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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;


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.

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