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Friday, 30 March 2018

Bushcraft and Survival in the News; March 2018

We're launching a new quarterly news post to share and comment on bushcraft and survival related stories that have been in the national and international news.

These posts will appear on the last Friday of each quarter, if we spot enough news we might release them more regularly but for now we will aim for a quarterly release.

The first quarter of 2018 has seen a lot of bad weather in the UK and with it came panic shopping and shortages of milk, bread, fresh fruit and veg and other products in the shops as transport ground to a halt and roads became impassable.

Snow drifts in rural Gloucestershire 
Having lived in Sweden for several years and seen weather like this for months at a time it's easy to criticise people as 'wimps' for not being able to deal with this sort of weather but if you don't have to deal with weather like this regularly it is intimidating and can be dangerous. Bearing the difficulties presented by the weather in mind and the fact that people have suffered frozen water pipes, no heating and in some cases days trapped in snow bound vehicles there have been a few news stories relating to preparedness or 'prepping'.

How to build a fallout shelter - Attractive interior of basement family fallout shelter includes a 14-day shelter... - NARA - 542105
A basement fallout bunker built during 'prepping' hype caused by the threat of nuclear attack during the cold war era; National Archives Archeological Site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The guardian did an article back in January where one of their writers interviewed a few people about their 'prepping', you can find the article HERE


In the article a few people were interviewed about their motivations for 'prepping', some were more credible than others. Dr Sarita Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire in particular has a great reputation, regularly speaks at bushcraft and survival skills events and has a record of publications relating to survival psychology. In the article she advocates 'common sense' prepping, and being prepared for common emergencies for example by having a blanket and some food and spare fuel in your car in case of emergencies on the road. 

I posted recently about common sense preparations for Winter emergencies which you can see HERE, and some suggestions for Winter survival kit that won't break the bank and which might be useful to have stashed in the back of your car in case of and emergency. 


Some others were interviewed as well, including families preparing stockpiles of food in case of shortages caused by the weather or as happened in the UK in 2000 fuel strikes which caused shortages in shops as deliveries weren't being made. These preparations are entirely sensible in my opinion, especially for families with young children and babies where a lack of food would be keenly felt and a lack of other essentials such as baby milk powder could get dangerous quite quickly. One of the interviewees, a Beckie Clarke mentioned storing wheat amongst their food storage and it's worth mentioning, as there are a lot of people who think storing wheat is the be all and end all of food storage, that it is not as useful as you might think. If you are not used to using raw cereals you are not automatically going to find it useful and delicious if emergency strikes. Lentils and other pulses and dried foods often get the same hype from preppers. My family and I don't store a lot of wheat, I think I have about 25kg's but we do have sacks of flour, oats, pearl barley and other cereals which we use on a regular basis, as we use something up we replace it and so have a rolling system of food storage, this means our stored food never goes out of date and what we eat on a day to day basis won't have to change considerably, except perhaps a gradual switch from fresh meat and veg to dried or tinned if an emergency lasted that long. Remember cereals are prone to pests like biscuit beetle and are also an attractive food source for rodents so storing it properly is very important if you are not to be disappointed when you finally do want that sack of wheat that's been in your cupboard or outhouse for eleven years. 

Steve Hart of the UK Preppers Guide was also interviewed in the article, Steve write occasionally for the Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine as do I and made an excellent point in the article that preparedness and having a stock of food and supplies at home is as likely to be useful in case of unemployment as it is something more major such as natural disaster or some sort of apocalyptic event. This is a really good point especially in the UK were we don't have regularly severe weather events that prepping isn't just something for nutters waiting for the Zombie apocalypse a basic supply of food and essentials can be useful for everybody. 

On this same theme the Sun published an article on the 14th of March, you can find it HERE. This however was not quite the same sort of read at the other article and was a bit disappointing. It featured comments from Lincoln Miles who runs Prepper Shop UK  and who's comments and suggestions on budget gear for preparedness or bugging out are the basis of the article. 

