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Friday, 29 June 2018

Bushcraft and Survival in the News; June 2018

There is a pattern forming in the local and international  news when it comes to topics of bushcraft and survival; it all seems to be focused on emergency preparedness, which is fine and a very important topic but there does seem to be a sensationalist element to a lot of the articles and a skew towards 'prepping', in my mind there is a difference between sensible emergency preparedness and prepping but rather than discuss that here I have added a page to our Bushcraft Basics section, which we are constantly expanding, on 'prepping and 'bugging-out'. So if you want a bit of context to some of what will be presented in these news articles check out those pages first. I'm hoping that over time though more true bushcraft will make it into the news and we will be able to address topics with a focus on nature, the environment, traditional skills and other topics more relevant to the educational aspects of bushcraft. 

Let's get into it though; what has been in the news over the last few weeks?

We'll start with an absurd story from the United States which reports on a situation which is entirely at odds to what most bushcrafters want to encourage. I have spent a lot of years encouraging people to spend as much time outdoors as possible, to try new outdoor activities, learn new skills, gain an appreciation of nature and the environment, learn ancient and traditional skills and am convinced of the value of the outdoors in the health and well-being of  individuals and is very important. However Pennsylvania State University has recently disbanded it's Outing Club along with it's scuba and caving clubs after a lengthy review process that deemed them to be unsafe.

The Outing Club has a 98 year history of running adventurous activities such as rafting, hiking and climbing but due to perceived risk associated with these activities the society is to be disbanded. The University raised concerns about the lack of trained professional guides on the societies outings and also reported concerns regarding the consumption of alcohol on outings where the activities are already risky.

Although the society denies any misuse of alcohol on their outings they do acknowledge the risk associated with their activities but this is just part of any adventurous activity, by definition without risk an activity is not adventurous. Rock climbing, white water rafting and other outdoor activities are risky, there is no doubt about that but that risk is at least part of the attraction of those activities. Risk and adventure and it's role in society, as a rite of passage and as a challenge has been examined by outdoor education professionals in depth over the years. I gave a presentation on adventure in society  a few years ago and you can see it here;



Despite the fact that risk is accepted by academics to be part of adventurous activities the University is opposed to the operation of the society even though it offers courses in Outdoor Recreation where the benefits of outdoor activities would be discussed at length. With that in mind the move to disband a society with such a pedigree and with an ethos that would be entirely in keeping with the ethos of their academic provision seems odd.

An update from the society tells us that they have been granted the status of Special Interest Organisation which means they won't have to disband entirely but they are still prevented from going outside and resuming their normal programme of outdoor activites;


So a strange and sad state of affairs for the outdoorsy folk at Penn State but hopefully they will get things sorted soon even if they do need to end up employing some professional outdoor leaders and guides to help satisfy the requirements of risk assessments.

Having mentioned prepping in the introduction of this post lets return to some of those stories;


A short snippet of news from USA Today that mixed martial artist, wrestler, actress and Olympic Bronze Medallist Ronda Rousey has said that she is a 'doomsday prepper' who alongside her career raises goats and lives a life free of many modern conveniences and has said;


"Instead of my apocalypse plan being a handle of alcohol and maybe tears, which is a lot of people's plan, I'm like, I'm going to make it. If anyone's going to make it, I'm going to make it."


She is not alone either as people in the British Isles buy up old cold war era nuclear shelters, either they are prepping for the apocalypse or have very strange tastes in accommodation. Newer models are available to custom order as well just in case you need to install a bomb shelter under you house or garden



Sonnenbergtunnel.jpg
The Sonnenberg Tunnel, the worlds largest civilian nuclear shelter, until it's decommission in 2006, was designed to be converted from it's primary function of motorway tunnel to a shelter capable of housing 20,000 people in the event of nuclear war or disaster. By Cooper - Self-photographed, Public Domain, Link


As well as bunkers and shelters becoming popular Sweden has recently distributed leaflets throughout the country issuing instructions and advice in the event of war and encouraging people to prepare for crisis and announcing the possibility of conscription in case of war. The German government did something similar a few years ago. This follows the move last year to re-introduce compulsory military service in Sweden which had briefly been disbanded between 2010 and 2017. 


