Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

The festive Norway Spruce, as the name may indicate, is a non-native species here in the UK. Introduced from Scandinavia in the 1800’s, this distinctive evergreen was originally bought over for forestry.

Norway Spruce

Grown for its use as a building material, the Norway Spruce is well suited for this role due to its strength, straightness of grain and fast growth, a rapid 60cm a year.

Norway spruce, also known as Spruce Fir, can grow up to 50m at maturity. These trees have been found to live to 1000 years in age, but are deemed to be mature from 80 years old where their bark changes to a darker colour and their growth drastically slows or stops altogether. 

Pointed in shape, this distinctive evergreen will never grow a wide canopy always remaining wider at the bottom and narrowing at the top. Dark rich green in colour the tree will remain covered in its short durable needle-like leaves all year round. 

Christmas Tree

Younger trees have coppery-grey coloured bark which has thin papery scales, then as the tree matures the bark turns darker brown and develops small plates with visible cracks. The twigs are orangey brown in colour with the small pointed needles emerging from three sides, but rarely from the underside of the twig. 

In spring time the male flower can be seen laden with pollen, turning from red to yellow as the pollen increases. The female flowers, usually found near the top of the tree, are oval in shape and grow in an upright position. The male pollinates the female flower through wind pollination, after which the female turns green and grows larger in size before becoming the tree’s fruit, the cone.

Norway Spruce Cones

The Norway Spruce cones hang down from the branch and are elongated in shaped with diamond and rounded shaped scales that are red-brown in colour. The seeds from the cones are released in spring time to create the next generation of tree or provide valuable food for local wildlife, especially favoured by the Red Squirrel. 

As well as for forestry the Norway Spruce is commonly used as a festive addition to our homes as the humble Christmas Tree. A tradition started back in 1841 by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. He introduced the old German tradition of decorating a spruce tree at Christmas time, and it is usually the Norway Spruce that is used. Known for its distinctive fresh scent often associated with the festive season and its year round vibrant colour the Norway Spruce is a great addition to any household at Christmas. 

Christmas tree

Poo, Prints and Paw Marks

Heading out into the woods, whether to set up camp, or to simply explore can be a great opportunity to escape the fast pace of modern life. Peace and quiet as well as time to switch off. Many people relish this opportunity for some alone time, but are you really alone?

Exploring

Look around you and you’ll find evidence that you have company. But don’t worry, as this is good company to keep!

Here in the UK we are lucky to have a variation of wildlife living in our woodland, but how can you tell who is keeping you company when many of them are timid creatures? Poo, prints and paw marks, that’s how!

By studying the ground around you, especially through muddy patches, or snow if you have some, you will start to see the evidence around you.

As well as prints, poo is also a great indicator of who is there with you, or who has passed by. Animal poo, also referred to as scat, can tell you many things about an animal. Firstly, which animal it is, but also about their diet, their health and how recently they’ve been there. 

 

Let’s take a closer look at 5 species you are likely to find here in the UK when you head out on your adventures.

Rabbits-

The wild rabbits that we see today originated in Spain and Southern France. They were introduced to the UK by the Normans in 12th Century as a source of meat and fur. Wild Rabbit

These ground dwelling mammals are mainly active at night but can also be seen out grazing during the day if there aren’t too many predators in the area. 

Rabbits are herbivores, feeding on grass, leafy weeds and gnawing on tree bark to help their dental health. They re-swallow 80% of their faecal matter to allow their body to absorb as many nutrients from the ingested food as possible. This allows them to be more efficient.

Their poo, or scat, is small pea sized nuggets and are usually black or dark brown in colour and made up of plant matter. Rabbits often scatter their droppings in their latrine areas which are usually situated near the burrow entrances. They do this to keep the burrow system clean and as a means of marking their territory. 

Rabbit Scat

Only stopping to graze or check for predators the rabbit moves in a deliberate manner. Their hind paws, which are longer than their fore paws, leave elongated  paw prints. The hind limbs imprint a wide stance of both hind paws at the same time. The fore paws move forward independently and leave a smaller rounder print. These are best seen in mud or snow to give a clear track. Rabbits are social animals so many prints are usually found in a similar area as they live in family groups.

Red Fox

Part of the canine family, this orangey red mammal is characterised by its infamous bushy tail, known as its brush.   

These distinctive creatures can now be found in both towns and countryside. Out in the woodland they are in their natural environment and their instinctive behaviour patterns can be seen. They become most active from dusk well into the cover of darkness hunting through until dawn, patrolling their territory for feeding opportunities.

The fox will silently stalk its prey, progressing in slow deliberate moves. It stops regularly to listen, and then when in striking distance it rears up on its hind legs and pounces down on its prey in one powerful motion. They evolved as mousers and have a high pouncing angle to allow them to capture prey through even thick layers of snow. They adjust this angle depending on the size of prey and whether it is above or below ground.

Fox

Foxes have a diverse diet eating rabbit, rodents, birds, frogs and insects. They are in fact omnivores so can also be seen grazing hedgerows for berries or eating fruit fallen from trees. 

This varied diet is often evident in their poo too! Fox scat is a very similar shape to a dog’s. They are usually pointy at one end and full of bones, feathers, fur and seeds from berries they have foraged. Fresh droppings have a very distinctive smell, almost musky. If your dog has ever rolled in it you’ll be all too familiar with the smell.  

If you can’t smell them or haven’t seen them then check the ground for tracks. Foxes have 4 toes, 2 toes at the front with 2 toes slightly further back on either side. Below these you’ll see the main oval shaped pad. These appear very similar to a dog’s. The foxes print is usually narrower than a dog’s and gives a diamond shaped appearance to each paw print. In comparison a dog’s print is generally wider and leaves a rounder shape. 

A fully grown male fox will leave a paw print of approximately 5cm in length and 4cm wide, so if the print you have found is wider than this then chances are you’re looking at a dog print instead. Obviously confusion may occur when looking at a smaller fox’s track compared to a small breed of dog. 

It’s also worth knowing that foxes will move with a definite purpose so their tracks tend to be straight, compared to a dog’s track which is usually erratic in nature. 

Badger

Badgers are ground dwelling nocturnal mammals. Their setts are a series of burrows dug with their long claws. They are usually found in broadleaf woodland preferring well drained soil. As well as reducing the chance of flooding, well drained soil is far easier for them to dig and make their home. 

There is usually one main sett where they live for most of the year and where they rear their young. But within the badger’s territory there will also be up to 6 other smaller setts. These are used during the warmer months as places to rest when they are out on longer feeding and foraging sessions.

