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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.

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.

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