The full leaflet in English can be found HERE. Bare in mind that Sweden has issued similar leaflets many times since The Second World War but one of the things which prompts the latest edition of this advice is the current aggressive posture of Russia and increased Russian military incursions into a near to Swedish territory, the UK has experienced similar sabre rattling probes more an more often recently so maybe we can expect a similar publication soon as well? OK so we probably won't get one but it may be worth bearing the advice of the Swedish leaflet in mind. 



As well as their leaflet the Swedish government has prepared other information and a webpage for people looking to prepare for future emergencies including this video about food storage and preparing for short term emergencies such as power outages; 





As well as messages in the press to be prepared for emergencies and of restrictions on outdoor activities we were treated to a story of someone who had managed to run afoul of a full hat-trick of dangerous wildlife. The BBC reports about 20 year old Dylan McWilliams who since he was seventeen has survived a snake bite, bear attack and most recently a run in with a tiger shark in Hawaii. 



This does bring home some of the dangers that can be expected in the wilderness areas that we love so much, while I lived in Sweden several years ago I did collect a few news paper cuttings about bear attacks, often on people who were quietly picking berries in the woods and just happened to encounter bears who were picking berries too.  At least Dylan came of better than mountain man Hugh Glass after his run-in with a bear. 

Look forward to the next instalment of Bushcraft and Survival in the News in September.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why We Will Still Need Bushcraft Skills In Space


Last month I did something I almost never do and wrote about a movie here on the Bushcraft Education blog, hopefully it was more than just a rant about how rubbish The Revenant, a film claiming to depict the ordeal of Hugh Glass after his mauling by a bear in1823, was and how much more about survival we can learn from Riddley Scott and Matt Damon film The Martian. For the original post follow this LINK. I said in that post that even though The Martian is fictional it demonstrates a need for bushcraft and survival skills even in space, I thought I would follow it up with my thoughts on just why bushcraft skills will always be relevant. 

Geoff
_________________________________________________________________________________

People who practice Bushcraft tend to spend a lot of time looking back to times when the manual skills we value so highly were an essential part of every day life, to the mountain men of North America who lived by their trapping and navigating skills, to the Mesolithic hunter gatherers who gleaned every necessity from the land, and the craftsmen of yesteryear who relied on their manual skills and basic tools rather than the convenience of modern power tools.

However bushcrafters and survival skills enthusiasts have plenty of reasons to look forward as well, and before all the sensible people reading this give up expecting the next sentence to mention the zombie apocalypse, just give me a minute more to make my case.

Zombies NightoftheLivingDead.jpg
Zombies aren't real and those 'prepping' for a zombie apocalypse need to keep their stockpiles of  green tipped ammunition and toxic green knife handles as far away from me as possible.

A knowledge of bushcraft is timeless, even if many of the skills are now made largely redundant on a day to day basis by modern technology;

The flint and steel or bow drill has been replaced by the piezo electric lighter, the electric oven and gas central heating.

Tracking and trapping animals and birds for food and clothing has been replaced by cellophane wrapped, battery farmed livestock and internet shopping.

Collecting, eating and preserving seasonal vegetables and fruits has been replaced by ordering a side salad or buying expensive 'porcini' mushrooms at a delicatessen even though they grow plentifully just yards from your home.

A bumper harvest of 'porcini' also known as cep or penny bun, fairy ring chantarelle and a giant puff ball. Sold dry in tiny packets in supermarkets for an absolute fortune. 
What worries me is the only people that seem to value these skills are the few first nations peoples who preserve their traditional knowledge for cultural as much as practical reasons and the relatively few people who practice bushcraft as recreation. In the UK our schools are demanding more and more inclusion of technology in the curriculum with very little emphasis placed on manual skill development. We have young school children learning computer programming, ipads in every classroom, students at secondary schools requiring laptops and home computers for every piece of homework, homework being conducted on virtual learning environments rather than in exercise books while all the time there are fascinating opportunities out of reach of our children just on the other side of the classroom window.

