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Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Bushcraft and Survival in the News; October 2018

Last week there was no post on the Bushcraft Education blog, I have tried to post every week this year and am aiming to continue and even increase that going into 2019 but last week I had a very good excuse for missing a post, I was in Sweden for a Father and Son bushcraft trip, to make up for that there will be daily posts for the next few days to share our trip to Sweden with you, some of the gear we used, some of the bushcraft skills we practised and some advice about travelling abroad to practice bushcraft.

Todays post though is a news post, I said when I posted the first of these that they may become more regular if they proved popular and if the amount of news demanded it, and it has so here goes:

Following on from last month's post which featured a lot of news about the recent surge in 'prepping' and survival bunkers there are a few more relevant news stories this month;

One from the Guardian on the 28th of October was about preppers in Australia, as soon as I read the first few sentences I couldn't help but think of the Mad Max films.

MadMazAus.jpg
                                                     
                                               
The lawless, post apocalyptic Australian wasteland inhabited by Max Rockatanski and endless gangs of degenerate petrol heads isn't quite the picture this article paints but it's clear that the subjects of this article are preparing for that very situation. Prepper Jim Greer, geography teacher Mel; who also teachers classes on preparedness, food production and permaculture, and preparedness blogger Nick Sais who runs the Australian Preppers site and forum are all gearing up for a potential apocalyptic event prompted by their concern that the world is spiralling towards a major disaster.

The article points out that the 'doomsday clock' has recently been adjusted to two minutes to midnight, the closest it has ever been to a man made apocalypse since the US and former Soviet Union were testing Hydrogen bombs in 1953.

Doomsday clock (2 minutes).svg
By Ryanicus Girraficus - Own work, CC0, Link

The doomsday clock is a symbol of the likelihood of a man made global catastrophe. It has been maintained since 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences Science and Security Board. Originally it was published to represent the dangers of nuclear and atomic warfare but also represents other potentially damaging human influences such as climate change, disruptive technology and weapons of mass destruction. The current time of two minutes to midnight is not only based on the threat of war but also on the disruptive affects of climate change.

Something not considered in the time shown on the doomsday clock are the more radical motivations for prepping, resisting rogue and tyrannical governments and ZOMBIES! The Zombie apocalypse idea is a popular one at the moment, largely motivated by zombie themed films and television programmes but lets face it; it's never going to happen. That doesn't mean it doesn't get a lot of press though.

The Sun published an article on the 10th of October based on research on the number of people preparing for apocalyptic events and also reported on some advice by a University Professor on escape routes from major cities and the suggested contents of a survival kit. Saying that research has been carried out into people preparing for the zombie apocalypse the 'research' isn't all that rigorous or useful, it's clear from the article that the research was commissioned by NOW TV  to celebrate the latest season of the Walking Dead coming out and gives us stats like;

"The study of 2,000 Brits also found the average adult believes they could evade a zombie bite for just over nine weeks, 13 hours and 26 minutes."

The responses are clearly based on peoples perceptions of survival based on watching too many zombie TV programmes rather than a true understanding of survival and wilderness living. Many principles offered as 'survival hacks' in the article are also grossly over-simplified like the suggestion that when shortages of fuel occur wood can be used as a simple alternative to fuel cars, while wood gas generators are relatively simple technology a single sentence saying it's simple doesn't quite do the technology justice.


The article focuses it's survival advice on scavenging food from supermarkets and modern sources rather than the skills of hunting and gathering but that is the part of bushcraft and survival that is of most interest to me, long term survival won't be possible without a knowledge of wild food, foraging and hunting even if you camped out in Sainsburys you would eventually run out of corned beef and beans so it was disappointing that this article missed out on this topic entirely and instead went with the popular view of the apocalypse of scavenging and looting. It almost seems at times like people truly want the apocalypse to occur so they can rush out and loot themselves a land-rover and a load of camping kit and live like kings. Some of the modern apocalyptic fiction novels sometimes read like wish lists of outdoor kit, that's not to say they aren't entertaining but they probably aren't realistic.

