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Friday, 28 September 2018

Bushcraft and Survival in the News; September 2018

Brexit is a big topic in the news here in the UK at the moment and recently there have been some news articles that link brexit with prepping and survival, while that normally isn't the topic of this blog dedicated to bushcraft and education we do have a dedicated section on prepping and survival given the popularity of those topics and their close ties to bushcraft skills.

The Short List published an article recently about people who are preparing for 'doomsday' as a potential result of botched Brexit negotiations or other major world events which they feel might impact the normal functioning of society.

Robin shoots with sir Guy by Louis Rhead 1912.png
By Louis Rhead - Rhead, Louis. "Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest". New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1912., Public Domain, Link

They share the story of  a South Wales resident going by the name of 'Robin Hood' who keeps a cross bow under his bed and has made some preparations for  emergencies in the form of tinned and dried foods and a 'few five gallon water containers' other than being woefully under-prepared for any major emergency his attitude is perhaps one of anarchism instead of true preparedness.

He seems more concerned with the idea of the police taking away his 'weapon' than with the true implications of a potential food shortage or major national emergency. He and several of the other 'preppers' interviewed for this piece seem to have a fairly fatalistic view and have accepted that the world will end due to a combination of war and climate change.

Several of their interviewees also mention the dangers of a no-deal Brexit and the potential this has for disrupting services and supplies of food and medicines. The British Government has mentioned stockpiling food as a potential preparation for the disruption that might be caused by Brexit but this has been criticised as impractical by the supermarket industry as the Government also admitted that they didn't have the resources to stockpile this food, the implication being that retailers would have to do it to maintain their business.

FEMA - 2720 - Photograph by FEMA News Photo.jpg
By FEMA News Photo - This image is from the FEMA Photo Library., Public Domain, Link

Not only have preppers in the UK taken to preparing for Brexit but there is an ever increasing demand for bunkers in case of major armed conflict, nuclear war and even asteroid collisions.
These bunkers are only really available to the ultra rich as pointed out in a daily mail article from the sixth of September. The attraction of these bunker facilities is understandable when the President of The United States tweets things like this;

Many of these bunkers are far more luxurious than you might imagine would be possible in a post apocalyptic scenario, like this converted nuclear missile silo;

Some people have already taken to living in 'bug out' locations in case of imminent catastrophe; as reported by the Daily Star on the 15th of September. The article refers to a recent BBC documentary called 'Face to Face with Armageddon', the documentary follows families living largely off grid in bunker complexes and wilderness retreats.

Almost as far fetched as some of the opinions held by the most extreme of preppers is the idea presented in a Newsround article from the 20th of September regarding plans to bring Woolly Mammoths back from extinction by cloning from well preserved cells in ancient remains found in Russia. It sounds like something out of a Jurassic Park film but from the perspective of experimental archaeology and the study of primitive skills wouldn't it be fantastic? Perhaps not realistic but a fantastic thought and absolutely ground breaking if it was successful, think of all the other extinct species that could be brought back.

Wooly Mammoth-RBC.jpg
By Tracy O - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Given the fact that more and more people are hiding in bunkers though are extinct wildlife going to have a place to live even if we bring them back?

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Adapt and Improvise; grain sack backpack

Having something to carry your kit in the wilderness is very important, we have included a page on making a roycraft pack frame in our bushcraft basics section  which is a great traditional way to carry loads in the woods. Another option if you have a few scavenged items is to make a pack out of a sack or a bundled blanket. To use an old grain sack or something similar as an improvised pack all you need is some cord and a couple of pebbles; 

Drop the pebbles into each corner of the sack and tie a simple snare style running loop at the end of piece of cord twice as long (plus a bit) as your desired pack straps. Do the same to the other end of the string and tighten each end around the bottom corners of the pack. The pebbles will help prevent the cord from slipping off. 

Now in the centre of the pack at the top to secure the straps and close the pack tie a clove hitch. To do this make two loops in the cord as shown above. 

Next cross the second loop behind the first and force the bunched up top of the pack through the loops. 

Now pull both ends of the cord and it will tighten, you know you have tied a clove hitch correctly if it forms an x shape as above. The clove hitch is a particularly useful knot for shelter building and climbing too. 

And there you have your finished pack, fashionably modelled by yours truly. The cord straps are not uncomfortable with normal loads but if you need to carry something very heavy consider using webbing or plaiting the cord to increase the surface area pressing on your shoulders.