In the school grounds of my childrens school I could gather quince, lime bast for making rope, cat tail pollen for baking in the spring and seed down for firelighting in the autumn, a huge range of wild greens; shepherds purse, garlic mustard, lime leaves, pineapple weed and bitter cress, I could tap birch trees and use the bark to make birch tar and I that could all be embedded in the science curriculum but it isn't. There is a bit of a catch 22 here in my mind and I'll address it fully in another post next month . Briefly though the problem of trying to teach bushcraft at schools is that there simply isn't anyone to teach it and the risk is that if it was taught it would be taught badly and would turn children of to it, just as children can be turned off to other fascinating subject by bad teachers or by a poor curriculum, geography, science, literature and history for example should all be fascinating and engaging subjects, I don't know how you would ever make maths interesting but someone's got to try I suppose, but often schools manage to make even the most interesting topics tedious and disengaging and the same could happen to bushcraft if it was done in a school setting.

The point of this post though is whatever the difficulties of taking advantage of the natural school surroundings or of teaching a bit about the natural world those difficulties should be conquered and the learning should go ahead, children should be taught about nature and the environment, traditional rural skills and knowledge and bushcraft is the perfect way to do that teaching, in fact it's why I started this blog in the first place. 

Quinces collected with the permission of my daughters school, we turned them into jelly and mixed some of them with huckleberries to make a delicious chutney too. But the school didn't take advantage of them at all, in fact the teachers didn't even know what they were and were at a complete loss when Lillie took a jar of the finished jelly in for them to try. 
If we aren't careful one day when we really need the skills of a bushcrafter, the practical skills which relate to ecology, survival, navigation, resource identification and collection, identification and gathering of food which only come from consistent exposure to and work in nature and the outdoors, we will find that no one has those skills. When in a few years we are all driving electric cars, commuting on mag-lift trains operating all our household appliances with our phones or in a million years when the human race is boldly exploring the galaxy with our computer whizz kid great-great-great-great etc.. grandchildren living in human colonies on the other side of galaxy, travelling faster than we can ever dream who is going to grow our food, plan the rotation of timber production, manage pests, carry out habitat management and restoration, discover and classify new species etc.. When computer code can do all that then we can start relying on technology but until then we will need to maintain and develop our connection with nature. Even if one day our technology has advanced so far that we can explore space and new planets what value will there be in that if all we can do when we get there is write computer code and do maths. We will always need ecologists, environmental scientists, experts in agriculture, bushcrafters and others with practical nature based skills. And with little engagement in those areas in school maybe it will be the people who practice it for fun that will save the day.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Foragers Diary; June 2018

June can sometimes be late for the tenderest of wild greens but there are still plenty about and it's just a case of selecting the tenderest, newest leaves and shoots if you want to make the most of your foraging opportunities. 

I often give people what I have come to call the 'salad dressing challenge' which involves finding all the ingredients for a salad in the wild, that means not using lettuce to bulk it up, or just finding a few ingredients to garnish a shop bought salad, everything except the salad dressing has to come from the wild.


The collection pictured to the left was big enough to provide side salads for eight people, and some people had two helpings. It contained;

- opposite leaved golden saxifrage
-lime leaves
-ladies smock (flowers and leaves)
-dog violet (flowers and leaves)
-hedge garlic
-bitter cress
-wood sorrel



My daughter filling her school bag with golden saxifrage, ramsons, comfrey (the comfrey doesn't go in the salad, that's for something else that you'll see next month) and dog violets.


You can of course add a few more ingredients like this wild Cesar salad featuring chopped ramsons, ramson flowers, ground elder, colts foot, hedge garlic, golden saxifrage, dog violet and sorrel and was way better than the soggy iceberg from the supermarket. Wild plants actually have flavour and the variety is amazing.

I've shared a recipie for a wild quiche on the blog before; HERE but just want to make it clear that the ingredients I suggested there are by no means your only choice for a wild quiche, here is an alternative to the redshanks and fat hen of my previous recipe; 


Pastry
200 grams of plain flour
100 grams of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water (ish)
pinch of salt

Make the pastry first and allow it to cool in the fridge before rolling it out placing it in the dish to bake. In the meantime prepare the quiche mixture.


Quiche mixture
2 eggs
250 ml cream or milk
cheese
onion
wild ingredients
salt and pepper


Colts foot is unusual as it flowers before it puts up leaves.


Immature hog weed flowers are delicious almost like asparagus.


Ground elder has leaves that look a bit like normal elder but have a triangular stalk and only taste any good before they flower.


All the wild veg chopped and fried with some bacon.



In the pastry case.