Speaking of apocalyptic fiction I can recommend this series of books which I read recently;

                                                                   


While TV programmes about fictional zombies might have been the catalyst for the research presented in that article by the Sun, and repeated in similar articles in other publications, there are other survival themed TV programmes at the moment that are very popular. From moderately educational programmes like Dual Survival, Survivor Man and of course anything by Ray Mears to reality TV style programmes like Alone and Bear Grylls Island. Thinly disguised as social experiments a lot of these reality programmes are just opportunities to see people get upset about eating things that aren't wrapped in plastic or available at McDonalds and arguing about how to go about the task of survival.

Someone has recently shared an article in the Metro about their experience on one of the Bear Grylls 24-hour survival experiences. One thing that shouldn't surprise anyone is that Bear wasn't actually running the course, while these experiences might carry his name it doesn't actually mean he will be there. The description of the course though indicates that it follows the format of his TV programmes and is more of a survival experience than any sort of training. 'Dynamic river crossings' that just seems like code for jumping into water, a regular occurance on his programmes this is one of those things which is more likely to get someone killed or injured trying to copy Bears antics than anything else he does, it is just a matter of time before someone kills themselves jumping into shallow water or when they smash into a shopping trolley that's just bellow the surface, it's not responsible to teach or demonstrate this as a survival strategy.

                              The Island with Bear Grylls titlecard.jpg


As well as news about 'his' courses Bear has also been in the news for an incident on one of his shows. As reported on Digital Spy during a celebrity edition of his series The Island where groups of people are stranded on an island and expected to survive a celebrity who I'd never heard of apparently, I didn't watch the series, tied up a pig and effectively kept it as a pet rather than killing and eating it. While it was tied up, which it obviously didn't enjoy and as it struggled it ended up strangling it'self and dying. Now this chap, Pete Wicks, had been imposing his newly adopted pescatarian diet on his companions by adopting this pig as a pet insisted that the pig be berried rather than eaten even once it had died and instead of making use of it floated it out to sea in some kind of mock Viking funeral. This seems like a huge waste to me especially as it was later pointed out that he was more than happy to kill and eat fish, there seems to be no moral justification for killing one type of animal for food and not another. A showdown between Bear and Pete came later when Bear daid the decision not to eat the pig deprived the camp members of vital energy which they weren't getting anywhere else. Pete responded and said he had been providing yucca and fish for his companions but according to bear that was clearly not sufficient.

does it really make a difference if it comes wrapped in cellophane or skin? This red deer certainly had a better life than most farm animals and went from happily grazing to dead in a fraction of a second, can there be a more ethical way to source food than that? 

This raises questions of the ethics of hunting and gathering, something we address here on the BushcraftEducation blog fairly frequently and which will be a recurring topic on future posts. To me though there wouldn't have been a second thought about this, in a survival situation, even an artificial one like this, I wouldn't have had to think twice about eating the pig. I buy bacon why not eat a pig, killing and butchering an animal is something I am skilled at and even for these urbanised celebs certainly would be something they could easily work out. At the end of the day if a lion, fox or buzzard can eat meat why can't we?

There are strong arguments for a reduction in meat eating in general to limit the environmental impacts of industrialised agriculture and the demands on water and other resources that raising farm animals places on the environment but there is a difference between eating wild meat and farmed meat. Wild meat places no unnatural demands on the ecosystem, it's there anyway and I haven't heard anyone make the argument that we should cull wildlife because they are drinking our water and farting into our atmosphere like the arguments made against farmed beef and dairy cattle.

