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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Foragers Diary; Martins Pigeon Casserole

No one will be upset when you turn the blue grey scourge of crops, the common Wood Pigeon, into something edible! It is in my mind, one of my very favourite home shot meats. The wood Pigeon in the countryside (not in the city) is a source of great dark meat, it has typically fed on crops that when fully mature and harvested are going to end up on your plate, so the Pigeon just managed to get to it a little ahead of you in the food chain. Pigeon and Collared doves should be treated in exactly the same way but being a lot smaller, you will need twice as many to make a good feed. In my opinion, 2 plump pigeons are required for a proper portion of casserole and I will give you a step by step description of how to prep the Pigeon or dove, with supporting pictures.

Lay a fresh Pigeon or dove on its back with wings open.
  Place your thumbs either side of the breast bone and push down firmly. If the skin doesn’t split of its own accord, just help it with a sharp knife but remember at this stage its just to split the skin.

With the skin split, keep pushing and peal back the skin to the ‘arm pits’.

   Take a sharp knife and follow the breast bone all the way down and peel off the breast steak.

  Turn the bird around and do the same the other side, so you now have 2 steaks that are just smaller than your palm.

 With all the steaks now ready,   2 Pigeons worth of breast steaks per person is what I recommend, I would proceed as follows:

·         Fry a generous bed of slice onions in butter.
·         Put the breast steaks on the onions for 3 to 5 minutes to ‘seal’
·         Flip and do the same the other side.
·         Pour in something red (I use grape juice but wine is popular!)
·         Bring back to the simmer, then add a generous table spoon of red currant jelly or similar and stir until dissolved.
·         Pour the lot in a slow cooker or crock pot for a couple of hours while you do something else.
·         Serve with mashed Potato to soak up that lovely fruity gravy.
·         Share, enjoy.

This recipe is, I believe, derived from one by Prudence Coats, wife of renowned Pigeon Shooter Archie Coats.
Enjoy tweaking and experimenting with the basic recipe.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Bushcraft Show (Sat 23rd)

The first full day of the show, been a good but busy day.
Geoff has run two workshops on how to make Sami bracelets and Richard has been speaking to people about The Riddy Wood project among other things on the Bushcraft Education stand. We even had a celebrity visit, Lofty Wiseman of SAS Survival guide fame stopped by for a brief chat while touring the stands after his talk this morning.
Our display on ageing deer by their teeth has been of interest to a fair few people, especially the Chinese Water Deer skull which very few people have ever seen before. Guesses as to what it may be have ranged from the obvious but rather unspecific 'skull', through the ubiquitous sabre tooth tiger, fox, badger and other predatory mammals to a seal, which was different. Muntjac are a bit more widely know,  although their history in the UK has been a talking point with many people who weren't aware how they came to be here in the first place.
We've had a lot of interest in the aims of the Riddy Wood project too, with lots of people saying it sounds like a great idea to provide the mix of subjects we will be with the hands on nature of the opportunities which will be available. We've had a lot of interest in the course too so if you had your heart set on a place in October book now, but if you miss the boat we will be releasing data for the February course soon - keep an eye on the new riddy wood website for details on that and all other up and coming courses.
We are still really in need of support to get the project off the ground so please do go to and follow the links there to donate on crowd funder. The funds will go to providing tools and kit we need to give us a boost as we get up and running. Perhaps most important in our fund raising target is the portion which willgo towards purchasing sufficient basic tools for groups to use on our courses. Buying twelve of everything means even simple tools become very expensive!
Come back tomorrow for another update on Bushcraft Educations day at the Bushcraft show (and probably some more pictures!)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Alto Adige Italy and the 2015 EEE Conference

This year I was very lucky to be awarded a scholarship to the Annual Experiential Educators Europe (eee) Conference held this year in Candriai, Italy.  

It was the first time I had attended the conference although I had been familiar with the eee organisation for a couple of years. 

Late in the planning stages of my trip to Italy I was also awarded a small scholarship by Reaseheath Colleges Scholarly Activity Committee to contribute towards the cost of my transport. 

Due to slightly convoluted travel plans (the cheapest tickets aren't always the most strait forward) I was left with a few days at either end of the conference I was left with a few days to explore the Alto Adige area of Northern Italy, a place I had never been before. 

