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Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Repeated from my other blog: Nature is never far away..., hope you enjoy!

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You know that excited knot you get in your stomach before something really exciting? I felt that this week. 

What was I doing? I was minutes away from ticking off something that's been on my bucket list for years. I thought I'd have to make a special trip - maybe to Scotland - to tick this one off so had ruled it out for some time much later. But...

On Sunday I got a tip off from a friend that at a weir on the Derbyshire / Staffordshire border Salmon were leaping. Bearing in mind that its hard to get much further from the coast in the UK I hadn't even thought to check that this spectacle would be available to witness just 30 minutes drive from my house. Needless to say I didn't need to be told twice and immediately made plans to get over there as soon as possible. Two days later that I was walking the short river side footpath up to the weir; that was when 'the knot' arrived. 

This was the view that greeted me as I made my way down the bank of the River Dove. Although I knew the Salmon (and Sea Trout too) had been seen a few days before we had also had a few days of torrential rainfall. I was expecting the water level to have risen, and I wasn't sure how this would have affected the behaviour of the fish. I needn't have worried as it turned out, they were still very busy. 

Just seconds after I approached the weir itself a massive Salmon leaped clear - box ticked, but I wasn't going anywhere! A few of the people there (word had got out, in fact I was relatively late to the party!) mentioned that when they had been a few days before, with lower water levels, the fish had been leaping more.

While the fish were leaping there wasn't a lot of succeeding going on - none in fact. No-one I spoke to had seen one make it, and if you take a look at the picture above you can just about see a steep step right at the top of the weir. I'm not a fish expert by any means, but I would be amazed if any fish could make it up and over that last seemingly insurmountable obstacle, especially with the water running as fast and as high as it was while I was there. 

I allowed myself the luxury of just watching for a while, I've missed too many natural spectacles by trying to get them on camera. Also when I first arrived there was a bit of queue for the good spots so I initially had to watch through a small screen of trees, leafless of course at this time of year so I could still see well enough but it would have been pointless with a camera. I never kept track, despite having intentions to do so, but I would say there was a leap or at least some visible activity every 2 minutes or less, with occasional flurries of activity which drew excited calls and cheers from the observers. 

Trying to describe the leaping itself is a bit of a non-event, it really is something you have to see to capture the magic. If I told you I stood for two hours by a river bank on a grey November day and watched fish of varying sizes jumping about and failing to get to their destination, you might think I had a very dull life for that to be a better option... but it was thrilling. Better than the cinema any day, and the tickets are cheaper! 

The suspense is tangible, you never know exactly what's going to break the surface next, or where, or when! You can't be sure whether it will be a tiddler 40 yards away in the shadow on the other side of the river or something like this...




Now I wasn't there to take photo's - I was there to watch, but I wanted to make some record of breaking my Salmon duck, if you get what I mean. When I initially set the camera up I just left it on a tripod videoing so I could watch without being distracted. Later I attached a remote release and set it to continuous shooting so I could trigger the camera without having to have my hand on the shutter button. It was just a few minutes after I changed to this mode that this monster leaped just in front of me. I'm guestimating but this fish has got to be more than 2 feet clear of the water at the highest point of its arc. 

Still images just doesn't convey the power of these fish or what they are achieving here. Even the video's don't quite do it justice. I've managed to condense over an hour of footage down into just a few minutes. 

While the fish stole the show, the river wasn't entirely devoid of other natural interest, although not exactly teeming either. Not long after I arrived a pair of mute swans winged their majestic way over the weir and down stream, their loud wing beats clearly audible even over the rushing water. Later a Kingfisher whirred down stream looking for all the world like someone had put it on fast forward, they are so fast aren't they! Its brilliant blue wasn't looking at its best but I suspect this was mostly to do with the light on the day, which was, to be kind, soft - it was pretty grey and miserable to be honest, but as no rain fell I refuse to complain.  

Eventually I had to call it a day and get home and get on with some work. I'll try and get back before the run finishes - just because it's ticked off my bucket list doesn't mean I won't make the most of this awesome (in the true sense of the word) natural spectacle so close to home again.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Riddy Wood Project has its own blog now!

While we've been keeping you up to date with everything going on at The Riddy Wood Project through our blog the time has come to go solo: The Riddy Wood Project has got its own!

It's hosted on along with the other project specific details. If you've not been over there yet please do go and have a look, and follow on twitter while your at it @Riddywood.

For the first few weeks we'll duplicate everything about Riddy Wood on both blogs (except this first 'Welcome to the blog' post you can see above) but after that we'll just post links on our social media platforms to overlapping information. Obviously everyone reading this will follow both anyway!

Hope you enjoy the new blog!


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Bushcraft Babies; Axes, chainsaws and bugs.

We will be running a regular bushcraft babies feature on the Bushcraft Education Blog from now on, you may have seen an earlier Bushcraft babies posts on foraging for berries or seen my articles in Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine on the topic of practicing bushcraft with children.

Recently my children visited me in Riddy Wood while I was doing some work and had a bit of fun and helped me out. 

Michael's first experience with an axe was chopping up this rotten wood to make a dead wood pile for insects.

Lillie wasn't afraid of picking up the lesser stag beetle larvae she found. 

We found an immature smooth newt. 

Which Michael adopted as his pet dragon

They both decided they were lumberjacks

and helped carry some planks we made to be stacked for seasoning in the bivi. 

We look forward to sharing some more 'Bushcraft Babies' experiences with you in the future.


Friday, 6 November 2015

From the High Seat, ready, steady......wait and see!