A Pere David Deer
More robust arguments can be made against trophy hunting though and this month the fact that people can pay to shoot deer at Woburn Abbey and other Bedfordshire estates has hit the papers. That may come as a shock to the urban population but as I am in the game, wildlife and deer management industry I have known about it for a while, it's not something that has ever been kept a secret and is entirely justifiable. The hunting of 'trophy' animals has probably been popular ever since some stone age hunter gatherer said to another "mines bigger than yours" and nowadays there is a well developed standard of trophy scoring and grading and many species which are sought after by trophy hunters. It may seem distasteful to some to hunt something because it had big antlers, big teeth or beautiful feathers but if we think about the specific situation being described in the article those deer are going to be shot anyway so why not take advantage of the willingness of trophy hunters to shoot them to pay some bills?

The 'rare' deer being shot at Woburn are Pere David,a a species only still in existence today thanks to the conservation efforts of the Woburn deer park. For about 70 years the only surviving Pere Davd in the world were found at Woburn after they became extinct in their native China but in 1985 they were re-introduced in China from Woburn and now number in the thousands. The herd at Woburn though numbers a few hundred animals which must be regularly culled to prevent them from outstripping their food sources. As we have no large predators in the British Isles that cull is up to humans to perform, why not let people pay to shoot some of the bigger older stags if they are going to be shot anyway?

The same is true of any trophy deer stalking in the UK  humans are the only thing controlling deer numbers which are at an all time high in the UK and they can be immensely damaging. I have been involved in deer management, stalking and culling professionally for years and part of funding this management is letting out some of that stalking to clients who will stalk deer under my guidance rather than me shooting them all. It is an entirely justifiable and necessary aspect of deer management in the UK.



Perhaps peoples squeamishness when it comes to the idea of trophy hunting or killing an eating 'Colin' the pig is related to the attitude that got a young girl hurt in Bushy Park recently. The same people who would decry the hunting, killing and eating of a wild animal as barbaric and unnecessary in this day and age are the same ones who treat them like the background of a selfie. Having  worked closely with deer for years I've been bitten, butted, kicked, trampled and squashed I know not to get between them and where they want to go and certainly not to make a target of myself during the annual rut. Last year I had to perform first aid on someone who was kicked in the face by a red hind which jumped over them and gave them a swift kick to the face as a parting gift and once had a massive bruise reaching from my groin to my knee after a red stag knocked me over and stood on the inside of my thigh.

There is only one thing on a red stags mind at this time of year and he will fight anything that he perceives as a threat or competitor. Now a seven year old girl having her photo taken may not be a sexual competitor to a 150kg red stag but it isn't going to wait to work that our before goring it. Wildlife does not exist just for peoples entertainment and a bit of respect of their power is required when you are trying to get your selfies, if you want a close up photo get a proper camera don't sneak up with your phone at this time of year or it will end badly.

My oldest son whittling a face on a piece of lime wood. 

The last newsworthy topic to feature in this post will be an article reporting claims from a professor of surgery that students are loosing the dexterity to perform surgery as they have no manual skills and are spending too much time 'swiping' on tablets and phones. I used similar evidence and anecdote as the rationale for a piece of research I did a few years ago which you can read about in full HERE.

Get those children out there in the woods and dirt playing with sticks, collecting fruit, throwing stones in the river, whittling, collecting firewood, splitting kindling and developing some old school strength and manual skills that will fix them.

I hope you've enjoyed this month's news post and as long as there continues to be as much bushcraft, survival and relevant educational news we will continue to post these news posts monthly. They will appear on the last Friday of each month, although this one is slightly out of sync due to our trip last week and has displaced the normal foragers diary post.

Keep an eye on the blog over the next few days for an account of the recent Father and Son trip to Sweden.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Adapt and improvise; bushcraft draw knife

As we've mentioned many times before bushcraft is all about adapting and improvising and one such adaptation you can make to your bushcraft knife is to turn it into a fairly effective draw knife very easily. 

A home made draw knife. 
A draw knife is used for a lot of green woodworking tasks and is normally a fairly long blade with handles set at 90 degrees to the blade edge. The blade is generally sharpened to a chisel grind meaning that one bevel is completely flat and the other slopes to meet it with no secondary bevel at all at the edge. The flat bevel is then used against the wood being worked, which is clamped in place, and the knife is then drawn towards you to remove shavings from the work piece. 

