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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Blog hijack

While Geoff is away in Italy this week at the Experiential Educators Europe Conference I have decided to hijack his blog and tell you a bit about my introduction to bushcraft. 
I hope you enjoy it,


Me on Tryfan last February, we didn't really need the ice axe but it looks cool.

I was always interested in the outdoors and had grown up with camping holidays, working dogs and youth camps. In fact Geoff and I met when he came to teach a group of girls I was responsible for at a youth activity camp how to light fires. 

I hadn't really experienced bushcraft before meeting Geoff though, so here are some of the things that being introduced (or having bushcraft thrust on me) has taught me;

Where do I begin; everyday life is definitely different being married to someone who has a keen love for the outdoors and a great and ever expanding knowledge of bushcraft skills.
Once a walk through the woods or the forest was just that, a walk, however; now it is an enriching experience and an opportunity to learn. I don't just walk through the wood and and admire the beautiful trees and plants but I also get to learn about which stick I could use as a toothbrush, which mushrooms I can forage, which flowers or plants I can eat or make drinks from.  I learn which trees I can use the sap off of to make a drink, or which bark makes tar or a canoe. I also now know a fair few good materials to use as tinder to light a fire.

I have been on walks where I've learnt tracking skills such as identifying different types of poo or seeing bitten shoots or leaves and scratched up bark on trees, which normally I may not have thought anything of however now when I go walking I look for these things and ask questions because now to me a whole new world/meaning is opened up to me now that I get this oppertunity to really see what there is around me.

 After mentioning mushrooms I suppose another very common thing in our home is foraging, I must admit I do very little of the foraging myself although I do do some, most of it I have to say is done by my husband especially when it comes to mushrooms. As you can imagine our grocery bill enjoys it. 

The fruits of one of our foraging trips

In the appropriate season we are able to pick berries and make cordials and jams, there are wild alternatives to shop brought salads and some seasonings. We also have things like burdock root that make a great substitute for chips.Then there's the meat aspect of our diet, during deer season we rarely have to buy meat and even in the summer when Geoff shoots far fewer deer and there are no pheasants and ducks we have rabbit, pigeon and jackdaw regularly. ect. I could go on. It's a shame that so few people recognise just what's out there than they can eat even down to the things in their own gardens, only the other day we found wild cress growing amongst the grass in our back garden, maybe we should cut the grass more often.

We have baskets in our home that are woven from nettle stems or willow, I have flowers carved from wood, chopping boards and serving spoons, I have even begun carving and whittling my own utensils. The children have toys and their own garden chairs made of wood and these things are not hard to make (if they were Geoff wouldn't be able to do them ;-) 

Just to finish off with I think I will share with you one of my favourite bushcraft experiences; 

sleeping on the floor under a tarp. Now I love camping, but I also love to be warm, so when this was first suggested I was worried how cold it would be for me considering I sleep in an arctic rated sleeping bag even in a tent in summer, this could be a bad experience. I must say though I was fine, yes I was in my arctic sleeping bag, but I was on the floor and there was only a tarp above me. We had our fire not to far away and our chopping blocks for wood cutting,whittling ect it was altogether a very pleasant experience that allowed me to feel very free and happy, we had everything that we needed around us. 

And that's what bushcraft is about; no matter the weather or your surroundings there you have the knowledge and not just in survival situations but in everyday life also. 

So if you are teetering on the edge of getting involved in Bushcraft and wondering if it's really for you; JUST DO IT!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Applied Bushcraft; Plant ID and Ancient Woodland Indicator Species

No-one would disagree that plant identification is an important skill for any bushcrafter but what are it's applications?

You might be able to identify wild food

Or plants that can provide you with material for cordage like this lime tree

Or trees which will provide you with flammable bark like this birch.

But most of us are not full time bushcrafters so who else might use the skills of plant ID and how might it help them in their work?

Conservationists and ecologists need to have an excellent knowledge of plants and trees and one of the ways in which they apply that knowledge is by using plants as indicators of certain types of habitat. 

Ancient Woodlands in particular lend themselves to being identified by the presence of particular species; An ancient woodland is a wood that has been in continuous existence since before 1600. Primary woodland is an area that has been continuously wooded since the last ice age. 

