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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Half Time Strategy

At the moment of writing, it is exactly half way between the end of last Chinese Water Deer (CWD) season and the start of the next one but the 'closed season' months are not a time to do nothing, they are time to make preparations, observation and practice. The crops are so high at the moment, that small deer like CWD and Muntjac, can disappear in the blink of an eye and the challenges of cover and visibility are completely reversed from where we will be in the season, when we need to 'disappear' to stand a chance of approaching our quarry.

Sometimes this is all you see of a Chinese Water Deer, think how much harder everything is when the rape, wheat and other crops are four feet tall. 

Trail Cameras are a fantastic tool for the wildlife enthusiast
whether you are just watching or need to plan your approach
to next seasons cull. Check out my previous post on using trail cams
or watch some of the videos we have taken with them in the top right
corner of the page. 

These months of walking, watching and listening are very valuable reconnaissance for when the season starts, we need to know roughly what is out there and where it is. We can watch and listen as we pursue quarry species that are 'in season', we will often hear a CWD barking in protest at our presence, without ever seeing it, perhaps we'll see it's back as it bounds through the crop like a brown porpoise in a green sea. We will see them cross tracks and catch them on trail cameras, we will see their regular paths, though the hard parched earth does make tracking difficult.

There are species which can be harvested at this time of year, the little Muntjac being our primary concern, the one pictured was taken recently for a wild food / field to fork (Follow this LINK to book onto one of our field to fork courses) demonstration for a large group who have rarely sourced food from anywhere but a super market. Stalking these secretive and very nervous little deer can be a challenge, greater even than that of the more gregarious CWD. But the practice is always useful, the shot placement just as critical, the safety, the humanity and consideration for others, always high priorities.

Looking back at last years records, tactics and locations of shot deer are all keys to building up this years 'big picture'. Pictured here, one of last years representative yearling bucks, the last one of the season I think, plus some of the better tusks taken over the last to few years. The 'tools of the trade' need to be sharpened and maintained, the dedicated stalker never stops observing, planning and preparing.

This final picture is of some CWD steaks on the griddle, tasty with red berries or with onions and peaches, always happy to try some new combination, venison is becoming more popular, you should try it.

 If your interest is piqued by these little deer, pop down to the Wood Walton Fen nature reserve and tiptoe around at dusk or dawn, you will see what we see, hear what we hear and hopefully enjoy what we enjoy.

Good luck!


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Foragers Diary; Derelict Allotment

It's not only the well maintained allotment which yields food, check out what I found in an overgrown abandoned allotment recently;

Cleavers; more commonly known as goose grass or sticky weed, the foliage can be eaten, although I'd recommend only taking the very youngest parts and it should be cooked first to destroy the gripping hairs/hooks on the stems an leaves. The seeds can also be used for making a coffee substitute, although collecting them is very laborious and time consuming.  

These cherries weren't actually growing in the allotment but close by, I can't believe more people weren't picking them.  
A decent haul after just ten minutes picking

At first glance derelict and unused perhaps, but look closer. 

Redshanks, a delicious wild green and one I use in a lot of cooking at home at this time of year, including the Weed Quiche that you may have seen on here before. 

Comfrey this has also been featured on the foragers diary before and makes wonderful fritters

Fat Hen, another ingredient in the Weed Quiche

Nettles need no introduction.

Elder; past it's best for flowers now but soon ready to yield some delicious berries. 

Burdock, these second year plants wont yield useful roots this year but there will always be some of the first years growth nearby which you can note for a bit later in the year if you fancy a meal of roast burdock root or burdock crisps. 

Not one of the wild foods available in this allotment, you'd need quite a few for a meal, but this comma butterfly seemed to love the comfrey. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

From the High Seat.

If you want to see and hear the things that occur at sunrise and sunset, there is a limit to the times you can be in place to capture them. So my high seat sessions can be pretty early in the early summer months, there being a small gap between sunset and sunrise on the longest day for instance.