Everything that can be done, has been done. Additional new high seats have been installed and secured, the trees and paths are trimmed to permit quiet (if not silent) travel through the woods and clear visibility from the vantage points. Cameras have been checked and our numerous visits and surveys have been reviewed. We know roughly where we will sit (wind direction may dictate otherwise) and what we expect to see.

We have harvested various hedgerow fruits to make into fruit sources for our fresh venison and of course the rifles have been zeroed to check everything is perfect for the big day. Of course, the deer may not see it that way but those of us privileged to be involved in the meat harvest have to be as ready as we can to ensure the best and most humane result possible.

We have had a fairly heavy fruit harvest this year; sloes, cherry plums, apples and haws have all featured in meals recently and will complement the venison we hope to harvest very nicely.  

We will be up at 04-00 and in our seats before 06-00 so that we are there to watch the world wake up, to see the sunrise cast it's early rays over the countryside and paint the new day with new colours, the greens now less common and more yellow, orange and red hues to be seen, many of those colours laying on the ground now in carpets and drifts, creating their own 'noise hazards' and keeping everyone focused, not least the deer!

The Autumn colours of Gamsey Wood
What will we see? Who knows! Deer hopefully but what else? As always, I will enjoy the outing irrespective of the outcome. If I have to walk out loaded then that will be great but if I have to walk out empty handed, that must be fine too, which birds will I share my tree with this week? What badgers will still be out and about? what foxes? I'm petty sure that I will hear and see water fowl but what exactly, I have no idea, sometimes you see them, sometimes not, I have stood in the fog and heard them pass just a few tens of feet away and never seen them, it will be an adventure, new every single trip, watch this space for our update after the 7th. See you there!


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Foragers Diary; Wild Service Tree

Today I'd like to introduce you to the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis), this species is fairly uncommon in the UK now and so they are normally only found in the remaining pockets of ancient woodland.

At Riddy Wood, which is an ancient woodland, we are lucky that we have quite a few, I always knew that there were a few but recently as we have worked on the management plans for the wood and started this winters coppicing we have spotted a lot more of them. They show up all the more in their beautiful autumn colours;

The bronze coloured leaves of the wild service contrast strongly with the yellow and green of the elm at Riddy Wood.  

Up closer the wild service looks almost red or pink.

The fruit of the wild service tree are also known as chequers and have been used in the past to flavour drinks, however the trees in Riddy Wood have been overshadowed by the oak and ash canopy and seem to produce very little fruit. The wood is used in some countries as a timber crop but here in the UK where there is so little of it now it's wood has no commercial value. 

Wild Service Fruit 'Chequers' are never large but our trees at Riddy Wood don't have many on at all. 

The unique leaf shape of the Wild Service Tree. 

You can see the much larger ash trees shading out the humble wild service trees underneath. 
 I look forward to being able to share some experiments with wild service fruit with you next year if the crop improves once our management of the woods open up the canopy and provide more light for the understory.


Monday, 2 November 2015

Bushcraft Tools: Restoring an old saw (Pt. 1)

OK, so a large, old two handed cross cut saw is hardly a common tool in recreational bushcraft. But it is exactly the sort of tool which would have been used in woodland management, such as we are conducting as part of the Riddy Wood Project. 

In the post I wrote a few months back about old and new tools I mentioned that I like old tools, somehow they have a story, and it is one of very few links we have left in a modern age with traditional skills. I also enjoy the process of taking something which often looks fit for a scrap heap, and through several very simple processes tidying them up and making them functional again, and sometimes even beautiful. 

In my workshop at present I have two old axe heads to re-handle, both carpenter style axe heads picked up for £1 and £4 respectively. I also have an old bill hook which I picked up for £2 - the former owner had welded it to a piece of scaffolding tubing which was acting as a handle - Philistine! All the above, and the saw which is the real hero of this piece (also £2), were picked up from car boot sales, they really can be a treasure trove for old tools and can often be picked up for a song. I would also be the first to admit they can be awfully boring places but occasionally you find something worth going for. 


Actually my wife bought the saw (one boot sale I didn't have to suffer myself!). And very excited I was too when she brought it home. 

I haven't been able to identify any sort of marks or dates or any other stamps on it anywhere so its age, origin and history are beyond me I'm afraid. It is obviously reasonably old, I'd be surprised if it was less than 50 or 60 years old but I basically have no idea. 

The blade was rusty but sound, the handles left something to be desired, now loose in the rings, the wood pretty dry and brittle and a smattering of wood worm holes. They would need to be replaced. Other than that the only work which needed doing was cleaning up the blade, sorting out the rust. 

The handles were held in by split pins, on one side this pin just pulled straight out after a bit of persuasion, the other side pin was too corroded and sheared, so I drilled it out. 

When the handles came out it was pretty clear that they were way past their best. Replacing them should be fairly simple, just turning out a pair of new handles on the lathe (see Pt. 2). 

Cleaning up the blade was simply a combination of wire brush, sand paper (and power sander, I cheated because of the big surface area), WD40 and repeat. By the end of this process the metal was back to smooth, although still coloured. The teeth still remain pretty sharp, and with enough good metal to take an improved edge but I won't expend too much effort in trying to sharpen it at this stage. After I've sorted the handles and used it a few times to knock any weak tips off, I'll re-assess the sharpening and may take some time then to improve the edge where needed.

I know it doesn't do it justice but the below photo is where we've got to so far. In the next instalment , hopeful in the next fortnight or so, I'll make and fit the new handles, and use it, then do some sharpening if need be.   


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