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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. 


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The flint and steel or bow drill has been replaced by the piezo electric lighter, the electric oven and gas central heating.

Tracking and trapping animals and birds for food and clothing has been replaced by cellophane wrapped, battery farmed livestock and internet shopping.

Collecting, eating and preserving seasonal vegetables and fruits has been replaced by ordering a side salad or buying expensive 'porcini' mushrooms at a delicatessen even though they grow plentifully just yards from your home.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

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