 I had been delighted to discover while planning my trip that my amazingly cheap airline tickets would take me to a town called Bolzano, about 70km from the conference venue, this town just happens to be the town which houses Ötzi the ice man in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. So on my arrival in Bolzano on the afternoon of Friday the 24th of April I was able to visit the museum and look at the exhibits of Ötzi's clothes and equipment and recognise a lot of the materials and methods of construction that I use in my own practice of Bushcraft.
The Reconstruction of Ötzi
After an unplanned night in the youth hostel in Bolzano due to a bag lost by the airline (and therefore no bivi or sleeping bag) I headed onto the Paganella mountain on the edge of the Brenta Dolomites for a short walk before the conference began on the afternoon of the 26th. The scenery was beautiful, although low cloud shrouded most of the views to begin with and I never got a clear view of the Brentas there was plenty to see close at hand.
At lower altitudes I saw a lot of Star of Bethlehem (above) and Greater Celandine (below)

As I climbed higher I began to see Colts Foot (above) and where the snow had melted the Alpine Crocuses had started to appear (below). 

There was also plenty of Lungwort (above) and Vaccinium sp (below) these belong to the blueberry and cranberry family although I'm not sure exactly which species these flowers belong to, but they certainly weren't the bilberries that I'm familiar with in this country 

Most exciting of all were these tracks which I suspect are lynx tracks, they were much too high up (about 2000 meters) and much too large and heavy to be any sort of domestic or feral cat. 


 I also saw Capercaillie and roe deer on my short walk (about 20 kilometers in total) and was actually woken at one in the morning while in my bivi by a roe deer barking just a few meters from my head, it must have been startled to see my fly sheet. After a night in my bivi at about 1500 meters above sea level and a walk in which I foolishly strayed into deep snow for a few km's and floundered around before getting back to more easily navigable paths I descended to the beautiful village of Covelo 

From there I continued my walk on Country roads towards Candriai. However my encounter with deep snow at about 2000 meters earlier in the day had slowed me down and I was running out of time to get to the conference centre in Candriai before the evening meal. Luckily as I laboured up yet another hill I was met by two delegates of the conference also on their way up the hill in a camper van and who guessed I might be on my way to the eee conference as well and kindly offered me a lift for the last few km's. That was a great relief and I owe my thanks to them. 

The conference it'self was very different to what I had expected but was absolutely fantastic, the Italian team who organised it did a fantastic job. The workshops throughout the week were very informative and interesting and I learned a great deal which I hope to apply to both my formal teaching at Reaseheath College and also to the teaching I do through Bushcraft Education and the Riddy Wood Project

The workshop I delivered at the conference was a practical workshop on the kind of activities you can do with children which involve knives and hand tools both as an opportunity to help them reconnect with nature and to develop their strength and dexterity. We made kazoo's and wooden flowers and the workshop was over subscribed by almost double with people offering to bring their own pocket knives to make up for the fact that I had only brought enough knives for ten participants. I even ended up repeating the workshop on the Friday morning, the final day of the conference. The material which accompanied the workshop can be found here for the poster and here for a handout .

The theme of the conference was 'Do ut des' or give to receive and I certainly felt I received a great deal and hope that I was able to contribute something as well. In fact the atmosphere of openness and sharing was so great that it has inspired me to run a new series on this blog. I have shared ideas for using bushcraft as a tool for education ever since I started this blog but I have not shared many 'how to' type articles but in a few months I will start the bushcraft education 'do ut des' series sharing in detail HOW to carry out a range of bushcraft activities and traditional skill and will also show how I use these activities as teaching tools. 

The conference venue it'self was fantastic and offered plenty of interesting views of wildlife.

Hawfinches (above) and Nuthatches (below) were regular visitors to the bird feeders around the venue. 

   Unlike any other conference I have ever attended there was a very sharing attitude at the conference with people willing to share ideas for activities, management of educational events and businesses and just a really nice atmosphere that made everyone feel at home and able to contribute. 

After the conference I had another opportunity for a short hike and another night in the beautiful Italian countryside this time in the Monte Bondone area to the north of the mountain Il Palon. I was treated to some beautiful weather and fantastic views as well as some very interesting wildlife including sightings of Ibex and Red deer. 