This sounds dangerous but the shape of the tool and the way you use it means that even though you pull the cutting edge towards yourself it will never reach you and can't cause you any harm. Draw knives though are heavy, expensive and too specialist to be carried amongst the average bushcrafters tool on a trip out to the woods so you can adapt your knife to be used like a draw knife with a bit of ingenuity. 


First take a stout green stick and carve s slot in one end, you do need to carve this rather then just force the tip of the knife into the grain otherwise it will split. 
Into this slot you can then insert the tip of your knife, this forms your draw knife, while both handles won't be at 90 degrees to the blade the stick forms one and the handle of the knife the other handle and it can now be used and controlled very easily for draw cut towards you. The addition of the stick adds power and leverage to the tip of the knife to power through knots and imperfections in the grain as you work wood.
The 'draw knife' in action on a piece of English Elm that's going be become a 'quick bow'.
 The knife used in this post is my custom knife made to my design by Ammonite Knives which you can read about in a past post HERE and HERE.




Wednesday, 10 October 2018

From the High Seat; Seat Life

It will soon be Chinese water deer season so it's time to check and carry out maintenance on all our high seats. There are always seats to check, build and locate, the older seats need checking for ageing, rusting, rotting or even malicious damage because some people don’t understand what we do, how we do it or why and they feel that damaging a seat is helping the deer and hope that someone tumbling out of it is wildlife pay back.

Over the years, we have put in a lot of seats from purpose built single seaters, purpose built two seaters and some homemade seats and observation towers, improvised from stacking IBC frames and crates but all have their place and can take a beating from the weather during the space of a year, I even had one stolen!

Shooting from one of our two seat high seats
Today though, we just had to check security of the structures and the seats and all was well, a little pruning and we are good for our first outings of the season. We all know where we are going to be sitting on the first day of the season and have a reasonable expectation of what we could see but of course, the wildlife isn’t briefed, so it could do something completely different! And that is the joy of it, it’s not a computer game, it’s not predictable, it’s the application of skill and knowledge against an infinitely variable set of circumstances, wind and weather, a tractor showing up unexpectedly, a dog taking its owner for a walk or a particularly wary deer spooked by a strange deer showing up on its patch.

We’re as ready as we can be but on the day, we are at the mercy of so many factors out of our control and we may need to use all of our skill and experience to overcome any challenges which may occur, the important thing to remember is that a session in the high seat or foot stalking is to be enjoyed not endured, I am as happy with a picture or a memory as I am carrying out 20Kg of warm venison!

Enjoy!


MG

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Volvo XC90 D5 Power Pulse Automatic


This road test was undertaken with a view to providing a typical member of BASC with an insight as to the suitability, desirability and practicality of this high spec Volvo XC.




First Impressions.


The XC90 is a big car, with great presence and imposing lines, standing ‘head and shoulders’ above other ‘normal’ vehicles around it but of course it has to be, it will carry seven people and a significant amount of luggage. As my old flying instructor used to tell me, stand back and look at it to see if it looks right before you get up close and it does look right! The tested model arrived in shiny black and it certainly wouldn’t look out of place dropping off dignitaries at 10 Downing Street! It may however, look a little out of place in the farm yard until it has been ‘de-shined’. The big, road based tyres, low and wide didn’t look like the tyres that would take it on a serious cross country journey and I think that many BASC members, like me, would certainly want to switch these out for something a little higher profile and with a rather more rugged tread pattern. I intended to try it way off road but as we’re still in first impression mode, this vehicle appears to just lack a little ground clearance for the farm and cross country application. It was also lacking another countryside accessory, a tow hitch, which is likely to be another BASC member requirement, I would have liked to test it as a tow vehicle, I suspect it would be good and may well find favour with the caravanning fraternity, IF that 2 litre engine can deliver the power necessary and on paper is says it will, time to find out!


Getting to know the Beast.