Badger 

These are generally clean creatures and will clean out their setts on a regular basis, removing old plant matter that they have used for bedding material.  

Badgers are in fact omnivores foraging fruit from hedgerows, but a staggering 80% of their diet is made up purely of earthworms. They have to eat several hundred earthworms a night. This is another reason that they prefer broadleaf woodland as earthworms are plentiful there.

Their acute sense of smell and long claws help them to dig into the soil and find the worms along with other insects they will happily eat too. Badgers also eat slugs, snails and small mammals including rabbits, rodents and hedgehogs. They are in fact the main predator of the hedgehog and one of the only animals to have claws long enough to get past the hedgehog’s prickly defence.

Just like other ground dwelling mammals, badgers will poo outside of their setts to keep their living quarters clean and to reduce the chance of parasite infestation. 

Badgers dig small pits to use as latrines, this also helps to mark their territory and they are fiercely territorial animals. 

Their droppings can vary depending on what food is available at that time of year. They vary from firm, sausage shaped poo to dark, soft and slimier when they had an abundance of foraged fruit and earthworms……yum! Their droppings have a sweeter mustier smell compared to that of a fox, just in case you’d like to compare odours. 

Badger paw prints are approximately 5cm long and 6.5cm wide. Compared to the longer, smaller, diamond shape of the fox track, the badger has a distinctive wide print. The badger has 5 toes, all positioned forward of the broad oval shaped pad. Their long claws that enable them to be efficient diggers, leave distinctive marks in front of the toe prints in the mud or snow too.

Deer  

Six species of deer live here in the UK, with Red and Roe deer being the only native species. Though as Fallow deer have been here since the 11th Century they are also included as part of our heritage. 

Red, Roe, Fallow, Sika, Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac can all be found at various location across the UK, but they all favour a similar habitat. Deer are generally shy creatures and prefer the cover of forests and woodland, but some species have adapted to cope with open areas of grass and moorland. 

deer

They have no natural predators here so can be seen grazing out in open areas of grassland. This is especially the case with the larger breeds, Red, Sika and Fallow that need to graze for longer and on more of a variety of plant matter. The smaller breeds graze mainly on younger shrubs and foliage. 

Deer are a variety of mammal known as ruminants. These are a group of herbivores that are able to obtain nutrients from their plant based diet by fermenting the food in a specialised stomach prior to digestion. The fermentation happens due to the presence of specialised microbes. This part of the digestion process takes place in the deer’s foregut and requires fermenting plant matter, known as the cud, to be regurgitated and chewed again before swallowing back down for further fermentation. This happens twice before the bolus of food moves further back along the digestive tract. 

This process of chewing, swallowing and regurgitation before fermentation is called rumination, hence the name ruminant. This process allows ruminants, such as deer, to fully absorb nutrients from the plant matter. 

deer chewing the cud

Deer produce smooth, dark pellet like scat. Their poo is pointy at one end and are usually in clusters. Due to the rumination process the droppings have no visible content due to the efficient digestion process so all of the plant fibre is fully broken down. 

Each of the UK species of deer have similar tracks, they will just vary in size depending on the size of the species and the individual. Their hooves splay as the deer transfers its weight through the limb, leaving a gap between the two toes which is evident in its print. 

Deer prints are usually pointed at the front as the two toes elongate towards each other forming a tear drop shaped print. The toes have a more defined point in the younger individual compared to a more rounded, smoother point in that of an older deer. The point at the front of the print will indicate its direction of travel and if a series of prints can be seen clearly, you may also be able to work out its gait too.  

Squirrels

Squirrels aren’t always a popular mammal here in the UK, especially since the introduction of Grey Squirrels from America in the 1870’s. The Grey squirrels bought disease and proved to be tough competition for our native Reds. Since then the number of greys have risen to 2.5 million, while the number of reds have declined to a worryingly low 140,000.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels spend most of their time up in trees compared to the greys but they can still be spotted if you look carefully. Our native Red Squirrels can be found in Scotland and areas of Northumberland, Northern Ireland and the Lake District. In some of these areas both reds and greys can be found sharing habitats. 

Off of the Dorset coast, in Poole Harbour, there is a safe haven for Red Squirrels on Brownsea Island. Although Grey Squirrels are strong swimmers, the strong tidal pull in and out of Poole Harbour is too strong for the greys to get across, so the reds are safe, and widely treasured, there.

Evidence of squirrels can be found by looking up in the trees as well as on the forest floor. If you can see what looks like a messy bundle of twigs in close to the tree trunk then this is likely to be a squirrel’s nest, known as a drey. 

Squirrels are mainly solitary animals, but will happily share dreys, especially in winter to share warmth. They often have multiple dreys to share just in case any become damaged. This sharing of dreys stops while a female is raising a litter of Kits. She will usually have two litters a year, the first is as early as February. 

A squirrel will have a summer and a winter drey. The summer drey is a minimal nest, just enough for light protection and a comfy place to rest. Where as a winter drey is a more rigid structure the size of a football. It is made up of multiple layers of twigs with layers of warm insulating nest materials, such as grass, feathers and moss on the inside.  

Some squirrels utilise abandoned holes made by woodpeckers. They line these in a similar way to their outdoor drey and gnaw the entrance to a suitable size. Through the winter months squirrels chose to stay in their drey for a few days at a time but don’t actually hibernate. 

Squirrels are actually omnivores, as well as their well known diet of nuts, seeds and berries, they also eat a variety of eggs, small mammals and even young snakes. Due to this varied diet, squirrel scat can vary too depending on what food is available at that time of year. Squirrel poo looks very similar to rat scat but is bigger, fatter and turns grey as it ages, especially if there is bone content. 

Squirrel Kits

Droppings are usually found near the base of the tree where there drey is, and females with young can be seen removing the kits scat from the nest. They do this not just to keep the nest clean, but to keep the kits healthy and to prevent the attraction of predators. 

 

Both red and greys have similar paw prints with their hind paws being larger than their fore paws. Their fore paws are approximately 1cm by 1cm, while the hind paws are 2cm long and 1cm wide. They have 5 toes which splay out  as they weight bare to help them balance so their toes after look more finger like when looking at their tracks.

Compared to the other animals we have looked at here, the squirrel prints can be a little harder to find. Firstly, they are very lightweight but secondly they often travel from tree to tree rather than coming down to the woodland floor to reduce their exposure to potential predators. 

So while you’re heading out on your next adventures, just remember, you’re not as alone as you think you are….