It was a Saturday morning close to that date that saw me in my newest high seat, watching over a strip of scrub at the southern edge of Riddy Wood, often frequented by Muntjac and Roe but also an occasional Chinese Water Deer. I was seated prior to sunrise and commenced my vigil, all senses tuned in and scanning all around and even behind me. It wasn't long before I had shared my tree with multiple small bird species including Wren, Goldfinch, Whitethroat and Long-tailed tit. The Skylarks were high in the brightening sky and the dawn chorus was in full swing, barn owls had also silently cruised past me several times since my arrival.

A few pictures from a bird hide. From top to bottom; Gold Finch, Gold Finch, Reed Bunting, Wren 
 As any hunter will attest, nature protects it's own and flushing Pheasants, Wood Pigeons and other species will often give you away as you tiptoe your way to a high seat or hide but just occasionally, they will be your ally if you know what to listen for. In my experience, Wrens, Blackbirds and Robins are amongst the best and this is how it works;

These small birds will 'Alarm Call' if there is a threat or predator around, this could be an owl or other bird of prey, corvids and other nest raiders, also squirrels and foxes. For the hunter of small deer species (Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer specifically) the little chestnut creatures moving through undergrowth can be mistaken for a fox by humans and birds alike, so an alarm call can alert you to the presence of a threat to bird life or something that you'd like to take home to meet the freezer!

So it was on this day that a cacophony of alarm calls changed my scan to my right at quite close quarters and as I took a tighter grip on the rifle, motion in the tall vegetation soon had me zoomed in on a fox moving stealthily towards me on a path that would take him close in front of my seat, I mounted the rifle in slow motion and swung gently in the direction of his approach and as he paused to check the air, he took his very last sniff of anything as the bullet arrived. My chicken house is freshly empty on account of a visit from one of these fellows so I felt that I had done a service to the ground nesting species and every chicken owner (including me).

As peace returned, I settled back in to my scan and turned my collar to the freshening breeze as the sun climbed in the sky. I was brought swiftly to my senses by the unmistakeable twitch of a deer's ear in the densest patch of weeds, zeroing in on the movement with my binoculars, I could see that what I had hoped would be a muntjac was actually an out of season Roe doe, which I watched for ages with the sun on it's back, it was a rich chestnut colour and I regretted not having a decent camera with me to capture this magnificent little animal.

Although I wouldn't recommend fox as a tasty meal, (bitter spam is probably
the best way of describing it), foxes yield all sorts of other useful materials. 
As I was taking in this scene, I was suddenly aware that a hare had bounced out of the wood and accelerated to warp speed with another fox hot on its heals! it was coming my way and there was little doubt that I was going to have another opportunity if I was 'switched on'. The Hare kept coming and turned the corner of the crop just in front of me and stopped. The fox stopped well short of me as he lost sight of his dinner, I 'squeaked' to imitate a rabbit distress call which often gets their heads up or can bring them charging towards their next meal. I had my opportunity with a stationary fox and head held high and there was another 'chicken payback moment' which I cashed in. I never did see the Hare leave the scene but leave it did and at some speed I suspect.

My morning was complete, more chores to do but I had seen and heard a great and memorable variety of wildlife which I enjoyed tremendously. Go on, treat yourself to an early morning wild life watch, you won't regret it.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Foragers Diary; easy mistake to make 4

This time we are going to address two species which are both edible but which have subtle differences.  One is a common native species while the other is an introduced species with a fairly limited distribution. 

The species in question are wood sorrels 

This is procumbent yellow-sorrel or creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) ; an introduction to the UK and fairly uncommon. 
It's leaves are normally green but they can occasionally be found in this red/brown variety. 

Our native wood (Oxalis acetosella) sorrel with white flowers and bright green foliage. 

In terms of their culinary applications both plants are very similar, both have a lemony flavour, also comparable to apple peel and are very pleasant. 

We call them sorrel but that is miss-leading because they aren't actually related to true sorrel species, True Sorrel's are of the Rumex genus whereas these wood sorrels are Oxalis. Oxalis is actually another commonly used name for these plants in some parts of the world, they are also know as sourgrass and false shamrock. There is also a variety of oxalis, Oxalis tuberosawhich yields an edible tuber;

"Roseoca" by Adam Peterson - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

These tubers are also known as uqa, oca, and New Zealand Yam.  