Cooked

I hope you have enjoyed this month's foray into foraging, give some of these things a try and hopefully this blog and some of the books I recommend below will help you take advantage of some of the wild food that's available out there. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

From the High Seat; Angry Birds


I have a theory which I believe is well founded enough to share with you: birds make mistakes!

For as long as I can remember, the alarm calls of ‘angry birds’ has been an extension of my own senses whilst sitting in a high seat, often in low light conditions. I like to arrive early, very early and the hour between arrival and having enough light to shoot, is enough time for anything disturbed by my arrival, to settle down again.

In the dark, all of your non visual senses can appear to be enhanced, hearing is the primary one but occasionally you will get a whiff of fox too. You can hear the footfall of animals, the thrashing of antlers in bushes and the call of every kind of wildlife, rabbits thumping, deer barking, every kind of bird call and the staccato drumming of woodpeckers. My personal favourites are owls and wood peckers.

Thrushes like blackbirds or this fieldfare are often very vocal and their alarm calls are a good sign that something is moving in the woods. 

I have found the most useful to be Wrens, Robins and Blackbirds. The very essence of these tactical accomplices, is that the birds mistake small deer for foxes and therefore give them the same kind of verbal abuse that they would a fox! Recently I was on an outing with a novice and was able to explain the alarm calls of these little spies, the first chorus was fairly high in the trees and fast moving, these were driving out an unwelcome owl. The second however, was lower and slow moving as I suggested that these may be concerned about a fox, which may actually be a small deer walking through the undergrowth. My suggestion was spot on and a minute or two later a little Muntjac trotted in to view and paused briefly to breakfast on a little pile of wheat which I had strategically placed near the high seat.

Muntjac are often mistaken for foxes by humans and birds seem to be just as confused as we are sometimes. 

Go ahead and team up with the ‘Angry Birds’ and see if you agree!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

TOPS C.U.B Knife

I am working on a second edition of a my book on friction fire lighting and am dedicating a section of it to looking at knives which have a rather interesting feature. It has become popular to include divots in the handles of some bushcraft/survival knives which allow you to use the handle as a bearing block for your friction fire lighting. I have always thought of these as a gimmick but wanted to test some out for the new book. The TOPS C.U.B knife is one of the knives I chose to test this feature and is described by the manufacturer as follows;







"The C.U.B. (Compact Utility Blade) was designed to be a compact, lightweight sidekick to a machete/bolo/parang in the jungle or a tomahawk/axe in North America, capable of performing all the important utility duties of camp craft and food preparation, while leaving the heavy work for the chopping tools. With an emphasis on compact, keeping the total blade length under 4" makes it legal to enter most countries internationally without attracting too much attention. The C.U.B. was designed with two of Reuben Bolieu's favorite styles of knives in mind, a Finish Puukko (with a Scandinavian grind) and Kephart style knife. Put them in a blender and you have the TOPS C.U.B. - rugged simplicity!"
Features
  • Natural tan Micarta scales with divot for bow drill.
  • A TOPS modified Scandinavian grind.
  • Thin 1/8" stock for optimal slicing and weight reduction
  • Chicago screws for easy field removal (for cord wrapping or pounding on the butt without damaging the scales) with a flat head screwdriver or small washer
  • Wide blade gives more surface area to pound on, allowing the blade to sink in deeper while cross-grain battoning into green wood
  • Thumb notch cut into the scales for a secure, comfortable chest lever grip. 
  • Sheath is the simple Nylon

Specifications
  • Overall Length: 8"
  • Blade Length: 3-3/4"
  • Cutting Edge: 3-1/2"
  • Thickness: 1/8"
  • Steel: 1095 High Carbon Steel, 56-58HRC
  • Sheath: Tan Ballistic Nylon
  • Handle: Natural Tan Micarta
  • Blade Color: Stonewashed
  • Weight: 5.2 oz
  • Designed by Reuben Bolieu
  • Made in the USA

TOPS C.U.B and it' accompanying survival kit

The C.U.B also includes a survival kit;


  • Razor blade
  • 3 barrel fire starter
  • P-38 can opener
  • Steel snap link
  • Fresnel lens
  • Heavy duty rubber band
  • Sail needle
  • Safety pins
  • Fishing line (25 feet)
  • 2 fish hooks
  • Liquid filled button compass
  • Orange marking tape (12 feet)
  • Acrylic signal mirror
A combination fire steel including magnesium rods as well as ferrocium. 