It starts by reporting that Costco have started selling a years supply of tinned food although this does not seem to be available in UK stores, with food being a fairly sensible thing to stock pile for the kind of emergencies we have recently suffered in the UK due to the weather the article then cites James Keane from Woodland Ways (it should be noted that he is their marketing director rather than a survival or bushcraft skills expert) who says that survival is more about learning what is available from the natural environment rather than relying on kit and things you can carry and he then goes on to criticise; 

“The US prepping community is very much ‘arm yourself to the teeth, stockpile gasoline and soup in your garage’ type thing. It's an industry obsessed by kit, ” 

While a focus on kit over skills is indeed an oversight, part of being prepared is having the right kit or the right stored food, bushcraft has become it's own distinct discipline and skill set and you do not need bushcraft skills to get through short term food shortage caused by bad weather and delayed deliveries to your local shops, and having them will generally not make the difference. For example all the bad weather and snow we have suffered here in the UK recently have occurred when there is very little wild food available, does James propose that bushcraft skills in those instances will provide you with the staple food's that the shops might be short of in sufficient quantities to feed your family? I'm a very experienced bushcrafter and put an awful lot of wild food on the table for my family but that doesn't mean I don't have some stored food ready for emergencies or a few basic bit's of kit in the back of my car for emergencies. Also bear in mind that when a 'bushcrafter'  says that you should rely on natural resources they are generally wearing hundreds of pounds worth of swandri and fjällräven clothing, carrying an expensive canvas rucksack so they look like a mountain man and have at least £200 worth of axes and knives on them, so bushcrafters are just as obsessed with kit as preppers. 

Once the writer made his slightly off topic point with the quote from Woodland Ways he goes on to to introduce Lincoln who gives advice on what to include in your budget 'preps'. While  Prepper Shop UK  does sell some items that I can recommend, such as the hultafors range of axes and some of their army surplus kit it seems to primarily stock the kind of kit that might be more useful as props on a Klingon ship in an episode of star trek, things like the anglo arms long reach machete, which is neither use nor ornament to anybody.

Image result for anglo arms long reach machete
One to avoid, the Anglo Arms Long Reach Machete. 
The article promotes one of Lincolns products; the ultimate bug out bag which contains the following; 

- Anglo Arms Rambo survival knife
- Anglo Arms machete
- Austrian ex military water flask
- BCB trekker lifesaver first aid pack
- BCB compact fishing kit
- NEW Canadian c3 gas mask & filter
- Feit electronic 500LED Torch
- 3 x French Military mess tins
- 8 x hexamine solid fuel tablets
- Hexamine solid fuel cooker
- Heavy duty camo tarp
- Highlander olive survival bag
- Highlander Trekker hammock
- Folding saw
- 4 boxes of waterproof matches
- Kombat UK 40l Molle Bag
- Kombat UK fire starting kit
- Compass
- Tactical tomahawk
- 50 x water purification tablets
- Pro Force survival wire saw
- Sawyer mini water filter
- 2 x sharpening stones
- Survival Mirror
- Turboflame Lighter
- UST survival poncho
- Waterproof rucksack liner
- Wind up solar powered torch
- Fixed blade deluxe hunting knife, Wood handle (With sheath)
- 100ft 550 7 strand paracord
- Beyond the beaten track 24hr ration box

This kit is advertised as a budget alternative to costcos 1 year food storage kit with the qualifier that "the contents won't keep you alive as long". Not only is this obvious as the 'ultimate bug out kit' only contains one 24 hour ration pack as far as I can tell. Remember that food storage and a bug out bag are not the same thing. Food storage is just that a store of food while a bug out bag allows you to leave a potentially dangerous location and take with you enough kit for short term survival or relocation to a safe place or pre-prepared bug out location. I wrote an article for the Survival Sullivan website on packing for survival scenarios recently which you can find HERE.  
The fact that the Prepper Shop kit includes many knives also confuses me and the suggestion in the article that "serrated knives are useful for sawing branches and felling small trees" shows a complete lack of experience on the part of the author or the owner of Prepper Shop. 

While it is good that this article draws attention to the potential need to make preparations for emergencies it seems to be more of a badly written advert for prepper shop UK and Woodland Ways. 

