1991) and it's subsequent reforms and amendments prohibit the use of spears, arrows and other similar projectiles. Although the act does not specify why these methods of pursuing game are prohibited I can make a few educated guesses;


We know that spears, bows and arrows, atlats as well as blunt instruments; clubs, bolas, deadfalls and packs of dogs were used historically for subsistence hunting.  but modern animal welfare legislation requires us to cause no unnecessary suffering to our quarry. Modern [legal] traps are tested extensively to prove that they kill humanely and rifles and shotguns have been developed over the years to produce weapons which are very accurate and powerful and which, if the correct calibres and types of bullet are used will cause a clean and humane kill. If we are required to cause as little suffering as possible when harvesting animals from the wild surely we need to use the most effective tools for the job. Talking of the effectiveness of weapons leads on to my next point;


Bullets cause death by causing massive wounds which cause massive, rapid blood loss. Bullets do this by expanding rapidly on impact, that's why they are made of soft materials like lead and/or copper, this expansion transfers the energy from the bullet to the animal rupturing internal structures, organs, arteries and vessels and often also causes massive exit wounds. This helps the person hunting or stalking if an animal does not drop immediately (this is a very regular occurrence even when an animal is 'dead' a surge of adrenaline can cause it to run quite some distance) these massive wounds bleed profusely leaving a blood trail which can be followed easily. Yes there may be many of you who are exceptional trackers who can track a deer even without a blood trail but it certainly helps. An arrow or spear on the other hand cuts rather than smashes and therefore often causes less [external] blood loss compared to a bullet and less physical damage to the animal making it harder to track. This is a welfare issue as much as a concern over actually finding the animal you hope to harvest, if you are to ensure that the animal is humanely dispatched you must be able to follow it and find where it fell to ensure it is already dead or to dispatch it quickly. 


For the two smallest deer species in England and Wales, Reeves Muntjac and Chinese water deer muzzle energies (this is the energy a single bullet carries as it leaves the muzzle of a firearms) of at least 1000ft/lbs of energy are required for the four larger species the minimum requirement is 1700ft/lbs. compare that to an arrow;
Take the weight of an arrow (these measurements are in grains rather then grams, the common measurement for the weight of bullets and arrows) for example 376 grains. you will also need to know the velocity of the arrow lets take 265 feet per second (fps) as an example. Velocity can be determined using a chronograph;

A simple chronograph, a projectile would be fired between the upright 'wands', the apparatus then compares the time it takes to pass between the two pares of wands and calculates it's velocity.
By Krakuspm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Once you have these two measurements you can work out the energy of the projectile;
weight in grains  x  velocity in fps   x  velocity in fps  x  2.2 =energy in pounds per square foot (ft/lbs)
        100                        100                         100
     376                 x          275            x         275            x  2.2
      100                            100                        100
     3.76                x          2.75           x         2.75           x  2.2  =  62.56 fl/lbs
The same calculation can be used for rifle bullets, so from the back of a box of 105 grain geko ammunition for my .243 we get the following information;
bullet weight 105 grain
muzzle velocity 2955 fps
   105                 x             2955        x          2955         x 2.2 =  2017.1 ft/lbs
   100                                 100                      100    
So in terms of the energy of legal firearms for deer stalking arrows are not producing any where near that limit and you can imagine for yourselves how this translates to the severity of a wound and the likelihood of that wound to humanely kill your targeted animal.             

So there you have it; my reasons for not making archery a priority in my arsenal of bushcraft related skills, that's not to say I don't find the subject fascinating just that there are other things I feel are more important.

I hope the diversion into balistics, maths and the law has been interesting and usefull.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Applied Bushcraft (3): Woodland Management

Those of you who keep up to date with the Bushcraft Education Facebook page will be aware that we have just embarked on a new project: managing a woodland, actually a suite of small woodlands. The focus of the project, to begin with, is restoring an area of ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ (yes, that is a technical term) by putting it back into a ‘coppice rotation’ management regime. This post will both provide a bit of an introduction to this project and information on the elements of bushcraft which we will be applying over the course of this project.

Those who think of Bushcraft as another term for survival skills may think this topic is out of context. But when Bushcraft is considered as the skills necessary to ‘live comfortably outdoors for extended periods’ then a knowledge of woodland management becomes very useful. Managed woodland provides more than just firewood, such as craft materials, building materials, charcoal - the list goes on. But what is more significant is that these resources are provided consistently over time. Woodland management is a long term venture, it is not exploitation or deforestation, but a planned and sustainable harvest of renewable resources.

A freshly cut hazel stool.
This post is not intended to describe woodland management methods in detail, there are far too many to describe in detail in this context. In the UK, particularly the lowland areas where deciduous trees are dominant, a version of coppicing is the most likely management method to be used. This involves rotational cutting of trees to encourage regeneration. Depending on the intended use of the crop, and the species of tree, this rotation period could be anywhere between 4 and 30 years. An area of managed woodland will be divided into areas called ‘coups’ in which all the ‘stools’ will be cut at the same time providing you with a crop of similar sized wood. This method of woodland management would once have been prevalent all across the country, but as mass production and synthetic materials replaced craftsmanship and wood the need for the materials dried up and with it the wide spread management of woodlands.