A view of Il Palon

Looking out across the Adige valley

Green Hairstreak

Owly Sulfer a species of lacewing. 

 All in all it was a fantastic trip and has whetted my appetite for more trips to the area to watch the wildlife and walk in the mountains but has also started what I hope will be a long association with eee. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Bushcraft at the Reaseheath Family Festival

Yesterday I was at the Reaseheath Family Festival representing the countryside management department delivering some bushcraft activities on the main lawn. It was a really busy day and lots of people came to learn about prehistoric shale bead construction from Dr Peter Groom. 

There was also an opportunity to learn about wild UK deer, their antlers, teeth and behaviour and for people to have a go at friction fire lighting, flint and steel fire lighting and green wood carving.

I had some really good conversations with people about the history and ecology of deer in the UK and about different methods of friction fire lighting. 

Our 'deer table' each of the UK deer was represented at the bushcraft stand and visitors had a chance to identify the different exhibits and even learned how to age deer just from their teeth. if you are visiting the bushcraft show this weekend there will be another opportunity to do this at the Bushcraft Education stand. 
Pete drills the hole in a shale bead with a knapped flint drill. 

The Countryside Department Stand

A simple spoon. 

There are still places on the New Bushcraft Course offered by Reaseheath College which starts in September. It will be perfect for anyone interested in teaching bushcraft or going on to study archaeology at University. APPLY NOW!!  

Friday, 15 May 2015

Woodland Management Course for Bushcrafters and Forest School Leaders

Bushcraft Education is now offering courses through it's Riddy Wood Project .

The Riddy Wood Project is a not for profit enterprise managed by staff from Bushcraft Education to refurbish and rejuvenate areas of derelict ancient woodland. We have been working on a block of 21 acres of woodland in Cambridgeshire since last winter and are very slowly beginning to restore the coppice with standards management regime that once would have existed there. We hope you can come and join us for one of our courses on woodland management but even if you can't we are looking for backers who are willing to help us move our project forward; you can help by donating to our crowd funding project so we can purchase the equipment we need to really get the project moving. Without the chainsaws, winches, handtools and new trees to plant restoring the woods we are working in will take a very long time and it will be many years before we can invite school children and the public to look at and learn about the wonderful habitats that are deciduous woodlands, PLEASE HELP BY BACKING US;

The first for adults will take place in October this year and you can book your place NOW!

The Woodland Management Course for Bushcrafters will be equally suited to Forest School Leaders and environmental educators who want to learn about sustainable woodland management.

It may be useful as continuing professional development or help you gain experience of managing and sustainably procuring timber for craft projects. It may be something you could embed in courses and training you deliver yourself.

It will include the following;

  • Plant and tree identification - learn to identify native tree and plant species and learn some of their uses and particularly their suitability for coppicing and woodland crafts. 
  • Traditional woodland tools, their care, maintenance and use (bill hooks, axes, draw knives, etc...)
  • Coppicing - the coppicing of native hardwoods and the associated harvesting of material, care of coppice stools and methods of increasing stocking density)
  • Coppice products - the processing and use of coppice material of different sizes, storage, uses and coppice crafts (you may be able to make hazel hurdles, cleft wood fencing, dead hedging and other coppice crafts over the course of the three days)
  • Science and Ecology - How coppicing works and the value of coppiced woodlands. 
  • Wild food- the cost of food is included in the price of the course, although you may have to cook some of it yourself on the camp fire but your instrctors will introduce you to several wild foods over the course of the three days and you may even get a chance to help skin and butcher one of the evening meals. 

There are eight places on the course in October and we intend to run an identical course in February for sixteen (dates for this course will be published in due course).

You will arrive on the morning of the 26th and be introduced to the wood, the management plan we are opperating on and to the tools you will be using. We will do a short session on plant and tree identification and give you some time to explore the woods yourself before starting to do some coppicing.
The evening will be yours and we will cook around the camp fire and you are welcome to use some of the material you have harvested that day to do your own bushcraft or green woodwork projects.