As well as preparedness and food storage wild food has featured in the UK news as well over the past few weeks. 

On the 10th of March the Daily Star published an article about hemlock, one of the most poisonous plants in the UK, the article can be found HERE and was clearly designed to shock people with the claim that a " Deadly 'parsnip'  can KILL humans with ONE bite found in the UK". The headline was written as if finding hemlock in the UK was a shock and surprise despite it actually being a relatively common plant. It is one of a number of plants with similar characteristics, for the more advanced forager there will be similar plants that are highly sought after as edibles such as sweet cicely, wild angelicas, cow parsley and common hogweed. These plants have featured in a number of blog posts here and on my foragers diary micro blog. 

Being able to tell the difference between hemlock and these species is important if you are interested in foraging and wild food, but more of a concern in the article and to Josh Quick the 'professional' forager interviewed in the article is that someone will assume the hemlock roots, which had been exposed by high seas during storm Emma, would be picked up by people who though they were parsnips. The similarity between parsnip and the roots of almost any of the umberlifer species is striking but eating the roots of hemlock or it's cousin hemlock water dropwort will almost certainly be fatal, in fact in ancient Greece hemlock was used to poison condemned prisoners the most famous of which was the philosopher Socrates. 

The article highlights a very real risk, although is a little sensationalist and highlights the need to follow one of my most important rules of foraging;

IF YOU DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IT IS; DON'T EAT IT!! 

To identify hemlock look for the purple blotches on the stem and be aware of it's unpleasant smell, the best way I can describe the smell is a rodent urine like smell. It's stem is also hairless unlike hogweed. 

The hairless, purple blotched stems of hemlock. 

I hope you have enjoyed our new News post, keep an eye out for the next one in June and if you want to recommend any stories for inclusion in the next News post please get in touch with the contact form to the right of the page.




Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Adapt and Improvise; packing crate cabin

Shelter is often your priority in a survival or bushcraft situation, when I am on expedition I always pitch my tent first even if the weather is god so I have somewhere to keep and organise my kit, somewhere dry in case it does start to rain and somewhere to unpack my bag into so I don't loose kit amongst the leaf litter or undergrowth. 

At least half the fun of bushcraft is seeing what you can make out of nothing, In Riddy Wood we have a little cabin built out of heavy duty packing crates salvaged from the delivery of heavy machining equipment. The heavy duty ply wood isn't the most traditional or rustic material but it makes a great wind break and reflector for the stove inside. 

The cabin in Riddy Wood with the tarp roof looking a little the worse for wear after high winds. 
The walls are held up by sturdy ash and elm poles harvested from the woods with a single ridge pole in the centre held up by three taller forked poles. Over that ridge pole a heavy duty tarp forms the roof and one of the walls. A gap between the top of the walls and the roof let in the light but not the rain and give a little bit of air flow.

The ridge pole in the cabin is strong enough to hang equipment and keep blankets and carry mats up off the ground away from the rodents. 
The cabin was our home for Christmas in 2016 and was really warm and comfortable, the children loved spending Christmas in the woods. 

Another improvised cabin of hazel wattle and larch planks made with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. 
Another cabin building project in Riddy Wood was my sons log cabin made from coppiced elm poles. He loved spending a day in the woods building it. It's not a masterpiece and certainly isn't as impressive as the cabin of one of my 'bushcraft heroes' Dick Proennecke, who you will hear more about on this blog in the future, but it was great fun to work on.  It has two bunks in it and a tarp roof and the children love sleeping in it when we spend time in the woods.





Adapting and improvising is always going to be a big part of surviving out of doors and also a big part of life for self taught bushcrafters not to mention that it's great fun and often an exciting challenge.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Foragers Diary; March 2018

Sometimes March can still be a bit sparse, in fact in March of 1942 the Norwegian commandos tasked with destroying a heavy water plant had to resort to some really strange wild food; 

In Norway in 1942 the scarcity of food posed a challenge to the Norwegian commandos of Operation Grouse. Jens-Anton PoulssonKnut HauglandClaus Helberg and Arne Kjelstrup, arrived by parachute in advance of a larger force of British airborne troops. They were to prepare for the attack on the heavy water factory in Rjukan, an attack which failed when the gliders carrying the troops crashed. The Grouse party spent months surviving on the Hardanga plateu while another attack was planned and Operation Gunnerside could be launched. This operation was a success and played an instrumental part in preventing the development of nuclear weapons by the Nazi's. 