Red Fox

The English Oak

The English Oak (Qurcus Robus) is a common sight across the UK and has a strong link with our heritage. This large, long living tree is found mainly in the northern hemisphere. There are approximately 600 different species of Oak, some deciduous and some evergreen, here we will look a little closer at the deciduous English Oak.

In the right soil and sheltered conditions a mature tree can reach up to 40m. Commonly though the leading shoot is often eaten by wildlife which restricts the tree’s height and causes the side branches to grow out further producing the distinctive wide spreading dome. 

Oak Tree

Through The Seasons

Late Autumn

The tree is triggered to drop its leaves not by the drop in air temperature but by the reduction in daylight hours which is detected by a pigment in the leaf. As the tree prepares for winter it starts to break down pigments and beneficial nutrients stored within the leaves. The tree is able to store some of these nutrients within its root system to help it sustain itself through the winter months. 

Winter

This is the season when the tree is most vulnerable in its leafless state. Without its leaves to harness energy and nutrients it has to rely on what little it can store in its root system and draw up from the winter soil. oak in winter

If temperatures drop too low the tree’s internal fluids, that are transported around its internal circulatory system, are at risk of freezing. If the fluids freeze this can cause catastrophic damage to the tree. The bark acts as an insulating layer, but it can only do so much in prolonged cold conditions. For self preservation the Oak purposely dehydrates itself, reducing fluid content from most of its cells in order to survive the winter with minimal damage. The little remaining fluid is safeguarded by high concentrations of an antifreeze-like sugar. This is usually present in the tree in low concentrations, but as the tree reduces its fluid into the winter, the concentration of this natural antifreeze like substance rises helping to optimise the tree’s health through the harsher months.

Spring Into Early Summer

In springtime the Oak tree literally springs back to life and this is the time of rapid growth and recovery. Before the tree covers itself with new leaf cover from the dormant buds it ensures the production of the next generation by producing both the male catkin flower, heavily laden with pollen, and the female flowers. The male catkin pollinates the female flower through wind pollination and with the assistance of insects. Once the female flower is pollinated this forms in to an acorn growing through the summer ready to drop late in the season. This ensures the next generation of oaks and providing valuable food for its wildlife inhabitants.Oak Catkins

At this time the root system also has rapid stages of growth to spread out a little further. This helps to gain extra moisture and nutrients from the soil to further support the energy needs of the tree during this growth phase.Acorns

The tree’s next priority is to produce full leaf cover. Within just a month the Oak will have a full covering of fresh green leaves packed full of chlorophyll to start photosynthesising to provide valuable energy for the tree’s optimal health. Photosynthesis increases as the daylight hours get longer, hitting maximum energy production in early summer. This energy is used to sustain the tree, to enable growth and to facilitate repair. 

Mid Summer Into Autumn

After the rapid growth of spring into early summer, the mid to late summer brings a slowing in growth throughout the whole Oak tree system. Photosynthesis  actually slows at the peak of the day when temperatures are high. This occurs due to the reduced available moisture in the air and the ground, also the heat causes the enzymes that facilitate photosynthesis to slow. This is why most of the growth and energy production occurs in spring and early summer when there is a good balance of moisture, daylight hours and warmth but not extreme heat. 

As daylight hours shorten and less photosynthesis is taking place the chlorophyll that gives the leaf its green colour starts to break down. As the green in the chlorophyll breaks down the yellows and oranges become more visible through this process which is why we have amazing colour changes into autumn. 

Autumn Leaves

The break down of chlorophyll combined with other chemicals present in the leaves gives rise to the red and browns that we see in late autumn and early winter. 

Some species of Oak are marcesent, meaning that they hold on to their dead leaf coverage through the winter months. It is thought that they do this to protect the buds of new leaf growth that are vital for the tree’s health the following spring. Some also feel they hold on to the dead leaf cover to help protect against the harsh winter environment. The Oak then drops the dead leaves as winter gives way to spring to allow for the buds to open to provide the new leaf coverage.  

When leaves are dropped in late autumn a layer, known as scar tissue, is produced where the leaf and branch attach, referred to as the abscission zone. This is another form of winter protection for the tree. The dead leaves fall through a combination of wind, gravity and wildlife movements as the tree prepares itself for winter once more.

So next time you look at a mighty Oak, and on the outside it looks peaceful and still, just remember how hard this incredible tree is working just to sustain itself through the seasons. As with all trees, it is certainly one to nurture and respect. 

The Mighty Oak

 

How To Get Kids Your Outdoors This Winter

Getting kids outdoors can sometimes be harder than expected. When you’re all inside your home, in the warm, it’s often hard to encourage reluctant members of the family to come outside and go exploring. But now more than ever, with most children spending most of their week stuck in a classroom with limited time outside, and darker evenings restricting outdoor time after school too, we have to make the most of school holidays and weekends to get them outside and exploring. But why, and how?

As many of us know, and science is now recognising too, being out in nature is essential for our health and wellbeing. Not only does time outdoors help us to maintain better mental health, which is essential for children and adults alike, but it also has countless physical benefits too so getting kids outdoors is essential. 

kids outdoors

Sunlight is our main source of Vitamin D, which obviously is more limited at this time of the year, so we need to grab opportunities to get outside during daylight hours. Vitamin D is essential for our immune system and ensuring good bone health too. Also, getting out amongst woodland or out along the coast where the air is cleaner and fresh is a great way to boost your respiratory health as well. 

Time outside naturally aids good restful sleep, which is essential for us all, but especially children who are growing and developing at a fast rate. They are also constantly learning, so need good quality sleep to help them process the new information. By getting children out doors, especially being active outside, will help to calm and settle them into a better sleep pattern. This is also very true of adults too, nothing resets your sleep and wellness like time out in nature.

So we now know why we, and our children, should be outside more, but how do we encourage them out when they are a little reluctant!? 

Spotting Wildlife

deer Sparking an interest in wildlife really helps children to connect with nature. By finding out more about each animal it will encouraging their nurturing side and give a greater respect for wildlife in years to come. With younger children, start with the basic identifications, such as deer, squirrels etc but with older children try getting them to identify a species of deer or whether the animal is young or old for example. This will help with their observation skills which will help them in other ares of life too. So why not get them a notepad to draw or write about what creatures they can see and head out there to explore.