A list exists of AWVP's (Ancient Woodland Vascular Plants) and the number of these species which are present in a woodland can be used as a indication of it's age. However while a high AWVP score is an indication of diversity and can give an indication that a woodland is old or ancient it is not necessarily proof that a woodland is Ancient Woodland or Primary woodland. 

Some of the species present on the AWVp list which you might encounter while bushcrafting include;

Blue Bell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

A knowledge of plant species and an ability to identify them is also useful to ecologists as they classify habitats using National Vegetation Classification codes (NVC) and Richard will address this in an upcoming Bushscience article on this blog. 

The Bushcraft Education team is particularly interested in ancient woodlands at the moment as we are in the early stages of a new project; The Riddy Wood Project which will involve the management and refurbishment of a semi-natural ancient woodland site. IF you ant to find out more about the project follow the Riddy Wood Project on Twitter @RiddyWood check out our website where you will find brief detail of a course we will be offering later in the year while the full website is brought online or come and find the Bushcraft Education stand at the Bushcraft Show in a few weeks time and ask us about it. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Adapt and Improvise; washing machine BBQ

Our washing machine needed replacing recently, so rather than just chuck the old one out I thought I would make use of it; 

This is the drum once it has been taken out of the machine. All the plastic casing, concrete and hoses will need to be removed before you get any further. This was a fairly simple job; the plastic is mostly held on with clips and the concrete is bolted on so it can be removed fairly easily. Some of the bolts on this one were corroded a bit but it was only bolted to the plastic so it still fairly easy to hacksaw off. 

The drum once removed from it's plastic casing. 

These plastic 'wings' can either be removed fairly simply, they just clip through the outside of the drum and are fastened at the bottom with a nut and bolt. Or they can be burned out when you light the BBQ for the first time. I chose to remove them first but remember if you are going to burn them out not to cook anything over the flames until all the plastic is well and truly gone.   

Now to cut a whole in the front for ease of access to add more fuel or manipulate the fire/coals. An angle grinder made short work of this. 

Be aware that the edges will be very sharp so consider filing them smooth or covering them with something. 

The edges of the whole in the front of the BBQ have now been filed smooth and covered in tape to protect your hands while you are adding fuel. I also set the BBQ on three legs so it stands at a little over waist height so you don't have to bend down to do your cooking. 

First time of lighting and after straightening up the legs a bit so the sausages don't roll off the grill. It seems to work just fine. Check out the foragers diary series on this blog soon for a venison sausage recipe that will be perfect for you washing machine BBQ.  

Friday, 17 April 2015

Foragers Diary; Spring Greens (and yellows and purples)

Over the last few weeks an awful lot of new growth has been appearing all over the place so it's time to bring back the foragers diary with a look at some of the edible greens and flowers that are starting to appear now that spring has arrived.

Wild garlic or 'ramsons' (Allium ursinium) are starting to appear and you will often smell them before you seen them especially if they have been trampled at all. A delicious wild vegetable, they can be used in the kitchen like you would use spring onions, in stir fry's or salads but also make a fantastic ingredient in soups and stews.  

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is a common plant in lawns and grassy areas, you'll know if you have it in your garden because it smells amazing if you mow over a big patch of it, not dissimilar to mint.  More  of a plant for flavourings or infusions then anything else, you certainly wouldn't want to eat a lot of it in one sitting, imaging eating a mouthful of toothpaste; you get the idea.  

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) peeking up through the moss, a lovely sharp flavoured plant almost like apple peel or lemons. 

Colts Foot (Tusilago farfara) superficially similar to the dandelion it is actually part of the sunflower family, flowers, stems all edible and quite delicious raw or even better preserved in honey as a sweet snack. The leaves at the base of this specimen belong to a primrose, the leaves of the colts foot don't come out until much later than the flowers.    

The unassuming daisy (Bellis perennis) edible and tasty just as it is; check out the cake I was made last fathers Day below; can you tell what the theme of the cake was?

Ok so they are Ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) rather than the smaller daisies. 

Sticky-weed, goose-grass. cleavers (Galium aparine) call them what you will, they have a nice flavour not dissimilar to garden peas, I often combine them with nettles when preparing a nettle soup. You should really cook them before eating them and only pick the freshest softest foliage as the hairs on the leaves and stems can be irritating if eaten raw.  