While waiting for the arrival of Gunnerside the Grouse team survived thanks to their skills as outdoorsmen, their ability to hunt reindeer and their resourcefulness in eating the partly digested reindeer moss collected from the rumen of the deer they killed.  

Reindeer moss is common in upland areas throughout the UK and Europe. 

The reindeer moss was one of the few plant foods they could forage at that time of year and humans can't digest it properly. The grouse party instead survived by using the partly digested moss from the rumen of the deer. Not something I'm in a hurry to try.

Much more palatable are the occasional 'confused' fungi that sometimes pop up thanks to the often strange British weather.


I'm not sure weather this wood bluet was early, late or just confused but it was nice to see it although I wouldn't expect any of them at this time of year. 


With the pheasant and partridge and duck seasons now long over I have to look to other sources of wild game meat, muntjac are always in season and in March you can still shoot Chinese water deer, roe does and in fact all deer except roe bucks during March in England and Wales. That will change at the end of the month when all the hinds and does (except muntjac) and buck and doe Chinese water deer go out of season. This protects them during the later stages of their pregnancies and fawning. 

As well as deer rabbits and other 'vermin' are still available to foragers and wild food enthusiasts, but with venison and other tastier meat's available I find I am less enthusiastic about rabbit now than I used to be. That's not to say it's not nice, but it does have that rabbity flavour and smell which I'm sure those of you who have eaten lots of them will be familiar with. 

To make the most of rabbit my favourite way to cook them is as a stir fry or in spicy home made samosas with wild herbs and spices. I've got to wait another month or six weeks for all the ingredients I need for that to grow so I will share the somosa recipe with you later in the year but for a rabbit stir fry try this;

3 3/4 grown rabbits (this is enough for a meal for my whole family and the smaller ones are nice and tender) skinned and gutted. 
Soy sauce 2 table spoons
fresh ginger (to taste)
red and green chillies (to taste; I use two or three)
spring onions
honey (plenty, I use a bout half a jar, this will give you a nice sticky glaze to the meat)
bean sprouts 
water chestnuts
sesame oil

Remove the meat from the bones and chop evenly. Marinade the rabbit meat in the soy sauce, finely chopped ginger, chillies and honey for a couple of hours. Finely chop the onions and add them to the other vegetables. Once the marinade is complete heat some sesame oil in a deep wok or pan and cook the meat and veg together for a few minutes until the rabbit is cooked through. Serve with rice or noodles. 


For those of you who want to eat more wild food, and with a particular interest in trying game meat there are some exceptional books out there on the topic, I always say that it is best to save money on kit and buy books instead so give some of these a try; 



 You will start to find more and more wild greens in March going into April and I will dedicate next months foragers diary summary to wild greens.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Reconnaissance


Reconnaissance isn’t just for the military, it’s for deer managers and wildlife photographers and should be for everyone in my book, it’s very therapeutic!

Camera collection is a task which has to be done periodically, if I had my way, every child in the land would have one of these instead of a Gameboy or X-box! We use it as a tool to collect data on the wildlife in the area but what a fascinating way to learn about the world around you. We put them in key positions, close to a game trail, a hole in a fence or hedge (or even in my barn roof). It will tell us what wildlife uses a particular trail and what time, so you can establish patterns of use so that you can be in the right place at the right time. We don’t always get what we expect either, on a high use deer trail, we get all kinds of other things, like fox, badger, hare, rabbit, squirrel and even smaller things like stoats, hedgehogs or rats, all making a guest appearance on the camera.



This is just a small portion of the footage that we have taken in and around Riddy wood and other places we watch and manage the wildlife;

                                  


                                  



                                  



                                  



As a deer manager of course, it's the deer that get most of my attention but I love the other species too, I just love being out there with nature all around me. 