A button compass.

A whistle

A Fresnel lens (magnifying glass)
A miniature fishing kit, razor blade and can opener.


The C.U.B comes with plenty of accessories as well as the knife it'self, but the survival kit, pictured above, seems a bit of an afterthought. The firesteel, fresnel lens and whistle are by far the highest quality parts of the survival kit but every TOPS knife comes with a whistle and the knife is really the main event. It's sheath which supposedly could contain the survival kit as well is big disappointment. It is made of fairly poor quality, lightweight nylon and the knife is only retained in the sheath thanks to the bulky top flap which secures relatively loosely over the front with a buckle. This flap can be removed and the knife secured with a Velcro tab around the handle but this doesn't seem secure at all to me. The fit of the sheath to the knife provides no retention at all and you are entirely reliant on the Velcro and buckle to hold the knife in place. This also means that the knife is impossible to use as a bow drill divot while it is still in the sheath which means that you have to hold a naked blade while you bear down on it with a great deal of force and move a bow drill vigorously back and forth inches from that exposed blade as you light your fire, not really as safe as I'd like. The sheath really was a disappointment and really devalues a knife that retails for almost £150, there is no excuse for a sheath that bad at such a high price, the moulded plastic sheaths of budget knives like the Mora Companion are better. 

The handle of the C.U.B with it's built in bow drill divot is no worse a bearing block than anything else, but it's no better either, it's not magically frictionless and there is an inherent danger in having a naked blade waving around as you work up a coal with your bow drill especially as you will be bearing down on it with considerable force. Also if you have found enough material to make your bow, drill and hearth presumably you have access to another piece of wood which would make a perfectly adequate bearing block as well?

While the divot wasn't really as functional as it was hyped to be the handle it'self was fine, the tan micarta provided plenty of grip and while it does look a little angular was actually very comfortable for all tasks. 

The blade came with what was marketed as a Scandinavian grind with a secondary bevel 'for strength and durability', and it was absolutely razor sharp. Although I personally can't understand the need for the additional edge bevel to 'strengthen' a scandi grind if it used for appropriate tasks, it does still perform superbly in wood carving and whittling. 

The knife is tastefully marked with the TOPS logo and is finished in a nice stone wash, no coatings to ruin the performance of the edge. It is carbon steel though so the blade will of course need care and attention if you are going to avoid rust. But any knife would.  The one complaint I have about the bale is the excessively large finger guard which is uncomfortable and unnecessary in a blade of this size and style. I'm constantly surprised by peoples concern over having a sizable finger guard on their knives, for general woods use and bushcraft finger guards only get in the way of fluid and efficient wood carving as you need to use a variety of grips on the knife. Perhaps it's the youtube trend for doing ridiculous things with knives that inspires manufacturers to include overbuilt finger guards on their knives but I have never needed to stab through a car bonnet or do a so called 'hammer stab' that the keyboard bushcrafters of youtube all think are necessary and reasonable. 

Finger guards do one of two things, protect you finger from slipping onto the blade or prevent something else sliding up your blade onto your fingers or hand. Neither of which is going to happen while you are bushcrafting. I eventually ground the finger guard off completely so it became more comfortable to use and so it fit better in the kydex sheath I made to replace the very poor nylon original. 

In terms of size and blade style the TOPS C.U.B is a great bushcraft knife, the modifications I made to mine ironed out the few problems I had with it and I was very impressed overall with the performance of the knife for general bushcraft tasks and for small game preparation. Many bushcraft and survival knives have longer blades but the C.U.B blade is an ideal length for all sensible bushcraft tasks. A longer blade is really not necessary for most tasks and the continuous curve makes carving a breeze. The slight clip point brings the point down from the spine of the blade and makes drilling and tip carving easy, the short blade makes it easy to support the tip of the knife with a finger or thumb on the back of the blade. 

I would normally include a lesson in a review blog but the C.U.B has already featured in a lesson on how to make a simple willow or sycamore whistle which you can find HERE


The knife was sourced from Hennie Haynes  based in Cardiff South Wales and who are the best in business when it comes to fixed and folding knives.  

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