So give the grain sack backpack a try, it's a cheap way to carry a load and a good option if you haven't got anything else. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Foragers Diary; September 2018

Late Summer leading into Autumn is a very productive time for the forager and wild food enthusiast
Fungi are one of my favourite things to forage and this time of year sees the ink caps starting to spring up. I had a few shaggy ink caps for supper one night last week. We ran a post specifically about common ink caps in the BushScience series a while ago because they have a particular trait which means you need to be a little cautious when foraging them. 

The funny thing about the common ink cap is that it can't be eaten with alcohol so no drink with your meal or used in cooking the meal, some would recommend abstaining for three days before and after eating these particular mushrooms. I don't drink so I can eat as many of them as I want. The poison they contain is called coprine and actually gives its name to the fungi which bares the binomial name Coprinopsis atramentaria. Due to is poisonous effects on those with alcohol in their system it is also known as tipplers bane.

Common ink caps in the field and at home on the chopping board.
Their close cousin the shaggy ink cap does not have the same effect when eaten with alcohol but are also delicious and easily recognisable, I tend to use them to make soups as they can be quite strongly flavoured but if I spot a few on an early morning stroll or while I am out stalking they tend to come strait back to the kitchen for breakfast. 

You want to make sure you pick them before they turn black and inky, this doesn't take long and is that trait that gives ink caps their name 
Making the most of any animal killed for food is an important principle and we leave very little uneaten, we use the offal meats in pies like this one, I often joke that I put a lot of heart into my cooking, and I don't mean it figuratively this steak and kidney pie has the off cuts from a red deer backstrap plus the heart and kidneys, parts that might otherwise have been thrown away or fed to the dog. Organ meats are rich in iron, are always nice and tender and absolutely delicious.

As well as not wasting organ meat we have made good use of ribs as well, smaller deer don't have anything on the ribs worth eating but a bigger red or fallow will have and roasting them up with BBQ marinade is a great way to make the most of them.

September is a great time for fruit and nuts too;

Rosehips and blackberries
Cobb nuts
Black Nightshade; You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a picture of some sort of tomato. It's actually black nightshade, a close relative of tomatoes, potatoes and many other commonly eaten plants. It's also a close relative of deadly nightshade and is fairly similar in appearance.


Don't rely just on my picture here as an ID aid, do some detailed research until you are 100% certain about this species. Black nightsjade berries grow in clusters (as pictured) whereas deadly nightshade berries grow singly but are also black.

The black nightshade berries can be eaten raw on their own and in salads like tomatoes or as an ingredient in pies and puddings. 

Duck and partridge are in season now too so Sunday dinners will start featuring game birds a lot more
Roast duck breast wrapped in bacon with veg and roast potatoes.
As always check out the regular updates on the Foragers Diary microblog and get out there and enjoy some wild food of your own.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

To Bushcraft or not to Bushcraft? Expedition Skills

Following on from last weeks post reviewing the Karrimor Trig rucksack this week we are going to discuss the idea of using bushcraft skills on expeditions.

Samuel Hearne who we mentioned on the blog just the other week adopted bushcraft techniques out of necessity on his journeys because the most up to date modern equipment and techniques of the time were simply too heavy for long distance exploration and he accepted that he needed to rely on native skill and knowledge to feed himself and maintain his kit over long periods. Nowadays with very light weight equipment being readily available it may be possible to carry all the kit you need for longer periods but it's the law that is the main thing that prevents us from heading into the wilderness for long term bushcrafting or to use bushcraft skills on our expeditions.

Nessmuk 1873 b.JPG
       By Nessmuk (George Washington Sears) -, Public Domain, Link

At the time of writing his 1884 book Woodcraft and his articles for Field and Stream magazine the kind of camping George Washington 'Nessmuk' Sears's was advocating was considered light weight. Nowadays the heavy canvas, tool kit and cookware would be considered grossly heavy by almost anyone contemplating an expedition on foot.

At the time though his approach was not practised by recreational hunters and campers and even the frontiersmen and mountain men of the early 1800's would, out of choice, travelled in companies sharing heavier kit between them and relying on their survival skills in extremis rather than as a routine. 

