In this week’s blog post we will be looking at plant and tree identification in the UK in winter.  

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, being able to identify the plants and trees of the British isles becomes increasingly difficult – many will have lost their distinctive leaves and berries which aid identification in other times of the year. In this week’s blog post we will be looking at how to identify trees in winter, key pointers that you can put into practice and provide you with a list of commonly found trees that you can practice identifying at this time of the year.

As always, please feel free to read our entire blog or skip to the part that interests you the most.

Difference between tree identification in winter and other seasons

The most notable difference in trees in the winter is the effect that the season has on the leaves. While Evergreen conifers are trees that retain their leaves throughout the year, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the autumn/winter and flower again in spring.

Coniferous trees identifying trees in winter



Why identify trees in winter?

Identifying trees in winter can provide you with an added depth to your winter walks. It can also provide you with access to a variety of bushcraft tools – enabling you to access the same natural materials that you would be able to access in the spring – for example; being able to identify trees in winter will enable you to find the correct wood for making a bow drill.  

Key pointers to keep in mind when identifying trees in the winter

When it comes to identifying deciduous trees in the winter the leaves are not there to help us, for this reason, we need to look to the bark, the buds, and their general shape. Tree buds, though they flower in spring, lie dormant in the winter giving clues as to the tree in which they sit. Tree shapes provide an additional clue as to their identification, field maples will, for example, have rounder profiles whereas ash trees are rather slim. Combining the characteristics of the bark and the buds in winter is a great method of identifying the tree.

Characteristics of bark and buds

Combining the key characteristics of bark and buds in a table is a great way of identifying trees in winter – see Collins Gem ‘Trees’ for a more detailed explanation of winter tree identification.  Here are a few examples below:

 

      • Hazel: Brown buds/flaking and peeling bark
      • Horse chestnut: Red and orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark
      • Beech: Brown/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks
      • Crab apples: Red/orange/brown buds and cracked or scarred bark and.

 

Why not try your hand at tree identification, foraging, shelter building, knife skills and many more aspects of bushcraft on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information

Several key trees to identify in the winter

Below are a few examples of key trees that you can practice identifying this winter.

Hazel (Corylus avellana):

Look for brown buds, flaking and/or peeling bark.

Hazel bark identifying trees in winter

Hazel bark

 

Hazel bud identifying trees in winter

Hazel bud


Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum):

When it comes to the horse chestnut keep an eye out for reddy -orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark.

 

Horse chestnut bark identifying trees in winter

Horse chestnut bark

Horse chestnut bud helping you to identify trees in winter

Horse chestnut bud



Beech (Fagus sylvatica):

Beech trees can, in the winter, be identified by their own/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks.

 

Beech bark how to identify trees in Winter

Beech bark

 

Beech bud

Beech bud

 

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris):

Crab apples can be identified by their cracked or scarred bark and red/orange/brown buds.

Crab apple bark

Crab apple bark

Trees in winter Crab apple bud

Crab apple bud

Foraging in winter

Though it might seem like the forager’s patch is sparse in winter, the cold season can offer up a variety of treats for those that know where to look.

Beech nuts  

Beech nuts can make for a tasty nibble when you’re out in the woods. Simply scrape off the brown skin on the inside and eat the edible triangular seeds inside.

Chestnuts  

Chestnuts are perhaps the epitome of winter foraging. Found over most woodland floors, chestnuts can be opened up and removed from their green spikey cases ready to eat once cooked over a fire.

Pine nuts

Pine cones, the open ones at least, can be opened up and shaken to remove the pine nuts within. These can be eaten raw or toasted. For pine cones that are closed, simply put them near a fire for a few days and they should open up.

 

Give foraging a try on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information


Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, also known as ‘jack-by-the-hedge’, is most often found in shady places such as the edges of hedgerows. Its heart-shaped leaves are smooth and hairless – like nettles – when the leaves are crushed they smell of garlic.

The colder season can also be a great time of the year for foraging for shellfish, read more about seashore foraging in our blog here.

Remember  – never eat anything that you have not positively identified.

 

Try your hand at foraging, learn the art of shelter building, campfire cooking and discover how to safely source water on our weekend bushcraft course.

Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft

We all have the capacity to feed ourselves from our natural environment – we’ve just lost track of how. Fallen leaves and bare hedgerows can suggest there’s nothing good to eat in the autumn landscape, but actually the autumn world is full of amazing food. Here’s how to discover it.

Begin with an expert forager

Learning to forage requires some skills and quite a lot of experience – you can’t do much better than finding an expert forager and taking a course with them. This doesn’t just teach you what’s good to eat, it helps you to harvest from the wild sustainably, so that you don’t damage the environment where you are foraging. A good bushcraft course will set you on the path to having some very productive time in the wild, with a good meal at the end of it!

Focus on autumn foraging

Funnily enough, autumn can be the easiest time to discover delicious food in the wild. Wild mushrooms, ripe fruits, nuts and berries all abound and can be the most recognisable introduction to foraging.

Get social

Foraging is fun. Working together as a group means that you can pass on your new bushcraft skills to others, perhaps helping children to develop the ability to spot food in the wild so that they grow up with the ‘skill’ of finding a meal in the natural environment. Taking a bushcraft course is another great way to develop both your foraging and your social skills and whilst finding a solo meal in the wild is rewarding, harvesting, preparing and eating one as part of a group is really enjoyable!

Feed your senses – foods to forage in autumn

Autumn foraging brings very rich and developed flavours such as bullace and damsons, rich yet tart plum-type fruits that have intense flavours: whilst not great to eat raw, both fruits make amazing jam or fruit cheese and great wine.

  • Blackberries are the easiest thing for most of us to recognise – and can be eaten raw, cooked with other fruits like autumn apples, turned into jam or jelly or made into wine.
  • Rose hips are easy to spot but not so easy to harvest! Best taken after a frost when they become sweeter, you will need to wear gloves to pick them and the interior hairs need to be removed before consumption. Rose hips make beautiful syrup and jelly.
  • Crab apples are pectin rich and can be used to support less pectin-rich fruit in making jams and jellies from other autumn fruits such as blackberries, rowan berries and rose hips.
  • Nuts from walnuts to cobnuts are all available, although you may have to pit your wits against the grey squirrel community to harvest them.
  • Mushrooms are a real test of foraging skill! It takes a lot of practice to forage fungi with confidence and it’s not a habit that beginners should get into. Whilst we have amazing native wild fungi such as blewitts, boletes, ceps, parasols and wax caps, all available in autumn, only an idiot would head out into the countryside armed with a book and not much else, to try and judge if a mushroom is tasty or fatal!


On our Bushcraft courses we teach game preparation and get students to prep their own food so they know how to, should the need ever arise in the wilderness.

This is a walk through guide on how to skin and butcher a rabbit for food. You can learn more techniques like this by signing up to a Wildway Bushcraft courseUsing this method will also allow you to keep the pelt in the most useful condition so you can use it for making items such as slippers and bags.

We will start at the point where you have got your hands on a rabbit. Assuming the rabbit looks fit and healthy, you will need to kill it.

You will want to do this as quickly and as painlessly as possible, showing the utmost respect to the animal. You are aiming for a humane dispatch, this can be achieved by giving the rabbit two sharp strong blows to the back of its head. This can be done with either your hand in a chopping motion or by using a good solid round of timber. Take your time and be firm to ensure you get it right the first time. To check the rabbit is dead, check the corneal reflex. You do this by poking the animal in the eye. If you get any reaction from the eye, the rabbit is not dead. If this is the case, hit it again, hard.

So we now have a dead, healthy looking rabbit. Now what?Bushcraft rabbit

Empty the bladder of the animal by pushing down on the rabbits belly and moving downwards as you do so. You may see urine being expelled; if the rabbit went to the loo before you caught it you may not!

Take a knife, place the rabbit on its back and using the tip of your knife, carefully cut upwards from the rabbits belly button area to its ribcage. Be careful not to nick the rabbits guts, this is a sure fire way to taint the meat.

Once you have made the cut, use your hand to remove the offal and guts of the rabbit. Good. Job done!

Now snap the rabbits back legs at what would be the knee on a human. Once you have broken the bone cut it off with your knife.rabbit skinning

Do the same with the front paws. You now have 4 lucky rabbits feet!