Resources from Coppicing
Hundreds of years ago coppice managed woodlands would have provided building materials for pretty much all dwellings - larger trees (longer rotation coppice wood or ‘standards’; a small number of mature trees allowed to grow within each coup) would have provided main supports or roof beams; smaller poles would have provided the wattle (as in wattle & daub walls), thatching spars (to hold the thatch on) etc etc. It would also have provided wood to burn; charcoal to forge metal tools, the handles for those tools, material to build furniture, post and rail fencing, the list goes on and on.

These days many of these uses remain only in historic demonstrations, which is a shame. In Bushcraft these materials can still be useful for all sorts of uses - shelter building, tool making, basket making (willow) all sorts of green wood working projects and many other uses.  

Bushcraft in Woodland Management
So here’s a piece meal account of the first few days of our project as an illustration of which skills used in bushcraft overlap with managing a woodland.

Above: Dogs Mercury
Below: Bluebell (Nibbled by deer)
Plant ID - One of the keys skills for any bushcrafter is the ability to recognise useful plant species. This was where we started with our project - identifying trees which could be coppiced successfully. We found hazel, elm, ash and oak, all good coppicing species. We also found blackthorn and hawthorn in abundance, not very nice to work with (spiked hands aplenty!) but brash from these trees can be used very effectively to make dead hedges to mark out the coups, or if located appropriately ‘layed’ in place to create a similar barrier; in addition both burn very well!

Plant ID skills are also useful for the conservation aims of the project - identifying ground flora species allows us to record the species richness of the woodland, including ancient woodland indicator species (including Bluebell and Dogs Mercury both found in ‘our’ wood). This will in turn allow us to monitor for specific species which rely on some of these plants - both trees and ground flora.

Woodland management these days is most often practised because of the conservation benefits it has - it opens up the woodland canopy allowing more light to reach the ground encouraging additional growth, which in turn provides food for invertebrates which in turn are food for birds and mammals and up and up. In addition the increased diversity of structure and age benefits biodiversity by maintaining a wider range of ecological niches than a single age woodland structure.

Shelter Building - The first thing we did when we arrived in the woods on the first day was fell a couple of dangerous trees which we didn’t really want to be working under. The next was to build our shelter - Camp Coppice - which would be home for the next week, and indeed every week that we return. Although living in the woods being managed is no longer the standard practice when woods are being worked it would have been a few centuries ago.

Camp Coppice - home from home, or
at least it will be when it's finished!
Being February we needed a shelter which would keep off the rain (which was plentiful) and hold in the heat (which was limited). What we built was very simple, a large tarpaulin over a ridge pole, supported by a pair of A-frames. We then built, or started building as materials became available, walls simply by stacking straight wood between stakes to keep out the cool night breezes, and to keep in the heat from the central heating… stove. Everything in the shelter (with the exception of the tarpaulin & the stove) came from the wood, and it was pretty good. A bit more time to finish building up the walls and putting a chimney on the stove, and it really will be a home from home, which is nice because we will be spending a fair bit of time there in coming years.

A billhook resting by a recently
cleared stool. 
Tool use & maintenance - Just above plant ID, the ability to use edged tools (and keeping those edges sharp, so that they are useful) is right up there on the list of important bushcraft skills. The most common tools we use in bushcraft are probably the knife and the axe, however in this instance the most useful, and most commonly used, tool was actually a billhook. It wasn’t the only edged tool we used of course, we also used axes, machetes, folding saws and chainsaws, and it goes without saying that for smaller tasks round camp a good old knife was never far away. Because of the heavy use these tools needed to be kept sharp: using a blunt tool is less efficient, more tiring, more likely to result in injury (because the cuts are less predictable) and of course everything takes longer. There are no upsides to not maintaining tools correctly.

When you are involved in a project like this it is easy to forget or get sloppy with appropriate safety precautions for using edged tools: when you are tidying up a felled tree it is quite common to have poor footing, because you’re often stood on branches and twigs; when you’re freezing cold, it’s pouring with rain and you just want to finish that block you were working on so you can get the kettle on who cares if the cutting angle is all wrong - well your fingers will, as one of my knuckles will attest after exactly this circumstance 10 years ago. It was my first experience of proper coppicing, It was a freezing cold February half term while I was still at college, I’d been working for several days straight, my hands were sore and I wanted something to eat so I took a shortcut by not keeping my non-cutting hand out of my cutting line (using a billhook) - a poor cutting swing, an unexpected bounce, and a chunk of my knuckle later I am far more cautious. Young readers learn from my mistakes so you don't have to make your own!! This in turn reminds us of one more essential - a first aid kit, any time you use cutting tools you should have one close by.

These are not the only bushcraft skills you may use of course, simply based on our first week of working in the woods the most common. It was a great week and I am sure there are many great weeks and indeed years to come where we can watch this woodland come back to life in many ways, and it's already a lovely place to be! Bushcraft (and woodland management) really is enjoyable - even if it was pouring with rain for a couple of days!   


NB: For anyone interested in coppicing or woodland management check out the link below.

Woodland House (Grand Designs - Channel 4) - Ben Law, a woodland manager from Sussex builds a house in the woods with only what he can harvest.  Great programme.

Bushcraft Education Videos