Time to enter the parlour! A quick press on the ‘unlock’ button on the keyless fob, has the lights flashing and the neatly folded door mirrors swinging into position, the doors are illuminated for easy location and entry in any light conditions. If you’re heading towards the car loaded with shopping, opening the tail gate doesn’t require a lot of effort either, a press of the button on the key fob or even a quick kicking motion under the rear bumper has the ample tail gate swing open. A convenient button on the base of the open tail gate, now nearly 7 feet in the air, reverses the ‘open sesame’ trick and is a bit of a stretch for some of our shorter family members and perhaps a button a little lower down may be worthy of consideration, maybe near one of the rear light clusters.


It is quite a step up into the driver’s and front passenger seat, I would want to see a convenient grab handle appear in the door frame when the door is open and fold away again as the door closes, so as not to provide a protrusion to injure occupants in the event of a sudden deceleration or worse, in the event of an accident, I’m sure Volvo could come up with such a device in a 50 grand car. If the car is on any kind of side slope, the big solid and heavy front doors need quite a bit of opening and closing respectively, several times I had to push the door ‘uphill’ to get out on a slope only to have it fall back on my legs as I swung out and that is a big heavy door to have close on you.


The third row of seats, the 2 rearmost seats for children, for this is the only size of occupant who can really be accommodated here, really needs some agility to gain access. No matter how we slid and folded the middle row seats, it was still essential to provide some assistance with a huge step or gentle lift for a small person. I feel a little extra work on gaining access to the third row would be well worth the investment, perhaps an extra step or similar.


The seats are very comfortable and it is impossible to conceive that anyone could not get comfortable in these well-appointed and infinitely variable leather arm chairs, this is going to make any journey comfortable, they adjust every which way and will even warm your rear if you so desire. I could write ‘war and peace’ on the gadget list but suffice to say that I have flown aeroplanes with a lot less gadgets and one could play for hours if gadgets are your thing. Gadgets are not my thing but safety certainly is and I loved the safety features, of which more later. The gadget box contained voice activation for climate and entertainment control and a whole host of other things but for me, navigation and safety devices outweigh the value of other ‘options’ by a mile.


Unleash the horses.


The view from the driving seat creates the immediate impression that the big Volvo isn’t so daunting after all. Visibility is excellent, mirrors and driving aids all help to make it an easy drive, despite its size. With the keyless fob in the vehicle, all you need to do is turn the start / stop switch to start and the horses are awake. It is a beautifully quiet and smooth for a 4 cylinder engine, the vibration and sound deadening is of a very high order and if you didn’t know it was a 4 you could easily believe you were sitting behind a 6 cylinder engine. Very powerful and smooth power delivery through the lovely 8 speed automatic gearbox, it would have been my first choice of power and transmission combination and it didn’t disappoint in any situation, gravel, grass or tarmac. Between the beautifully weighted power steering and that gear box, travelling was not going to be a chore!


On The Road.


We covered 873 miles on every possible kind of journey that the vehicle is capable of during which the car returned an average of 41 MPG, which was well down on book value, as we have come to expect for almost every vehicle. The very efficient start stop technology was the best and most consistent I have ever used but even this didn’t pull the mpg up to where it should be. Journeys included the daily commute to work, which is mixed country lanes and A roads in to the edge of the town. We had motorway journeys from Cambridgeshire to visit family in Staffordshire including the M6 and other A roads. We took Children and Grandchildren on days out and to Church on Sunday. I also drove it to and through the farm to collect wildlife cameras and deliver essential equipment for an executive training course at the wilderness camp site and I even shot a couple of rabbits from the driver’s window!


Acceleration is rapid once it gets off the mark but there is a slight lag between pressing the go pedal and leaving the mark, I couldn’t detect if this was a gear choosing process or what but when it had decided how it was going to launch, it certainly did go! Accelerating to cruise speed or speed matching with other traffic in the blink of an eye.