Monday, 13 July 2015

Bushcraft and the Law: Protected Species

For anyone involved in activities in the countryside it is a good idea to have a basic idea of species protection legislation. As ‘bushcrafters’ (is that a word?) we rely upon the natural world to provide us with resources, whether it be food or materials, for most of the activities we undertake. One of the purposes of legal protection is to ensure species or habitats are not over-harvested or exploited, which in extreme cases can lead to extinction. Cultures which many now consider to be primitive had and still do have an intimate understanding of sustainable harvest which would ensure a continuing supply of resources - this was one reason hunter gatherer communities were so transient, to ensure they did not exhaust supplies in a single area.

Another reason of course is to prevent those who actively seek to destroy or harm species, normally animals. In this I am not talking about a responsible harvest of animals to provide food. Protective legislation attempts to regulate hunting usually through ‘close seasons’ - periods during which species cannot be lawfully hunted - normally coinciding with the breeding season. But there are circumstances where additional protective measures are applied to prevent persecution or inhumane treatment, the best example in the UK probably being the Badger Act (1992) specifically brought out to combat problems with Badger baiting and other persecution.

The subject of The Badger Act seem completely at home in this video but the Act was brought in to protect them from unwarranted persecution and cruelty

Protection can be applied with a very broad brush or very specifically depending on circumstances, ranging from ‘all birds’ to single species of invertebrate. It is common practice all across the world to legislate for the protection of rare or threatened species or habitats.

I only intend here to consider the bits of legislation most relevant to bushcrafters, as there are literally reams of regulations which are highly unlikely to affect most people who enjoy these sort of activities.

One general note I will add before I delve into some specifics - there is a difference between illegal and inappropriate or inadvisable. Many things which are inadvisable or inappropriate are not illegal - that does not mean we can or should do those things as responsible users of the natural world. There may also be a few activities which seem perfectly harmless and maybe even natural which we are prohibited from doing because it is illegal - regardless of how daft the rules may seem, they are the rules.

We often hear, or at least I do, that ‘it’s illegal to pick wild flowers!’
In reality it is a lot more complicated than that, but actually it isn’t… illegal that is... not always.

It is illegal to ‘uproot’ wild, unprotected plants (i.e. not specifically protected, and therefore most plants) without the landowner's permission. Picking however is OK, as is picking of fruits, leaves etc for food. When you start into the territory of material harvesting technically the same rules apply but ‘wood’ is the property of the land owner. The best case scenario, whether picking for food or material, is always to have landowner permission no matter how little you are harvesting just to ensure continuing good relationships - picking a handful of blackberries or a few wild apples won’t end up in a custodial sentence though!

A few wild mushrooms for your own consumption in fine but if you start harvesting and selling them without permission then you have broken the law. 

However, if a plant is protected i.e. specifically named on the appropriate Schedule of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) (C&WA) - Schedule 8 in this case, it is illegal to ‘intentionally pick, uproot or destroy’ a specimen of that species, regardless of where it is or what land owner you have permission from.

Floating Water-Plantain a protected species under European Law; Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I have no intention of reproducing an entire list of the plants of the UK and their protection status here - there are plenty of books and websites which cover such information but to mention just one specifically, the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Council) is a government body and therefore their lists of protected species should be up-to-date and (in theory at least) definitive.  

Protection of animals is a little more complicated and rightly so. Again I have no intention of going into great detail on individual species protection conditions, it would take too long and it would bore both you reading it but more importantly me writing it! I will consider birds and mammals separately here because the rules are significantly different.

Essentially all wild birds in the UK are ‘protected’ from ‘killing, injuring, taking or selling’ which includes the birds themselves and their nests and eggs. Exceptions to this general rule allow for the taking and killing of certain species (as listed in the respective schedules of the C&WA: schedules 1 - 7).

Depending on the species these exceptions will dictate dates between which they can be killed (season), some can be killed all year round, and the methods of killing which are legal. Also for some species specific reasons for the killing of the birds which make it appropriate i.e. damage to crops etc. Landowners permission will always be required.