On the 27th we will start with a camp fire breakfast and continue with coppicing until lunch time, you will also learn to layer coppice stems to increase the stocking density of an area of hazel coppice. After lunch we will move on to the uses of coppice products and using the brash we have produced will make some dead hedges, and using some of the larger material we will construct hurdles and cleft wood fencing. 
In the evening you will get to help prepare the evening meal of venison which will itself have been harvested from the same woodland you are working in (this will not be a compulsory element of the course so if you would prefer not to take part alternative meal arrangements can be made).

On the 28th we will cover some of the science and ecology of woodland management and coppicing and continue to process and work with the materials you harvested on the previous days. There will be time before you leave after lunch to cover any specific questions you have or to address any particular practical tasks you wish to try.

Accomodation will be provided in simple woodland shelters equipped with hammocks although you are also welcome to bring your own shelter solutions if you prefer.

The cost of food is included in the price of the course although you may have to cook some of it yourself, the only cooking facilities available will be the camp fire.

Washing and toileting facilities are limited and consist of a composting toilet and a solar shower.  

Book your place with the Buy Now button above or conmtact us for more details or to book directly. 

I look forward to seeing you in October


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Embers and Tinder; a sample chapter from Bow Drill Trouble Shooting

After Sam's post yesterday about his improvements to the bow drill friction fire method I though it was about time to remind you all that my book Bow Drill TroubleShooting is still available on Amazon and to give you a taste of it I'm posting another sample chapter from it here;

 The Ember Falls Apart When I Put It in the Tinder Bundle

You need to make sure your tinder bundle is packed quite tight. Even a well-established ember like the one in the picture to the left is very fragile and will fall apart and drop through the gaps in the tinder bundle if it is not tight and fine enough. Suitable tinder’s for taking an ember produced by friction are described here;
The Central column of the table grades the quality of the tinder material for taking an ember generated from friction fire, the grades go from A (excellent) to C (usable but not easy). 


Birch bark
An excellent tinder in other respects, birch bark would not be my first choice for friction fire lighting. The bark can be shredded and used but is generally too coarse for use with the very fine embers that you produce by friction. You can add a bit of cat tail down or a cramp ball to this tinder to help if need be.
This combination of birch bark and shaving from a pole lathe would normally be much too coarse for use with embers produced from friction but the addition of a bit of cat tail down or a cramp ball makes it just possible.
Thicker pieces of bark rolled into a tube can also be used, if you stuff a tube of bark full of tinder and drop your ember in there you not only avoid burning your fingers but it means you can easily contain your ember and control the amount of air getting to it.
A relatively coarse tinder and will be easier to use if you can add some cat tail down or a cramp ball, or a finer tinder to the heart of the bundle.
Cat tail down
As a component of your tinder bundle this is fantastic but you will need more than just cat tail. It will extend the life of your ember and provide a good hot centre to your tinder bundle but it will not produce the flame you want, you can add a small bit to the centre of any tinder bundle but it really comes into its own when you only have coarse tinder and need to extend the life and size of your ember to produce a flame.
Cedar bark
Great tinder if you can find it, it needs to be buffed vigorously to produce a fine nest of tinder but it really is fantastic.
Cramp Ball
Another tinder which won’t produce a flame for you but which will extend your small friction ember and help the fire lighting process.
This little fungus will glow like a piece of charcoal and they are worth their weight in gold if you are short of really fine dry tinder. Remember thought that they must be dry themselves, if you knock them off a tree still living they will actually be very wet inside, so collect them in advance and break them in half to dry out.
Dry Grass
This requires a bit of careful selection and preparation, the stems of grasses will be very poor tinder, it is the leafy matter that you need, this can be collected quite quickly by running your fingers through clumps of dead grass this should pull away the leaves and leave the stalks standing so you don’t have to spend too long picking out the stems before you can use the tinder. Late summer is the best time to find dry grass in plentiful supply.
Honeysuckle bark
This can be quite plentiful and strips easily of the vines in long fine shreds; it can be buffed further by rubbing it together vigorously and is one of my favourite tinder’s.
Much the same as bracken, relatively coarse tinder and without the benefit of the leafy fronds of bracken but again with the addition of finer tinder at the heart of a bundle of straw it can work very well.

I posted another sample chapter a few months ago on the topic of suitable types of wood for bow drill fire lighting, if you want to check it out it is available here, or you could get the whole book on kindle or as a paper back 


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