Climbing Trees

This often causes alarm in many parents, but learning to climb trees safely is not only great fun but teaches them about risk while improving their balance and co-ordination. Obviously choose a suitable tree and ensure you are able to reach them if they have a problem, especially with younger children. Trees are like nature’s climbing frames, as long as they concentrate, they can have great fun while being active and learning a new skill.

climbing trees

Balancing

A recent study found that a lot of our play parks don’t have enough variety of equipment to allow our children to develop their balance and co-ordination in a way that they need to. By getting kids outside and exploring in nature, allowing them to jump ditches, balance on logs and climb trees we are doing them a huge favour for years to come. Exploring the environment in this way, at any age, helps to improve body awareness, known as proprioception, which increases agility and reduces the likelihood of injury and falls as they get older. 

Colours & Shapes

autumn leavesThis is a greart activity for kids outdoors, especially the younger ones. Get them to look for as many different colours and shapes while out exploring. A great place to start with this is by looking at the leaves, there are obviously many different shapes and even in winter there are still a variety of colours. This will help them to start to connect with the changing of the seasons, as well as seeing which trees and plants change dramatically in the winter, and which appear to remain the same. 

Puddles

Who doesn’t love jumping in puddles?! Kids of all ages seem to be attracted to puddles, often the muddier the better, so dress them appropriately and let them get fully involved! 

Jumping is an important skill, one that some children at certain ages seem to struggle with, so what better way to practice than into a puddle. Also encourage them to hop into the puddles too, this also helps their balance and co-ordination whilst being nicely distracted by the mud. puddles

Getting kids outdoors and allowing them to get muddy like this helps them to connect with nature and natural materials allowing little ones to explore different textures giving them a sensory learning experience.

Map Reading

Whether you start with a basic map or just follow signs with little ones, or give older children a map and compass, navigation is a great skill to learn and great fun too. It encourages the little ones to take note of their surroundings, to start to learn different methods of finding their way around whilst having fun. map reading

With older children, learning to read maps and use a compass will help them in many situations but also gives them a little responsibility if they are in charge of navigating your adventure. Just keep it fun and light hearted, don’t be hard on them if they get you lost, non of us were born knowing how to read a map. Just ensure that you are able to help them back on track.

The key to having fun outdoors is wearing the right clothing and having the right kit with you. This is even more essential when taking children out as they can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults can and often don’t realise they are starting to get cold until they are very cold. So wrapping them up in layers that you can take on and off when needed, wearing a water proof outer layer along with comfortable, warm, waterproof footwear is essential. 

Also be aware that they will tire quicker than you so be prepared to carry younger ones for a bit, or even better, stop and take regular breaks. This will teach children about what considerations they need to make when out exploring. Teach them about staying warm, being hydrated and keeping fuelled with regular snacks. A great excuse to pack a nice flask of hot chocolate and some marshmallows if you ask me!

 

So get out there and have fun, you are doing your kids a favour, even if they don’t realise it yet. You are helping their physical and mental health and encouraging healthy habits for the future. So get your kids outdoors this winter, teach them some new skills and enjoy!!

kids outdoors

 

Identifying Trees In Winter- A Beginner’s Guide

The most common way to identify trees is by looking at their leaves. We do it without even realizing it, after all, it’s hard to miss the tree’s beautiful green coverage and changing colours into autumn. But how do we identify deciduous trees once their leaves have dropped? Let’s look at how to identify trees in winter, focusing on 10 trees found here in the UK.

Trees In Winter

 

1. Ash

The common Ash grows throughout the UK and is mainly found in deciduous woodland and established hedgerows. When left untouched a fully grown Ash will reach between 35-40m in height. 

Ash leaves fall early in autumn and develop late in spring allowing extra light through to the forest floor which enables other plant species to thrive around them, therefore, providing great habitats for a mixture of wildlife.

Ash has distinctive black buds and upturned grey shoots of new growth, making these great identification features. As you look at each twig you will see a black bud at the end as well as buds growing in opposing pairs. The buds are hairless and have a black shine to them.

Looking at the tree’s bark is also another great way to identify trees in winter, as on closer inspection each species bark does vary more then you might first imagine. The bark of a younger Ash is relatively smooth, yet as the tree matures it develops distinct ridges in a diamond-shaped pattern. Its bark is pale brown-grey in colour darkening with maturity.

2. Oak

Oaks are long-lived trees, often reaching 500 years in age. The English Oak is widely regarded as part of our heritage and is a much loved tree here in the UK. This native tree supports more wildlife species than any other native tree so is essential to support biodiversity. 

An Oak can reach between 30-40m tall, then after reaching its maximum height it actually then shortens a little to increase its lifespan, it is one of the few trees known to do this. Oak Bark

When identifying an Oak in winter look for the rounded buds, they have a series of overlapping bud scales and can be either smooth or slightly hairy at the tip, these bud scales protect the buds during the winter months. The buds are sharply pointed and clustered at the end of each twig, these are known as the terminal buds.

The bark of the younger oak tree is smoother and grey with a hint of green, but as the tree ages the bark darkens and develops deeper furrows often in hexagonal and rectangular patterns.

3. Silver Birch 

The Silver Birch is a distinctive deciduous tree. Deemed to be a medium size tree, the Silver Birch can reach 30m in height at full maturity, forming a light canopy with its drooping branches. These are said to be pioneer trees, meaning they are usually one of the first trees to colonize newly cleared land.Silver Birch

When identifying trees in winter, the bark is a great identication tool, especially in the distinctive Silver Birch. The bark of a Sliver Birch is a distinctive white-silver colour, hence its name, and sheds in paper-like tissue layers. At the base of the tree the bark is darker and more rugged in texture with deepening fissures as the tree ages. Even through the winter months the bark remains light silver in colour so it is a useful identification feature all year round. 

Buds on the Silver Birch are slender and pointed growing up to 4mm in length. They are light brown in colour at their base but area glossy green colour at their tip.

4. Beech

At maturity a common beech tree can reach up to 40m in height with a wide spreading domed shaped canopy. Beech trees can be found amongst woodland or growing as an individual stand alone tree next to a country road. Beech prefer drier well drained soil such as chalk and limestone. 

To help you identify Beech during winter take a careful look at the bark, it is smooth and grey-brown in colour on younger trees, then as the tree ages horizontal etchings appear on the bark that then deepen as the tree matures. 

Through the winter months the beech tree, as with some species of oak trees, actually retains some of their dead leaves. It is thought that this happens to protect the buds and new growth as passing herbivores find the dead leaves unpalatable so leave the tree alone. Beech Nuts

Beech buds are a distinctive sharp pointed shape, usually 1-2cm in length. They grow at even intervals on alternative sides of the twigs and through winter remain coppery-brown color before turning green in spring. 