See this page on the JNCC website for more information.

Mammals do not have the same general protection which birds do, but many species are subject to some protective legislation. The Deer Act (1963; amended 1991) for example dictates appropriate seasons during which the various deer species can be killed, as well as the legal methods. Even species with no specific protection, Rabbits for example, are subject to general rules regarding humane killing of wild animals.

For those animals which are specifically protected  the same protection as birds applies (i.e. no ‘killing, injuring, taking or selling’) with the added provision that ‘damage, destruction or obstruction of access to any place which an animal uses for shelter, protection or breeding’ is illegal. Schedules 5 - 7 and 9 - 12 of the W&CA (1981) are relevant for the legislation regarding mammals.

Again, see this relevant page on the JNCC website for more information.

In cases were exceptions to the rules need to be made, work can only take place under licence from the relevant statutory conservation body (Natural England in England; Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland; Countryside Council for Wales in Wales). Typically these licences are granted for purposes of science, conservation, education or photography (i.e. wildlife filmmaking) only. With plants certain disturbances or damages are allowed under the provision that it is unavoidable in the undertaking of necessary and otherwise lawful activity. With animals that defence won’t necessarily stand.

See previous posts in the ‘Bushcraft and the Law’ series for more info on subjects such as access to land, and legal methods of trapping or shooting which tie into this subject.

As a final note, in this ‘rules gone mad’ world we live in these days different people have many different opinions regarding how controlled our lives are. Despite what personal opinion you or others you know may have about the appropriateness of the legislative protection detailed here, they are there for a reason and therefore we must comply with them - people ignoring these rules will only make the situation worse by forcing the hand of enforcement bodies to tighten rules and increase punishments in an attempt to reduce wildlife crime. These protective measures are laws and breaches of them are therefore criminal - bear that in mind.

If you would like additional information please see the links to the JNCC website above, along with other information which can be found elsewhere on the website.

I hope this blog has been informative.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Foragers diary: easy mistake to make 3

Today's foragers diary post is all about 'umbelifers', the word umbelifer or umbelliferae is a little misleading as it sounds like it should be part of these plants scientific names but actually they are normally grouped under the genus Apiaciea; that is the celery and carrot family. 

What the word umbelifer refers to is the umbrela shaped sprays of flowers which are indicative of this genus; I will also show a few species which might look like part of this group but actually aren't.

There is a good reason to be familiar with the umbelifers; some are delicious while others are deadly

Lets start with the look alikes;

Elder (Sambucus nigra) not one of the umbelifers but is does have that distinctive umbrella shaped spray of white flowers. 

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) another one with those distinctive umbrells but not of the same family. 

Now on to the real deal;
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) also called gout weed, it's called ground elder purely because it's leaves are somewhat similar to the leaves of true elder (below). But have a look at it's distinctive triangular stem (above) and there will be no doubt. Use the leaves before it flowers as a spinach type vegetable 


One of the Umbelifers to beware of  the ubiquitous hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a deadly poisonous plant very similar to cow parsley in it's general appearance the hairless stem with purple markings give it away though. See the picture below for hemlock foliage. 


The reason for the 'umbellifer' name; these are the flowers of common hogweed. See the post from a few weeks ago on the differences between common and giant hogweed.

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) another edible umbellifer, it's leaves are present all year and I have used them in some really delicious recipes, it has featured in a post in the foragers diary previously

This of course is not an exhaustive list of this group of plants but should give you a fairly good introduction, Be careful with them but I would highly recommend becoming familiar with them as there are some really delicious options for a lot of them and from a survival perspective they are also very common, and commonly available plants are the ones you need in a situation where you are desperate for food, it's all well and good knowing that ladies smock is edible but when it is tiny, and fairely scarce is it really going to help? On the other hand hogweed grows everywhere. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Applied Bushcraft; Experimental Archaeology

This months instalment of the applied bushcraft series comes from guest blogger Dr Peter Groom an experienced experimental archaeologist and the course manager of Reaseheath Colleges ground breaking Archaeology and Bushcraft Course.