I loved the safety features and all those aids that assist with situational awareness. I have encountered some of them before but never so many on a single vehicle. In order of preference, I love the blind spot warning lights in the door mirrors, they were great on the motorway and as a look over the shoulder is pretty worthless because of the width of the door pillar, I quickly got to love them!


Next the adaptive cruise control is brilliant on the motorway along with the proximity warning lights which all aid awareness of a tired driver and keep those fast moving traffic jams just far enough apart to prevent using the car in front as a brake!


Reversing Camera is also brilliant, with proximity warnings on all corners, it really does help put this big car safely into modest amounts of space, it will even park itself but I didn’t have to opportunity to test that, everything else worked beautifully so I have no doubt that this would too.


For a big, tall vehicle, it drives superbly well and is not hard work at all, there was no hint of body role despite the slightly higher centre of gravity than your average saloon. It drives like a limousine and you could certainly use it for the school run, collecting the Chief Executive from the airport or taking a spare part across the field to the combine harvester and it will do them all very well. The big Volvo just ate up the miles on a late evening motorway journey, it was comfortable, restful, navigation was a breeze, adaptive cruise control, mirrors and safety features to assist in avoiding the increasing number of drivers who have forgotten what mirrors are for or just thought they bought the road with the car! We arrived home swiftly and safely, 2 awake and 2 asleep and I didn’t feel exhausted. I did detect a constant roar from behind me which I assumed was road noise but as the seats were so comfortable, I couldn’t find any volunteers to lay on the floor to confirm or deny my suspicion. If I was right, then that is a disappointment as the sound deadening from the engine and front wheels is superb maintaining the impression of a being in a six cylinder limousine, so logic dictates that it could be done for the rear wheels too.


During the period of the test, we had barely a drop of rain and so when I took the Volvo off road, it was on rough and grassy tracks but no mud to speak of and by choosing my line carefully the road tyres and the ground clearance proved adequate but in a month or two when it’s been wet for a while, I’m not sure if it would fare quite so well.


If you have a £50k plus budget for a luxury estate which you need to do almost everything, then the XC90 could well be the one for you. It did everything I asked of it, which is probably more than many of its owners will. I know several XC90 owners of older models who fill all the seats, do the school run and longer trips on holiday but if their tyres touch grass it’s because someone spilt grass trimmings at the city recycle centre! I think of the XC90 as a gentleman’s carriage rather than a workhorse, a very capable one too. I think for many farm / shoot applications, the XC90 may just be a little too grand and to excel in that role it needs just a little more ground clearance and some more XC type tyres, the road biased tyres on the model I tested were not going to go far when the mud got serious or even if the grass was really wet. If you want to do the airport run for someone special, take 4 big adults (and the driver) for a special night out or take a picnic for 7 (so long as 2 are children) off the beaten track or a major camping adventure, the XC90 will certainly do it all and then some. Definitely test drive it, it’s a big step up for small people and definitely needs a step to assist those entering into the back row or for those lifting children in to the back row.







the big Volvo doing it's duty on the farm 




It did take me by surprise with one little party trick, as I hit a particularly large pothole on the undulating fen roads, the seat belt pre-tensioner activated and took all the slack out of my seat belt and then about an extra two trouser sizes! Wow! That got may attention but it was reassuring to know that if I hit something, the seatbelts would be tight!

With the topic of this months review being a vehicle I thought a good lesson to include this month would be some tips about bushcraft skills and tools that can compliment overland expeditions by vehicle. Rather than turn this post into a huge essay though it is simpler to send you to the Overlanding Journal Website where Geoff has written some articles on just that topic. I hope you enjoy them;






Summary.


Loved the Big Volvo, smooth, powerful, quiet in the front and drives like a limo, love the seating position, the visibility and driving and safety aids.


Tyre choice wouldn’t have been mine and a little more ground clearance would be a boon when the going gets tough, it’s a little bit thirsty considering the motorway miles we covered and I would have loved to tow a trailer for a few hundred miles to test that particular capability.


Would I own one, yes absolutely!



Martin R Guy






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