Another way to help with identifying the beech is to look around the base of the tree, during autumn they provide an abundance of beech nuts that are contained in distinctive casings. They are green when they fall but in the winter these casing will be brown, spiky, slightly triangular in shape and probably empty as they are a firm favourite with the local wildlife and great for foraging too.

5. Hazel 

The Hazel is an important understory tree, providing nuts for wildlife and supporting many forms of lichen. Left un-coppiced Hazel can grow to 12m and last for 80 years, but when coppiced Hazel is said to last for several hundred years. 

During autumn and winter the hazel will have male and female flowers on the same shrub. The male is a long yellow catkin like flower, while the female is much smaller and red in colour. The flowers open in early January before any new growth or shoots appear. The Hazel flowers are wind pollinated with the pollen being blown from the male to the female flowers which then develop into a hazelnut later in the year.

Hazel Buds

Another distinguishing feature of the Hazel is its bark. The Hazel’s bark is smooth and light brown in colour with vibrant yellow pores, these become more distinctive as the tree ages.

6. Sweet Chestnut

The Sweet Chestnut is a deciduous tree which can reach up to 35m in height at full maturity. They are from the same family as the Oak and Beech trees and can live up to an amazing 700 Years.

Sweet Chestnut is said to be one of the easiest trees to identify with its distinctive bark, buds and shoots, and even more distinctive and iconic nuts in autumn. 

Its bark is a grey-purple that becomes darker as the tree ages. As the tree matures the bark fissures deepen and appear to spiral the tree vertically making a distinctive pattern. The twigs are a deeper brown-purple colour with the buds being oval in shape and a deeper plum colour. 

Another aid for identification would be to look under the Sweet Chestnut tree for the remains of the nuts themselves or for the distinctive nut casings. When the nuts first fall they are spherical, have a lot of small slender spikes and a vibrant green. Though not to be mistaken with the Horse Chestnut’s conkers (which are definitely NOT edible) and have fewer but larger spikes. 

Some Chestnuts may remain amongst the casings but these are a very popular nut to forage and are even more popular with the local wildlife. 

sweet chestnuts

7. Sycamore

The broadleaf sycamore can grow up to 35m in height and live for up to 400 years. It provides an ideal habitat and food source for a variety of wildlife, especially aphids. The sycamore is thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans and is now established as a common sight in the UK. These trees can thrive on a range of sites and soil types but grow in similar locations to the Ash though they are a little more hardy to frost.

When identifying trees in winter, take a look at the Sycamore’s bark, it is a distinctive pink-grey colour and smooth on the younger tree. As the tree ages the bark becomes darker and cracked producing peeling layers that shed. 

sycamore bark

The tree’s buds are egg shaped and green in colour, growing to 0.5-1cm in size. The buds on the Sycamore grow opposite each other in opposing pairs.

8.Crack Willow

The Crack Willow is one of the larger species of Willow, but a relatively smaller deciduous tree compared to other native species reaching just 20m at maturity. It has a short thick trunk and develops a rounded crown canopy. 

This Willow is often described as scruffy and loud due to its ability to split and crack on a regular basis. The Crack Willow gets its name from the loud cracking sound it makes as its branches break, it is a distinctive and louder noise compared to other trees. Willow Buds

As the tree ages its bark, which is a lighter brown in a younger tree, becomes a darker brown and has many distinctive fissures that deepen with age. The twigs are a shiny yellow-brown and are slender in shape but these also make a distinctive crack sound when snapped. The buds grow tight into the twigs and are a similar yellow brown colour to the twigs.

9. Hornbeam

The lesser-known, yet surprisingly common Hornbeam is said to be a tough and mighty tree. This deciduous broadleaf can live up to 300 years old and reach up to 30m at maturity. 

HornbeamSimilar to some Beech trees, the younger Hornbeam trees hold on to some dead leaf coverage in the winter months, it is thought that this helps to protect new growth from grazing herbivores as they find the dead leaves inedible. Hornbeam

The Hornbeam’s bark is pale grey in colour with a slight silvery sheen, darkening slightly with age. Its vertical fissures become more distinctive as the tree ages. The twigs are a more brown-grey colour with a covering of fine hairs. Buds on the Hornbeam are very similar to that of a Beech but are slightly more slender and remain close to the stem.

10. Elm

The English Elm is usually found in hedgerows or amongst deciduous woodland. It is thought that this tree was introduced here by our ancestors from the Bronze Age. 

In the woodland environment, this tree can reach 35m in height and can live up to 100 years. The Elm used to be one of the most common trees here in England, but back in the 1960’s the English Elm was hit by the Dutch Elm Disease which has led to a drastic decline in numbers, so you may just have to look a little harder these days but they are still out there. 

As with other deciduous trees, during the winter months when the Elm has dropped its leaves you can identify the tree by taking a closer look at the bark and buds. Its bark is dark brown in colour with a hint of grey and very rough in texture with distinctive fissures that deepen with age. The Elm’s twigs are slender with fine hairs to help protect the new growth. These hairs give reddish-brown colour to the twigs and buds which grow above each leaf scar.

Buds In Winter

So this winter as you head out into the woods, or exploring across fields and parklands stop and take note of the trees that you find. Take a look and compare the differences in their bark and buds, note their differences and see which trees you can identify this winter. 

Our Favourite Expedition Snacks

Whether you are on a canoe expedition, on bike or on foot, if you are exerting yourself for longer periods, particularly if in extreme weather conditions, then your body will require extra nutritional support to keep you fuelled so lets look at some tasty expedition snacks.. 

Expedition SnacksIf you are not fully hydrated and fuelled when on expedition you can become a liability to your team and to yourself. This is when mistakes are likely to happen , injuries are more likely to occur and illness is more likely to strike, so stay hydrated and fuelled.

Though you also don’t want to be carrying a full supermarket with you! So as well as your planned meals, whether you opt for dehydrated ration packs or boil in the bag options let’s also take a look at ideal snacks to take too.

 

Due to your increased energy expenditure you’ll need to increase the calorie content of your food, so energy dense foods are best. Opting for nutritious energy dense foods should provide the extra calories and nutrients you need without taking up too much of your kit space or increasing the weight you need to carry too much. 


  1. Nuts

Expedition NutritionHigh in protein and healthy fats nuts provide a great lightweight, palatable snack that are easy to eat on the move and a popular choice with some of our team and a favourite expedition snack here at Wildway. With such a variety of nuts available you can find ones that meet your personal taste (unless you have a nut allergy of course, in which case, skip to snack 2!). Each type of nut varies in nutritional value but most are high in energy providing B Vitamins and immune boosting Zinc.