Coastal shell middens (rubbish tips), are a significant feature of the Mesolithic (11,500–6000 cal BP) archaeological record of western Scotland, the amount of shellfish and fish remains found in them suggests a maritime lifestyle based on fishing and shellfish. Yet despite evidence for the importance of fish and shellfish to diet, virtually nothing is known as to how they were caught or collected.
My research attempted to change this by using a combination of bushcraft/primitive skills and experimental archaeology.

Experimental archaeology has been used by researchers in Scottish Mesolithic contexts before, but has mainly concentrated on process and function trials. Examples include; using bevel-ended tools in an attempt to provide possibilities of use, harpoon construction, reconstruction and use of antler mattocks, experimental knapping, food processing and preservation, hazelnut roasting, and cooking trials with meat and shellfish.

Initially, my work focussed on the prehistoric environments of Scottish West Coast Mesolithic coastal sites, to establish what natural resources were available to Mesolithic coastal dwellers. I then looked at a range of archaeological/traditional fishing gear and food collection strategies to see what might have been used in the Mesolithic. These perspectives, together with the prehistoric environmental data, guided my construction and use of the fishing gear, which used only the resources and technologies available to the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of West Coast Scotland.

Gorge hooks made of Roe Deer metapodial with line made from willow bark.
My fieldwork and experiments were conducted at the Mesolithic coastal sites of; Ulva, Oban, Oronsay and Sand, together with South Uist and the Urr estuary on the Solway Firth.
The fishing gear that I built and used, using primitive technology and ‘bushcraft’ skills, reflected the current debates as to Mesolithic fishing strategies, as such, several archaeological theories were tested. The fishing gear also attempted to target the main fish and crab species found in the middens; coalfish, pollack, wrasse, green shore crab, harbour crab and edible crab.    

I spent much of the time scrubbing around on remote Scottish islands, testing whatever I could find to see if I could make fishing lines, hooks or basket traps. This involved travelling to some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and sitting on the coast fishing with my hand made gear.

This fish trap was made with the natural re-growth of alder and willow and was, as were the gorge hooks above, made with nothing but stone and bone tools.
I made and tested a wide range of fishing gear and travelled thousands of miles over 4 years and started to feel like a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer; lugging fishing gear around the west coast of Scotland to remote sites, planning to maximise the use of tides, the health and safety when working alone in remote locations, the lousy weather that plagued my 2011 fieldwork. These experiences provided me with an insight into the world of the Mesolithic coastal hunter-gatherer, revealing the extent of logistical organisation and knowledge that hunter-gatherers must have had in order to fully utilise their environment. The planning needed to maximise returns, whether foraging, hunting or collecting resources. The knowledge required of the environment; the places to find the best materials for a particular task, knowledge of seasons and the seasonal movement of species, when and where to be at a particular place at a particular time. My experiments demonstrated how site-specific fishing technologies could have been created using naturally occurring local materials to catch fish, and how knowledge of tides was essential in the day to day gathering of food.

Another key part of my experiments was the involvement of students. I taught them the primitive skills and ancient technologies required to make their own basic fishing gear, then took them fishing.
All this experimental work can only benefit archaeologists if it is evaluated. Aspects of collection, manufacture, fishing, evidence of learning and understanding, together with social interactions, are all important in unravelling how hunter-gatherers might have lived. This is where experimental archaeology can fill in some of the gaps, the human facets that are missing from the archaeological record.

      Throughout the experiments and particularly when the students were involved, a clear distinction developed between the experiences gained through individual activities and group activities. The students collaborated in small groups throughout the manufacture of the portable traps, and, though working individually when making lines and hooks, sat together and were able to share their feelings and experiences. This meant that throughout both the manufacture of a range of gear and the fishing experiments themselves, the students gained a social interaction. This social interaction continued in the fishing; the portable trap experiments enabled groups to compete to see which trap performed best, and the handline experiments meant that individuals could compete directly with each other.