Nettle (Urtica dioica) you all know what to do with this; at this time of year it's an excellent wild green ,soup ingredient, wilted briefly over a fire it can be added to salads, deep fried like seaweed, later in the year harvest the stems for cordage. 

Red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), much closer to ground ivy in appearance than it is to the common nettle. the flowers are edible, my children call them and the larger flowers of white dead nettle 'sweets' and actively look for them whenever we are out and about.  

Chickweed (Stellaria media) a delicious plant, one I would happily eat raw as a vegetable accompaniment to most meals. I also use it a lot to bulk out nettle soups and counteract that acidic flavour that they sometimes have. Like the cleavers an almost garden pea like flavour but without the irritating gripping hairs.

A humble bumble bee snacking on the nectar from the flowers of the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), I'm looking forward to collecting the fruit a bit later in the year and making a fresh batch of cordial and some more delicious grape sauce to compliment wild meat such as pigeon, hare and venison.  

The first lime (Tilia cordata) leaves I have seen this year bursting out and ready to go in a salad. These leaves make a good staple ingredient in wild salads. 

So that's your five a day sorted, how do we go about putting some meat on the plate at this time of year now that most of the game seasons are over? Think about some of those pest species that can be controlled under the general licence species maybe we can eat some of those?

More coming in the foragers diary soon, including taste tests, recipes and DIY butchery.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

In Praise of 'TrailCams'

Martin gives his thoughts on a piece of kit which allows him to make the most of the limited, and therefore very precious time, in the countryside.  


One  deer season may be vastly different from the previous years, a significant change 
in habitat on the farm (felling, ditching or significant changes to crops), weather anomalies such as 
drought or extreme wet all contribute to changes in the behaviour of the deer I manage. These environmental changes can make it very hard to get a good idea of the number and whereabouts of in the limited time I have to dedicate to managing the deer. Rock hard ground for example either through frost or drought provides little in the way of slots to look at (deer tracks) and excessive rain washes away tracks much quicker. you just can't win. 

A season or two ago, my predominantly early morning outings were yielding less and less sightings 
and a corresponding reduction in meat reaching the freezer. Gathering information is difficult on a 
2,500 acre farm where the workers presence is fleeting and neighbours are few and far between. I 
do have the good fortune of exchanging data with a resident deer expert, who invariably has 
invaluable insight into the local deer populations and between his trail cams and ours, we were able 
to draw conclusions about deer population and activity patterns.

A trailcam can be placed at key locations and left in place for days, weeks or even longer. The images 
recorded are date and time stamped, so you can build up an accurate picture of what passed by and 
when. This means that you can use your precious time on the ground far more effectively and as in 
our case, shift early morning outings to evening outings. In our experience, images have been good 
enough to identify particularly good specimens but also priority animals for culling such as lame 

Away from the deer management application, there are a huge range of unexpected benefits, a bit 
like sitting in a high seat and seeing an amazing array of wildlife spectacles besides the one you 
expected! In a single deployment, we caught all three species of deer which are resident on ‘our 
patch’, Badgers, Fox,  Hare and Pheasant. A trailcam will get children into the fresh air and give them 
an appreciation of what’s going on around them, it will get them off of the couch and more 
importantly, off of face book! I think it’s a great tool, a fantastic family recreational resource and 
another great excuse for being out of doors. 

Bushnell have a great range of cameras and a trophycam community for you to share your pictures 
with, Little Acorn make some nice cameras and there are lesser known makes with varying 
specifications and capabilities at Maplin and of course E-Bay will always give you a wide range of 

A trail cam was a fantastic addition to our hunting equipment and has been a fascinating 
experience, I highly recommend a trailcam, so much better than shooting zombies on an X-Box (in my humble opinion). 

I have recently redeployed mine from the forest to our barn roof to capture images of a visiting barn owl for example. Later this week it will go into the chicken run to find out which visiting wildlife killed my chickens on Sunday night! 

Go ahead and try one, you won’t regret it.


**Note; all the videos in this post came from Richards youtube channel check it out, and for more excellent wildlife photography have a look at his Flickr**

Bushcraft Education Videos