  1. Dried Fruit

Expedition SnacksLow energy dense foods are high in water so it makes sense that high energy dense foods are low in water. Dried fruit is a good example of this, fresh fruit is obviously packed with nutrients but a lower calorific content, by opting for a dried fruit option you will have a higher energy snack but still with a good vitamin content. Find a dried fruit that you enjoy, they are usually light to carry and don’t take up much room.


  1. Jerky

Jerky is lean trimmed meat, dehydrated and often with the addition of salt to prevent bacterial growth and spoiling of the meat. If you are a meat eater this is another light weight snack that will provide you a lean snack high in protein. Easy to carry, with a range of flavours this is often a popular choice as a protein source on the go, especially amongst the team.


  1. Flapjacks

Flapjacks, whether homemade or shop bought, provide a great easy to carry energy dense expedition snack. Obviously when making your own you can tailor make them to your taste and nutritional needs. By adding in dried fruit you can increase the palatability and carbohydrate content and adding in nuts and seeds will give a slower release energy as well as much needed protein. 

Flapjacks


  1. Chocolate

Usually as part of a healthy balanced diet chocolate is a food that should be limited due to its high level of refined sugar and saturated fat, but lets face it, when away on expedition battling the elements nothing lifts the spirits like a hot drink and a bar of chocolate. This tasty and portable snack will give you a high calorie hit and a fast boost of quick release carbohydrate. High Calorie Expedition Snack

Dark chocolate is also known for its mood boosting and cardiovascular benefiting nutrients so the healthier option is dark chocolate but don’t over look the tasty milk chocolate kick to lift your spirits when away exploring.


  1. Cheese

Nutritionally speaking, a good source of calorie dense food are full fat dairy products, such as cheese. Many people opt for this high fat savoury snack as a source of calories on expedition but just a word of warning, it’s not as portable as other snacks and careful how you pack it, especially in warm weather! Cheese not only provides you a good source of fats but protein too along with energy boosting Vitamin B12 and immune boosting Zinc. So this humble dairy product might not be for everyone when on expedition but it certainly deserves a place on our list.  

So when you’re heading out on your next adventure don’t overlook this humble snacks to boost your calorie intake. Adventure

Top 5 Edible Autumn Nuts

As well as a large selection of fruits growing in our woodlands at this time of year, we also shouln’t over look the amount of edile nuts avaliable for autumn foraging.

Nuts are a great source of protein and high in valuable nutrients, so if we can forage them straight from the source we’d be crazy not to indulge.

Obviously as with any foraging we need to ensure we have the landowner’s permission to be there, even if it is only for your personal consumption. Be sure you are confident of your tree identification too before foraging for nuts and if unsure, don’t risk it. 

 Be careful not to trample and destroy essential habitats for the local wildlife and be sure not to take all of the nuts for yourself, they are a valuable food source for the local wildlife. Being high in energy these are invaluable for animals heading in to winter.

Sweet Chestnuts- sweet chestnuts

Sweet Chestnut trees have been here in the UK since they were introduced by the Romans. The sweet chestnuts, not to be mistaken with the NON edible horse chestnuts, are encased in small spikes green globes that fall from the trees when ripe in October. 

Chestnuts can be eaten raw from the tree in small amounts, but it is found that larger amounts will cause gastrointestinal distress due to their high levels of tannic acid. So it is advised to cook these before eating.

Unlike many other nuts, chestnuts are actually low in healthy fats but are high in Vitamin C and some B Vitamins. 

Once removed from the spiky outer green shell chestnuts can be cooked by either boiling or cooking in the microwave, but are by far at their best when toasted on the fire. 

First rinse under water to remove any insects or dirt, then with the tip of your knife score a cross in to the brown shell. Now place the nuts on to the upturned lid of a dutch oven or an iron pan placing the flat side of the nut face down to ensure good heat transfer into the chestnut. Then roast over the fire for approximately 5 minutes before turning the nuts over to roast on the other side. Once roasted, remove the pan from the fire and leave for 2-3 minutes to cool a little before removing the brown shell to reveal the light brown roasted chestnuts, and enjoy!

Beech Nuts- edible nuts

Underneath beech trees in autumn you will find small spiky pods containing triangular brown nuts, these are the edible beech nuts and a great nut to farage in autumn. In very small amount beech nuts can be eaten raw but this can lead to digestive upsets if too many are eaten, this is due to the nuts containing the toxin saponin glycoside. Determining whether you have had too many can be very personal to you, it seems everyone can tolerate different amounts, so if you are eating them raw proceed with caution. By roasting the beech nuts not only do you improve their flavour but the heat also breaks down the toxin enabling you to eat more, safely. 

Beech nuts contain 20% protein and 50% monounsaturated fat, so a great source of energy and protein while on expedition in the autumn months or for foraging to take home.

Roasting beech nuts is very similar to roasting chestnuts, apart from removing the outer casing is easier as it is far less spiky than the sweet chestnut. These nuts are also smaller than the chestnuts so can be roasted in minutes. Simply score the brown shell of the triangular shaped nut then roast over the heat moving the beech nuts around in the pan regularly. Once roasted, leave to cool for a few minutes before peeling to remove the papery skin. It is said the best way to enjoy these is to toss them in melted butter, add a little salt and enjoy warm. 

Pine Nuts- 

roasted pine nutsAll types of pine trees produce pine nuts but some species produce larger nuts than others. Trees over the age of 15 start to produce pine nuts with their yield increasing as they age. 

The pine nuts are found within the pine cones and can often be removed by simply shaking the cone if they have opened naturally, as long as you’ve got there before the squirrels that is! Or if the cones you’ve found are still closed then they will slowly open if you leave them next to the fire for a day or two, then they will open enough for the pine nuts to be shaken out. 

Pine nuts can be eaten raw but are also great toasted over the fire or added to other dishes, such as pesto. 

To get the best flavour it is best to toast the nuts while still in their brown shell. Once toasted leave to cool for a few minutes to avoid burning your fingers while removing the shells. To do this simply roll the toasted pine nuts with a rolling pin/jar/water bottle with increasing pressure until the shells split. They can be removed to reveal the toasted pine nuts. Start with a light pressure to avoid just squashing them all. 

Pine nuts have great nutritional value when eaten raw or cooked. They aid cardiovascular health due to their high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. So although they are lower in protein than the beech nut they still pack a nutritional punch and can be enjoyed at home or away in the woods.

Hazelnuts- 

foraged hazelnutsEarly autumn is the best time for foraging nuts but especially hazelnuts, though be mindful not to take them all as they are valuable food for wildlife going into winter.