After 4 years of field work and thousands of miles travelled, I am convinced that for coastal Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who had a range of bushcraft/primitive skills, a combined knowledge of the actions of tides together with the behaviour of the target species and the effects of the seasons, would enable them to create and use a range of simple fishing gear from whatever they found, wherever they went. It is of course very difficult to understand the mind-set of someone who lived 8000 years ago, but by using those ancient hunter-gatherer skills together with experimental archaeology, we can move some way toward them.


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Adapt and Improvise; Drinks Can Stove

This is by no means a new idea, but it is a good one. A really simple meths burner, similar to the style you would get in a trangia stove, can be made from two drinks cans. 

You will need two drinks cans, it doesn't matter what type as long as they are the same diameter.  

Cut both cans, if they average size cans then cut them in half, if they are taller like the can on the left in the first picture cut the bottom third off. You can easily do this with a Stanley knife rather than wrecking your decent bushcrafting knife.

You will now need to fit the two pieces together and poke some wholes in the rim of the uppermost can. 

Now use some aluminium tape to seal up the joins to stop the meths escaping. 

Finally remove the centre of the uppermost can, you could do this sooner but I found it makes the can fairly 'wobbly' and herder to work with. Now fill it with methylated spirits and light it. It's now ready to use 

Applied Bushcraft; The Mountain Men

I have just finished reading a very good book titled; Give Your Heart to the Hawks by Win Blevins. It was all about the Mountain Men of the American frontier and gave me a great deal to think about regarding the skills that these men used.

If you are interested in other books about bushcraft skills, the people who use bushcraft skills, traditional crafts and skills etc.. I have just added a new page to this website called 'bushcraft books' which may be of interest to you.

Their Bushcraft skills were second to none, although we might look at them now in hindsight and say that they exploited the wildlife of the then pristine Rocky Mountain area and were partly responsible for the demise of iconic species such as beaver and buffalo,their methods were certainly not sustainable and lacked the environmental friendliness that we need to try and live by in the woods and wildernesses now. 

A statue of Jim Bridger one of the most famous of the Mountain Men, 
Picture available via Wikimedia Commons

That aside though the mountain men are an important example of people who applied the skills we now call bushcraft to their every day lives. They lived for many months at a time away from any semblance of civilisation with little if nothing more than their 'possibles', rifle, traps and knife. They lived off what they shot, trapped or dug from the ground. They often faced hostilities from competing fur traders and Native American tribes. Although as often, if not more so, they relied on the tribes of the area for trade, assistance and ultimate the mountain men learned and used many of the skills of the native peoples out of pure necessity. In fact not many years after the hay day of thhe mountain man it was many of the mountain men who fought for the rights of the Native American tribes against the onslaught of the expansion of the United States and colonisation of the Western parts of North America. 

Not only did the Mountain Men trap, hunt and fight their way through the Rocky Mountains and surrounding area in search of their beaver 'plews' (skins) but they also made maps and established navigable routes across the North American continental decide. 

A map made by Jedediah Smith, one of the foremost mountain men of his day, 
Picture available via Wikimedia commons

The mountain men were true frontiersmen and pioneers of their day, they didn't just play at bushcraft they lived it, their bushcraft skills were vital not only for their jobs as guides, trappers, hunters, traders and pathfinders but to keep them alive in the harsh environment that they chose to work in. 

A depiction of a pair of mountain men working on their trap line
Picture available via Wikimedia commons

Beaver were what first brought the mountain men to the Rocky Mountains, in the first decades of the 19th Century beaver skins or 'plews' as they were known fetched a great price and were in great demand as the chosen material for hat making. The mountain men and the fur companies who employed many of them headed to beaver rich streams and rivers to make their fortunes and many of them never returned, either dead, or so in love with life in the mountains that they felt no need to return to the growing towns and cities which they had left behind. 

Now I truly can understand how someone who had become so used to living in the wild would find it hard to return to towns and cities; retreating to the woods and hills to work with nothing but the sounds of nature around me, especially as I often have the chance to take my children with me, feels far more like home than any where else and having to return to 'civilisation' with offices, emails, traffic, bosses and mobile phone signal is not enjoyable at all. I don't even miss flushing toilets.... much

If you want to know more about the mountain men I would highly recommend Give your heart to the hawks and also some of Lisa Fentons articles in recent issues of the Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine. 