Compared to the heavy canvasses and iron cookpots of Nessmuks era though we can carry a titanium cook pot and a small gas stove that weighs less combined than the small hatchet he would have carried to process his fuel wood. Out tents or nylon tarps weigh a tiny fraction of his canvas tarpaulins and while they might now not be suitable for using to drag firewood or stretcher a casualty as they are much thinner and not as abrasion resistant as an old fashioned canvas they are more waterproof and far, far lighter.

bivibag, thermarest, sleeping bag and fly sheet; a combined weight of about four kilos, probably half the weight of an old canvas tarpaulin. 

A modern light weight camping shelter. 
Because the kit we have available nowadays is so light weight we can afford to carry more food than we might perhaps once have had the capacity to carry so we might be able to travel a little further without re-supply or without having to resort to fishing or hunting. Nowadays carrying hunting and fishing kit would be considered by many to be additional unnecessary weight on expeditions, but that's not the main reason that bushcraft and modern light weight camping an expedition seem to have parted ways. 

In the UK land ownership has been such a contention issue over the centuries and laws so restrictive regarding access to and passage over land that many of the rights exercised by Nessmuk during his adventures are denied us now. We couldn't go on an expedition across the UK and expect to hunt, fish and trap our own food or to be able to have fires wherever we camped in the evenings. Because we can't do those things we then have to rely on the modern light weight camp stoves, freeze dried food, and other modern equipment. Because we are then tied to using a modern stove instead of a fire we don't need an axe and saw to process firewood or a firesteel or bow drill kit to light it. Ye we might be able to whittle beside the camp stove in the evening but it's not the same as a camp fire and whittling for whittling's sake might be good practice for real bushcraft skills but without a purpose to you're whittling it's not really bushcraft. 

It's a great shame that we don't have the right to practice bushcraft in the countryside here in the UK, a right that is protected in law in Scandinavian counties. Allemansr├Ątten in Sweden allows people to access more or less the whole countryside as long as they follow some sensible rules. These rules might include bans on fires in high risk areas during the Summer or completely in specific nature reserves, bans on fishing in certain conservation areas and the need to abide by relevant firearms and hunting laws. But largely access to the countryside is unrestricted as long as you practice courtesy and don't approach near peoples dwellings. 

At a camping shelter in Tyresta National Park in Sweden, due to fire risks and the need to maintain this pristine piece of primeval ancient forest fire, other than in designated areas like this one, is banned and you may only use wood supplied at camping shelters like this one rather than being allowed to cut and gather your own wood. But this is the exception rather than the rule and outside of these protected areas there is even greater freedom to experience the outdoors. 
 While I do love this principle and regularly take advantage of it on my trips to Scandinavia I can't see it working in the UK. The much larger population, the fact that most of the land is intensively managed lowland agriculture rather than forest and upland does not suit free access and neither does the mentality of many people here in the UK. We certainly aren't as a nation as closely linked to the landscape as out Scandinavian friends and I worry, having worked in the countryside my entire career, that the general level of respect for nature and the countryside here is far too low for people to be trusted with full access to the countryside.

The number of times I've seen people flout signs saying not to disturb undergrowth or cut live trees, even a few years ago at the 2014 Bushcraft show I watched a man and his young son, systematically cutting down willow coppice stems to make way for their shelter despite signs asking people not to cut vegetation.  The amount of litter I find in the countryside, the poaching that goes on, the gates that get left open, the dogs that are allowed to freely roam and terrorise livestock I'm not sure our nations countryside could survive the kind of access that Allemansr├Ątten gives the Swedes.

Bushcraft when practised properly does not impact the countryside negatively, a neatly coppiced hazel rod here and there, some harvested fruit, fungi or some legal caught fish or game, a fire carefully extinguished and the ashes scattered, shelters taken down after use do not disfigure or endanger the countryside. That is not the perception though and and any thought of cutting wood, having fires or harvesting wild food on a hike, camping trip or expedition is fairly likely to be met with disdain by modern light weight campers, especially because of the weight of the kit and equipment that allows you to do those things. Additionally the though that you would burn wood or cut a piece of living hazel to make a spoon, whistle or bow for your fire set will shock and horrify people who don't understand the nature of hardwood trees and the benefits of coppicing. Leaving no trace is a good moto of campers but actually if more people engaged with bushcraft instead of insulating themselves from nature with modern light weight kit maybe they would feel inclined to leave a positive trace in the environment.

Chris Loynes of the University of Cumbria gave a great talk about this idea of leaving more trace at the Nature Connections Conference in Derby in 2016 and published a blog post on the topic HERE.

With the availability of modern light weight kit camping and bushcraft have become two very separate things to most people and that is a shame in some respects.