You won’t have to look far for Hazel trees as they grow commonly through out the UK. They can often be found growing in hedgerows but areas of deciduous woodland are where they are commonly found.     

The hazelnuts can easily be identified by the green leaf cups that encase each individual nut. The nuts usually grow in small clusters of 2-3 nuts and are a pale milky colour when they are still on the tree or have only just fallen. The nuts will fall to the ground in abundance, so foraging after a strong wind will increase your chances of finding a good amount. You’ll have to move quickly though as they are a firm favourite for the local squirrel population! 

The humble hazelnut can be eaten raw or roasted. Simply remove the green leaf casing along with the brown outer shell, then enjoy. 

If you prefer them roasted, simply spread your peeled hazelnuts on to an iron pan over the fire. Move them around the pan regularly to help them roast evenly. Length of roasting time will depend on the size, freshness and moisture content of the hazelnuts. Once roasted enjoy them as they are or add some seasoning of your choice, we found honey works well.

Hazelnuts are high in dietary fibre, protein and a good source of Vitamin E. They are said to benefit cardiovascular health too as well as aiding muscle recovery, so get foraging!

Walnuts

raw walnutsThe best places to look for walnut trees here in the UK are areas of waste ground, hedgerows and areas of untouched woodland. Smaller trees may be present in the hedge line but left feral the trees can grow up to 50 metres in height. 

Walnuts can be found on the trees from mid September but are said to be at their best in October when the nuts start to fall. The outer casing of a walnut is bright green in colour and spherical. The bright green globes can be up to 4cm in diameter and look like the outer casing of a conker without its spikes, so be sure you don’t get them confused. 

When foraged, remove the outer green casing, it is advised you wear gloves for this part as this stage can cause staining to your skin. Inside you will find the familiar brown shell of the walnut. At this stage it is best to leave them to dry for a few days at air temperature, or to speed up the process put them next to the fire. 

The tough brown shell can then be cracked to reveal the actual walnut itself. Fresh from the shell they are soft and light brown in colour and will look like two halves of a brain. They can then be toasted or left to dry until they are darker in colour and the crunchy nut you may be more familiar with.

Walnuts, like most other nuts, are high in monounsaturated fats which are found to support cardiovascular health. These nuts are also high in protein as well as a good source of Selenium, Zinc and energy boosting B Vitamins. 

With all of these accessible wild nuts to choose from, all of them packing a nutritional punch it’s no wonder the squirrels love them so much! Be considerate to the wildlife, but get out there and enjoy autumn’s bounty. 

edible autumn nuts

 Top 10 Fruit to Forage This Autumn

As the summer draws to a close the early autumn brings some exciting fruit to forage. Obviously before helping yourself to nature’s bounty you need to ensure you have the landowner’s permission and remember to forage responsibly, after all, fruits, berries and nuts are essential food for our local wildlife too as well as an exciting find for us. Also be sure you are confident in your tree and plant identification, take an identification book with you for back up if you are not an experienced forager. It’s always best to double check, even the most hardened forager will refer back to their books sometimes too.

Which fruits can be foraged in Autumn?

1. Blackberries

 Blackberries

Blackberries

The humble blackberry is an iconic fruit here in the UK and can be eaten fresh from the plant or added to many puddings or jams. These berries are probably the easiest to find out of all foraged fruits as the bramble bushes can grow and survive almost anywhere. Blackberries are usually found in  hedgerows and woodland areas, but even local parks and wasteland will be home to many bramble bushes too. These juicy little gems are a perfect introduction when foraging for fruit but as well as being tasty and easy to find they also pack a nutritional punch. These popular foraged fruits are high in many essential nutrients such as Vitamins A,C and E as well as potassium, magnesium and calcium so definitely worth indulging in. 

2. Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn Berries

The vivid red haw berries of the hawthorn tree ripen in September here in the UK. This robust plant is often used to line boundaries of farmland but also grows deep in the British woodland too. The young leaves, flower buds and  berries are all edible, but only their red berries with yellow flesh will be found at this time of year. 

The hawthorn has been used for centuries for its health benefits, traditionally believed to be a potent heart tonic said to balance blood pressure. These berries are also loaded with antioxidants which in recent lab studies have been found to have strong anti inflammatory properties.

Eaten raw the haws have a tart sweetness but can be cooked up into jams and sauces or dried into fruit leather or tea. 

3. Rosehips

Fruits to forage

Rosehips

Rosehips are the edible fruit from the wild rose, or dog rose as its often called. These foraged fruits have long been used for their medicinal benefits  and in Greek history it stated the dog rose got its name because its fruit, the rosehip, could cure the wound from a rabid dog bite. 

Following the distinctive flower of summer rosehips are usually ripe for foraging from mid September to December, depending on our weather. Many hardened foragers recommend waiting until after the first frost to forage these fruit. It is said that the frost breaks down the cellulose cell wall of the fruit to give you a juicier tender fruit. If we have a late frost this can be replicated by leaving them in the freezer for 24 hours before cooking.

It is not advised to eat the whole forged fruit straight from the plant due to the protective hairs that surround the seeds, they are found to be an irritant if ingested. 

To eat the fruit it is advised to split the fruit in half, clean out the seeds and surrounding pith and then the flesh and juice can then be consumed. Rosehips are commonly made into syrup which has been used for generations to treat coughs and colds due to the high levels of antioxidants. Rosehips were widely gathered and consumed during the second world war and encouraged to be people’s main source of vitamin C due to the shortage of other vitamin C rich food such as citrus fruits and the high levels found in the  rosehips. These foraged fruits can also be made into jams and sauces as well as dried to make tea, but its syrup form is deemed to have the most health benefits.

4. Elderberries

Elderberries

Elderberries

After the flourish of edible creamy white flowers through the summer the Elder Tree then produces bunches of small dark purple berries. These little  powerhouse berries pack a huge punch packed full of immune boosting Vitamin C and energy providing Vitamin B’s. These juicy berries are commonly consumed in the form of syrup or supplement form to help conquer colds, coughs and flu as well as to relieve minor headaches. 

Eaten raw these berries can cause nausea and gut irritation so it is highly recommended to cook these little gems before consuming. As well as in syrup form these dark purple gems can be made into berry based jams, puddings or cooked and strained to make juice.

5. Bullace

Bullace

Bullace

A sub species of the wild plum, the Bullace looks like an overgrown sloe, spherical and deep purple in colour, not to be mistaken for the closely related oval shaped Damson. 

Bullace have become rare but can still be found in UK hedgerows and in some woodlands where they grow into small trees rather than remaining a  small shrub.    