Friday, 3 July 2015

Guest Blogger David Carr on the Riddy Wood Project

David Carr (left) recently graduated game management student from Reaseheath College shares his experience of visiting The Riddy Wood Project. Dave and his colleagues spent three days at Riddy Wood helping to set up the main camp site and outdoor classroom.

Our first trip to Riddy Wood Cambridgeshire was an interesting one, from being stung by nettles, eaten by flying multitudes and being kept awake by a very confused Muntjac.

Our first job was to all fit in the Land Rover, what would seemingly be an easy task turned into quite an adventure - at least for those poor souls in the back at the very least. The journey was long but everyone was in good spirits.

First however, we were to clear some of the brash and nettles away from the woodland floor to make way for 'base camp' so, with limited tools (some felled hazel) we whipped and slashed the nettled area, forcing as much of it down as we could. After an hour or so, the base camp area looked good enough to begin work on the more permanent structures that would eventually form a part of the 'Riddy Wood accommodation and Classrooms.'

The next day was spent clearing more brash, creating dead hedges and burning what seemed half the forest at the time! Half of the group was encouraged to take down an old pheasant pen that was used in the wood and had been left abandoned, it looked big and in it's defence was very substantial as it took quite a few days to bring it down. I had settled down into a routine of processing felled trees/brash ready for either fire or for dead hedging whilst others worked on either larger tree felling, the pheasant pen or creating the remaining shelters/classroom.

Richard had now left us and we used some down time to relax a little whilst we worked. It seemed that although the 'cool camp' was at the bottom of the wood, it was also where the insects liked to hang about too, so the majority of the boys down there had virtually been eaten alive! 

'The Bottom Camp' was the camp set up in February to house us while we were coppicing the first coup and seemed to be popular with the students from Reaseheath. 

Where as up in 'base camp' we got off quite lightly. Over the course of this day we disturbed many different species of invertebrates which we were new to us and were documented for future identification;

Rhino Beetle

Lesser Stag Beetle 

It was apparent that Geoff had woken up at the sparrows' the next morning as we were treated to the unmistakable sound of his .243 going off in the distance. I must confess my disappointment when he arrived at camp armed only with what can only be described as a Sleepy Hollow rabbit instead of the Roe buck he'd been after. But this is something we could try for later during a deer drive in the neighboring wood.
The rabbit was skinned and as the group continued to 'work' (or not as the case may be) the roast chicken dinner we had promised ourselves was soon underway with rabbit being now on the menu as well. 

Chicken roasting in the Dutch oven with a rabbit side dish.  

After the good dinner, we decided to relax for a while and then we went on the deer drive in the next wood. One thing has become abundantly clear from my experience in the woods with my colleagues. Silence is GOLDEN, in fact, it's an outright rarity with us lot, so the chances of even seeing a deer were minimal, least of all driving one into the firing line!
Once we'd tried and subsequently failed, some of the guys went to invest in the local brewing economy whilst the rest of us flaked out at camp. 

The next morning saw a visit from the local radio station for an interview with Geoff, those of us who were around the camp at the time busied ourselves for no other reason so as not to look silly.  the interview went well (in my view) and it wasn't long until the rest of the group were up and about doing bits and bobs around the camp. 

Thanks to the students from Reaseheath College for helping out this week with work at Riddy Wood, have a look at what...

That day we would be going to Woburn Abbey to see the various deer species. (if nothing else, we were determined to see at least one deer, albeit a rare imported one.)

Pere-David Deer at Woburn Abbey

Manchurian Sika Deer at Woburn Abbey

After a take out at a well known fast food outlet, we headed back to camp ready for our big journey back in the morning. 


Thanks to Dave for sharing his experience at Riddy Wood; Dave and the students from Reaseheath were all studying on the following programmes;

Also starting at the college this September is the Environmental Archaeology and Bushcraft course; there are still places left so sign up now

Thankyou to all the students who have volunteered and helped out at Riddy Wood over the last few weeks, your help has been much appreciated and you're welcome back any time. 


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