MG

Monday, 5 March 2018

EMERGENCY BLOG POST; Winter Survival Tips


Although the thaw is now in full swing here in the South West of England the effects of Storm Emma are still being felt across the UK so I felt I had to break the normal schedule of posts on the Bushcraft Education Blog to put up a post about Winter survival.

This wont be a post on backwoods winter skills for travelling and bushcrafting in the winter but rather advice and pointers on how to stay safe and well in Winter conditions as you go about your daily activities in severe Winter weather. 

One of the most important things to understand about coping in cold conditions is the potential effects of the cold on your body;


Hypothermia, frost bite and other conditions are all very real risks in cold weather, especially when the windchill is so severe. There were times over the last few day when the still air temperature was only a few degrees bellow zero but the windchill brought it down to ten or fifteen below. We'll come back to combating wind chill shortly but first of all it's important that you can recognise the effects of hypothermia and frostbite and be able to prevent and treat them if necessary.

Dive hand signal OK 1
Divers 'OK' signal By Peter Southwood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the first signs that you are getting too cold is the loss of dexterity in your hands, it’s very important that you halt and reverse this as once chilled to the point of your hands being useless you are much less able to affect a self-rescue in emergencies. In fact the divers hand signal of touching index finger to thumb to form an ‘o’ comes from a test of dexterity to prove you are able to use your hands in the cold.

Beyond loss of dexterity loss of feeling and your skin taking on a pale waxy appearance are early signs of frost bite. These signs are most likely to appear in your extremities, fingers, toes and even nose and ears. If you spot these symptoms you need to act at once, gradually warming the affected area is vital, not over the direct heat of a fire but preferably by using your own body heat. Take an affected hand and reach into your armpit or groin and your bodies heat will warm the hand. If your foot is affected you may have to use a companions armpit! Realistically for most of us this might mean holding our hands up to the hot air vent in the car but that's where common sense needs to take over, if you know what to do to survive when you have nothing then when you have a resource as large and versatile as a car and it's potential contents of survival aids you should have no problem. 

Frostbite is a relatively rare occurrence in the temperate climate of the UK but it is a possibility and each year there are on average 30-60 cases of frostbite reaching UK hospitals, in severely cold years this may be much higher such as the Winter of 2010-11 when there were 111 frostbite related admissions. Frostbite is basically the effects of your tissue freezing, as your body tries to make sure your internal organs are kept warm and supplied with enough blood the vessels in your extremities narrow restricting blood flow to those areas and making them more susceptible to the cold. The fluid in your cells can freeze under these conditions and the ice crystals that form do severe damage to the cells. Thawing out frost bitten areas is extremely painful and should be carried out under the supervision of a medical professional, the NHS provide some details of the treatment and prevention of cold related injuries and conditions on their website HERE.

Frostbite
The affects of frostbite on your cells; By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Severe frostbite can lead to the death of cells and tissue which may need to be 'debrided' (removed) or even require the amputation of digits or limbs.  

Hypothermia is a drop in your bodies core temperature, between 32 and 35 degrees centigrade you are hypothermic and below 32 degrees you will stop shivering and probably pass out. Hypothermia may manifest itself as a loss of dexterity, tiredness and confusion and needs to be treated immediately before it gets worse. It can be fatal and eventually those suffering from it will just want to sleep and when they do they won’t wake up. Hot drinks, exercise to increase your temperature and warming is what is required, getting into a sleeping bag, ideally with someone else as well to share their warmth and body heat should be enough to bring your temperature back up but it must be treated immediately.

In both cases hypothermia and frostbite prevention is much better than cure and to ensure you prevent these conditions think first about your clothing;

Dress for the cold

While on your commute to work in the Winter, your car, the bus or train may seem likethe first line of defence again the elements. But what happens when you find yourself stuck for hours or even days as some people have been over the last few days. Perhaps the train or bus can't continue, perhaps your get stuck in the car, what then? Are you dressed for the cold, will you need to walk far? Can you leave your car heater on indefinitely? 