We'd be really interested to know how you link your practice of bushcraft with other outdoor activities and would love to feature some guest blog posts on the BushcraftEducation blog with peoples thoughts and ideas. Please get in touch with us through social media or in the comments section on the right of the page. We look forward to hearing from you and perhaps to publishing a guest post from you soon.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Karrimor Trig 30 Airspace

I bought this rucksack many years ago when I first moved away from home to attend college, it has served me well all over the globe from short expeditions here in the UK to New Zealand, North America and Scandinavia. At the time of purchase rigid air space rucksacks were becoming popular and having returned from many a hike drenched in sweat under my rucksac straps and on my back I thought it was time to try one of these new-fangled packs. 

I had been concerned that the rigid plastic which maintained the gap between my back and the rucksac would limit the carrying capacity of the rucksac and it did to an extent, and Bulkier objects if forced into the pack would also bend the plastic which maintained the gap between my back and the pack it'self. If packed sensibly though these things were never any more of an issue than they would be in any other type of pack.

The side pockets have proven very useful, although not really deep enough or secure enough to hold a water bottle the pack is equipped with well placed straps on the sides to allow the pockets to hold the end of ice axe's or other similar gear which can then be secured with the straps. The front pocket, if stuffed full, does eat into the available space of the main compartment but I found it an excellent place to stow waterproofs and gear that needed to be accessed quickly. The lid pocket houses a waterproof rain cover which can be stretched over the pack in bad weather and which is large enough to house other gear which you need easy access to; first aid kit, compass and map etc..

The 'air space' meant that your back was much cooler  during extended hikes, and the problems of sweating and overheating were much reduced compared to a pack without this space. 
The air space lived up to it's hype and has kept me dry and very comfortable for several years over hundreds of short expeditions, day walks and days of supervising groups out of doors carrying this loaded with first aid kit, emergency equipment and the other trappings of an outdoor educator.


Talking of hiking and supervising people out of doors what should you pack for outdoor adventures on foot? 

Equipment is one of the many things that separates bushcrafters from other outdoors enthusiasts; while a bushcrafter might be comfortable with a simple tarp and no camp stove, someone else might consider those essential items but will only carry a small pocket knife and no other tools which the bushcrafter packs a sheath knife, hatchet and crook knife. 

Having worked with Duke of Edinburghs Award groups, youth groups, colleges, the field studies council and other groups put of doors for many years there are a few things I will always pack to make sure I can take care of a group out of doors whether I am teaching bushcraft or just supervising an expedition or hike. I have given a rough kit list for an overnight trip of a few nights duration here and I have also highlighted in bold the things I would carry on a single day hike;

·        Shelter
o   This might be a tent, tarp or bivi bag for over night expeditions or just a simple survival bag or bothy bag in case of emergencies on day hikes. 
·        Waterproof trousers and jacket
·        Spare clothes (even if you are only expecting to be gone a few hours a change of clothes can be life saving in the event that you or one of your team ends up soaked to the skin, remember to ensure that groups you are supervising carry a change of clothes as well but to be on the safe side I carry some extra spares in my 'emergency bag')
o   Hat and gloves (yes even in Summer)
o   Warm over layer (a lightweight down jacket or similar, I carry one that packs up no larger than your average can of coke which I use all the time even in the Summer)
o   Spare socks and underwear
o   Spare trousers
o   Spare t-shirt/shirt
·        First aid kit (minimum contents)
o   Plasters (band-aids)
o   Antiseptic wipes
o   Nitrile gloves
o  Pain killers (paracetamol or ibuprofen although you can't give these to your group if you are supervising young people)
o   Scissors/shears
o   Wound dressings (various sizes)
o   Blister treatment
o   Compression bandage
·        Sleeping Bag
·        Carry Mat (therma-rest, foam pad or equivalent)
·        Camp stove (unless you are planning to cook on a campfire)
o   Enough fuel to last your entire trip
·        Mess kit;
o   Cooking pot
o   Spoon
·        Lighter or matches
·        Pocket knife
·     Head torch (a head torch is a must for pitching a tent after dark and keeping your hands free to perform tasks at night, but is also vital in case of emergencies on short hikes)
·        Food (enough for two hot meals each day plus snacks for lunch and hot drinks)
·        Emergency bag;
o   Mobile phone with full charge and spare battery
o   Spare batteries for torch
o   Space blanket or survival bag
o   Whistle
o   Extra spare clothes for group members, including a few sets of gloves and hats, spare fleece or down jacket and trousers.  
·        Rucksac/Backpack
·        Map and compass
·        Water bottle
·        Water purification tablets
·        Personal hygiene items;
o   Toothbrush and past
o   Wet wipes
o   Microfiber towel (I always carry at least one of these even on day hikes in case of accidental soakings, they are so small and light that you hardly know they ar ein your pack at all)
o   soap