Turning the rabbit on its back, use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat. Keep pulling and working the skin away until you have got to its back. Now do the same from the other side. You will now have a rabbit hand bag!DSCF0476

Continue removing the skin towards the back legs and pull the skin off the back legs. This can be quite tough so be firm.

Once you have done this, do the same with the front. Again be firm and and it will come off.DSCF0479

You should at this point have a naked rabbit with its own fur as a cloak. Remove any last bits of skin until you are up to the neck area. When you are, firmly twist off the head and pull it away. You will now be left with a rabbit hand puppet.DSCF0481DSCF0480

 

 

 Using your knife, cut the shoulders off of the rabbit. They are not attached by a bone or joint so they will come off easily.

Next, spread the hind legs and break the ball and socket joint. Cut the animals “bottom” out using a V shape cut where the tail was. This will remove the anal passage and any droppings yet to be passed plus the scent glands which if left in can smell foul when the meat is cooking. When you have done this, you will be able to cut off the legs at the joint just as you did with the front legs. 

Remove the skirts from the animal –  these can be turned in to rabbit jerky by adding salt and drying them out over the smoke of your fire. You will now be able to break the spine just after the rib cage and cut though the rabbit to remove the loins – these are the best bits in my opinion!

Use the ribs to create a stock and slowly boil up the joints to create a rabbit stew.DSCF0486

I hope you found this useful. If you wish to learn more about game prep and other bushcraft skills then check out our bushcraft courses held in Dorset and Hampshire.

 

Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

Who doesn’t want to believe they could survive in the wild? Whether it’s a long term trip in the wilderness or just getting lost in the woods overnight, we’d like to think we have the skills to make a tough situation into a great adventure. Foraging, the ancient art of finding food in the wild, doesn’t just give us dinner, it gives us a new appreciation of the beauty, power and variety of the natural world around us. As part of the bushcraft that we teach on our courses in Dorset and Hampshire, we teach people how to find seasonal food, and how to prepare and eat it.

In spring, there is an abundance of tasty foraging that can please the palate as well as providing the necessary sustenance for survival.

Wild food for free

Ramsons, also know as ramps and wild garlic, are easy to find thanks to their mild onion aroma, which becomes a strong smell if you happen to tread on the plant! The starry white flowers also make it easy to spot. The narrow green leaves can be harvested to serve in place of spring onions, wilted in a pan like spinach, cooked into a soup, chopped with eggs to make a woodland omelette or used as a wrapping for small amounts of meat or fish to be grilled. This isn’t the end of their versatility; when the flowers are in bloom hey can be eaten raw and are utterly delicious – wild garlic is served in the best restaurants in the UK as a seasonal delicacy and it’s readily available for free in British woodlands.

Pignut has small carrot-like leaves, tiny clusters of white cow-parsley like flowers in May, and a very slender root that is difficult to extract – it can’t be pulled from the ground like the carrot it resembles, rather it must be dug from the soil and is usually several inches below ground. Pignut earned its name because it’s so delicious that pigs would hunt it down, as they do truffles! The tuber can be eaten fresh, once the outer skin is scraped or rubbed off or cooked. The flavour is a succulent blend of chestnut and celery.

elder-398832_1280Elder is well known as a cordial, but in May, its umbels of creamy white, highly-scented flowers are a delicious dessert when fried in a batter. Some elder trees are also home to the jelly ear, an ear-shaped almost transparent fungus that can be sliced and fried. Foraged as part of a survival skills experience, the jelly ear is a wonderful supper, especially if you’ve earned it through using a bow drill to create a friction fire – it brings your appetite to new levels of appreciation!

Morels are also found in spring. They have a beige cap with many fissures, looking like an alien brain and can be found in open woodland. As there is also a poisonous false morel, working with an expert forager to hone your identification skills is key to enjoying this delicious fungus with a seductive nutty flavour that is highly prized. Morels, when dried, are a key ingredient in many rich sauces, but eaten fresh they have a delicacy of flavour that is hard to match.

If we’ve inspired your taste buds, why not sign up for one of our foraging courses so that we can introduce you to some of the greatest food you’ll ever eat. Who knows, your foraging skills could come in useful the next time you head into the wild.