The best approach to staying warm in the cold is to use layers not only do these layers trap warm air against your body but they can easily be adjusted and removed if you get too warm unlike a single heavy garment. This is important especially if you do end up walking or being outdoors in the snow, perhaps digging your car out of a drift or walking a few miles from where the bus or train had to stop. IF you are exerting yourself you will sweat and managing moisture is very important in the cold to prevent yourself from becoming chilled by the effects of the wind wicking your sweat away from you. So windchill gets you in two ways, by making it feel colder anyway but doubly so as it chills you even more if you are wet or sweaty for this reason you must have dry clothes, either by keeping yours dry in the first place or by carrying a change. An outer windproof shell is very important as is carrying a spare change of clothes in your car. 

As well as your layers and an outer shell to keep out the snow and protect you from wind remember that your extremities are the most susceptible to the cold, fingers and toes soon loose dexterity, if you have chosen to be outside, perhaps on an expedition in Winter conditions loss of dexterity is a major issue as you will lose the ability to tie knots, use a knife or erect your tent which will put you in a very difficult situation. Even under everyday conditions that loss of dexterity might make it harder to change a tyre, or refill your washer fluid bottle or even put your gloves on. Make sure you protect your hands and fingers, mittens are better than gloves for this and even better is a thin glove, that allows you enough dexterity to perform simple tasks and a thicker mitten over the top. 


To keep your feet warm wool socks and a trick I discovered while living in the Arctic North of Sweden was to use heavy wool or felt innersoles in my boots. Don’t wear so many socks or lace your boots so tight that your feet are squashed though otherwise the circulation to your feet will be reduced and you will start to feel numbness in your toes. 

Be Prepared

As well as your clothing there are a few other things that will make a difference in a Winter emergency. You should always carry a few supplies in your car as your are quite vulnerably during your commute, especially as has happened a lot over the last few days, if you get stuck. 

I would recommend carrying the following in your car in case of emergencies, especially in Winter. 


o Winter sleeping bag
o Insulative sleeping mat
o 2* Wool blankets
o Snow Shovel
o Blizzard Bag or similar mylar survival bag. 
o 2* 5 litre water containers
o Hexamine stove and fuel
o 5 tins of soup 
o 2 tins of hot dogs
o Large first aid kit
o Spare wheel and tyre pump
o Water for radiator
o Spare oil
o Spare bulbs for headlights and tail lights
o Extra washer fluid


The washer fluid in particular is something often overlooked, but after several years of living in Sweden, washer fluid was the most vital spare item to carry in the car in Winter. When it is really cold and you are driving in the snow you will get through washer fluid very quickly as the snow will stick to and freeze on your windscreen and you will only shift it with plenty of washer fluid well loaded with de-icer.

USE THESE LINKS TO FIND SOME KIT I WOULD RECOMMEND FOR WINTER SURVIVAL


While an 'Englishman's home is his castle' as the saying goes that doesn't mean you are immune to the effects of the Winter chill at home. People have been without power and water over the last few days through frozen pipes and the weight of snow bringing down branches and trees on cables. While you might not be able to fix the power supply or phone line if it comes down in bad weather you should be able to thaw frozen water pipes. To do that you will need to have a stock pile of stored water, a cupboard under the stairs is perfect for this and a few plastic water containers will allow you to store dozens of litres of water to either use to heat up and defrost pipes with or to drink. 

If your boiler packs up due to the cold or frozen pipes and you can't get it going again, you should have a couple of electric halogen heaters or fan heaters which can be picked up cheaply from places like B&M. If the power is out completely, extra duvet's, blankets and warm clothing are a must. Also in case of powercuts make sure you have torches and spare batteries, candles and the ability to cook and heat water. If your home cooker is out of commission because it is electric or for any other reason make sure you have something you can cook with inside, I can make a fire in the garden to cook with if things got really dire but you can cook with a gas camping stove in a kitchen just as safely as cook on a gas stove indoors so make sure that is something you have available, especially those of you who only have an electric cooker. 

Although this post does depart from the normal topics covered on the blog I hope it has been useful to you. BE PREPARED AND STAY SAFE


Geoff

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