For a day hike when I am not carrying a full shelter such as a tent and sleeping bag I would still ensure I have an emergency shelter such as a bothy bag or blizzard bag but would not carry these on a multi day trip as I would already be carrying sufficient shelter items. 

Also from a bushcraft perspective I would want to carry a bushcraft knife and possibly a couple of light weight craft tools such as a crook knife, however these items aren't actually vital. On a camping trip where you carry all your kit including packaged food and a camp stove you will be absolutely fine with no larger tool than a pocket knife, you may want a larger knife but if you are prepared you won't desperately need it. 

There may be some circumstances where you will need to carry additional equipment for a specific environment, such as camping in the cold or snow, but these are the basics and will be sufficient in a temperate climate.

Looking worse for wear after thirteen years hard use. 
Eventually though all good things come to an end and the wear and tear started to show, the fabric and frame of the bag it'self is still completely sound and free of any significant damage but the, zips, buckles, straps and padded hip belt have all gradually degraded and worn away. All the buckles have now been replaced with various combinations of elastic and carabiners or have had so many changes of buckle that the straps themselves are worn out. 

A make shift closure for the pack made out of elastic and a caribiner. 

If Karrimor still made them I would highly recommend them, even after a more recent experience with a pair of disintegrating walking boots by Karrimor has put me off the brand, this particular pack was a winner and it's a shame to see it go but sometimes kit really does need to be retired.  

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Hunter Gatherer Ethics; Shotguns

I don't normally release posts on a Saturday but today is significant as it't the beginning of Partridge and Duck season, Red Grouse season started back on the 12th of August but as I live in a lowland area at the moment I have very little to do with that. Pheasant season will start at the beginning of next month. 

This marks the time of year where the amount of wild meat that gets put on my table increases quite significantly. Most of the game birds shot around the world are shot with shotguns for the simple reason that shotguns are a weapon which makes it possible to shoot moving targets far more simply than rifles as they fire a cloud of 'shot; or small pellets. 

Shotguns fire a range of ammunition from simple shot on the right for game birds, these very in size from very small number 9 shot to large number 1 shot suitable for geese and even larger BB, AAA and SSG shot, I normally use 5's for pheasants. Shotguns can also fire slugs (shown on the left of the picture) solid projectiles which can be used for shooting boar, deer or for tactical situations. 
Whether you are shooting birds on a 'driven' shoot managed by a gamekeeper or rough shooting which involves walking through cover and flushing birds which you shoot as they fly away a shotgun is the tool of choice. 

Waiting for the birds on a driven day with a 20 bore side by side shotgun. 
The problem with  a shotgun is the fairly indiscriminate damage it can do to the meat of your target, shooting with a rifle is fairly precise and carefully aimed head and chest shots do absolutely no meat damage. 

A headshot on a rabbit with a 55 grain hollow point .223 bullet. No meat damage there. For more about the effects of bullets on targets check out our terminal ballistics article in the BushScience series. 

Carefully aimed head shots with air rifles are also very effective and leave absolutely no damage to the meat;

Pristine breast meat with no damage at all on a delicious woodpigeon. 

Unfortionately shotguns can sometimes cause a lot of meat damage, it's true that rifles can as well if the shot is poorly placed particularly through the guts or through a large muscle mass such as a haunch. Shotguns through by design kill through shock and the potential to do damage to a vital organ, to achieve that a lot of pellets often strike non vital places and damage the meat;

This pheasant breast is a prime example of the undesirable meat damage that can be caused by shotguns. 

That's not to say the damage is inevitable, these ducks have very little meat damage, the problem with the pheasant is that it was probably shot at close range and from directly beneath as it flew towards the shooter so it too the full load of  shot in the chest. 
 From an ethical point of view the shotgun kills humanely and gives you the ability to take moving targets effectively but just be careful about your shots, if your quarry is too close you will destroy your meal and are you shooting for the table or just to see something fall?

Think about it!

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