These increasingly rare fruits are usually ripe around October and have a distinct plum like flavour, though slightly more acidic. These fruit can be eaten straight from the tree but also go well in pies, tarts and jams. The Bullace, just like its plum relative, has been found to aid digestion due to their high levels of dietary fibre as well as containing immune boosting vitamin C.

6. Sloes

Fruits to forage - sloes

Sloes

Sloes are the fabulous fruit from the mighty blackthorn and are commonly found in woodland and hedgerows across the UK. This hardy plant can spread quickly and often large thickets can be found intertwined with other hedgerow plants. 

Due to the early flowering of this plant, our weather between early March to  late April will determine the abundance of this crop. If we have a mild spring with a little rain and plenty of sun then it’s expected that you can forage a bumper crop from August into November. 

Sloes are traditionally used to make Sloe Gin, Vodka or wine though many sloe jam recipes can also be found. 

Though the fruit is high in Vitamin C & E it isn’t clear if the nutritional value remains so high having been steeped in gin for the winter, sadly.

7. Rowan Berries

Rowan berries are the small acidic fruits of the Rowan Tree/Mountain Ash. It is not definitively known whether the berries are toxic when eaten raw in small quantities though it is said that consuming more than a few can lead to gut irritation so the advice would be to freeze or cook them first as the toxicity is then reduced from extreme cold or heat. 

These bright red berries are most commonly eaten in jams, marmalades and sauces to accompany rich meat such as game. The vibrant little berries are found to be high in Vitamin C, sorbic acid and dietary fibre. Higher levels of sorbic acid mean that these foraged fruits have higher antibacterial properties compared to may other wild berries. 

Rowan trees can be seen in woodland, parkland and commonly on roadsides. These berries ripen from late summer and can be harvested into autumn, though as with all foraged fruits, don’t take them all as the local wildlife need them as a food source too.

8. Crab Apples

fruit to forage crab apples

Crab Apples

The crab apple tree is a common tree in England and dates back to the Neolithic Era here in the UK. Sadly it doesn’t grow as well in Scotland and Wales but some trees can still be found there.  

The small apple shaped fruit are usually no bigger than 3cm in diameter and are either yellow, green or red in colour. The crab apples can be foraged from mid August well into October, depending on the summer weather. 

These wild fruits still have a distinct apple flavour though are often too tart to eat raw but are amazing once cooked. Just like many foraged fruits at this time of year they are a great addition to puddings and sauces. Also due to their naturally high pectin levels they are excellent for jam making. These mighty fruits also pack high levels of tannins and acids necessary for fermenting the fruit into cider, extra sweetness will be needed due to their tart flavour but it will be worth the extra sugar to produce crab apple cider. 

Crab apples have also been found to have a high nutritional value containing good levels of Vitamin C and B12 along with calcium and magnesium so keep your eyes peeled for these often overlooked fruits when foraging. 

9. Whitebeam Berries

A close relative to the Rowan the Whitebeam is a broadleaf deciduous tree mainly found in Southern England. The small bright orangey-red Whitebeam berries are sometimes known as chess apples and strangely are deemed to be at their best when they are wrinkly and nearly rotten, though its advised to eat them cooked rather than fresh from the tree. 

These trees are said to be a rare find in true woodland these days but can be found in parkland and when you find one the berries can be picked at their wrinkly best in early Autumn. Be mindful not to harvest the whole crop as these berries are valuable food for the local wildlife, and you might not be the only person foraging in that area.

As with many foraged fruits these berries are at their best added to hedgerow jams or as sauces to accompany meat. 

10. Wild Raspberries

When foraging fruit in late summer into early autumn you might be lucky enough to find a patch of wild raspberries. These can be found in mixed woodland, hedgerows and wasteland. The unripe fruit are often mistaken for unripe blackberries but by simply studying the difference in leaf shapes and noticing the larger thorns on the bramble bush then the difference should be clear.

The berries ripen in late summer lasting into early autumn, depending on the weather and these can be enjoyed at their best, straight from the plant at their freshest. Eating just one cup of fresh raspberries provides you with 50% of your daily Vitamin C requirements, along with 12% Vitamin K, 6% of your folate, 5% of your Vitamin E as well as being high in iron and potassium. These berries can be cooked into many dishes too, but personally I think these are definitely at their best fresh from the plant

As with all foraged edibles be respectful not to take the whole crop for yourself so you can share your find with the local wildlife who rely on it for their survival.  Also be mindful to not trample their habitats too. 

So head on out and explore to see what you can forage at this time of year in your local area. Then you pick, cook and brew, but most of all, enjoy! 

  

No doubt you have heard the phrase “leave no trace” and such like. The aim of such sayings, of course, is to leave a place in the same state as you found it.  Normally people apply this to their campsite, clearing up their fire scar and taking home all the litter they brought in.

An impossible task

This, and I am sure you will agree is the least you should do. However the more I think about this little phrase “leave no trace’ the more it seems an impossible task. As soon as my saw cuts a sapling to make a peg for a tarp, I have left my mark. Leave no trace also seems, to me at least, to fly in the face of the other well-known phrase of “The more you know the less you carry”. A phase often spouted at people with huge backpacks new to Bushcraft carrying more kit then they will ever need. By applying these phrases without thinking about the bigger impact on the natural environment leads people into the trap. 

For example; I know how to make a tent peg in the woods with my knife and saw, so I won’t carry tent pegs – This fits perfectly with the know more carry less. So when I head to the woods put up my tarp and make my peg, I have left my trace.

Wider impacts

The same with stoves. You might think that by having a metal stove which raises your fire off the ground is better for the natural environment and helps you leave no trace. Surely though it is far better to have that fire on the ground, well managed and cleared away than to buy something that has been made overseas shipped halfway across the world. I’d argue that the stove has far more on an impact on our planet then your little fire will ever do.

True ethos of leave no trace

Which leads me nicely onto my next point. To truly appreciate, understand and respect something you must participate fully with it. We’re not talking about a quick stroll round the woods here folks. We’re talking about Bushcraft, Wilderness Living. What we’re talking about the world we inhabit and its wild places and our connection to them. The notion that one can somehow spend a week, a weekend, a night in the woods or any wild place without leaving a trace is not only wrong but extremely misguided. Leave a trace, leave your mark. We all do. But make yours a single coppice shoot from that hazel stool, a handful of cobnuts, a few pine needles. If you’re there for a week,  make a stool so you have a comfortable place to sit. You might find that by gathering, making, and using things from your surrounding environment you not only gain immense satisfaction, but also a new understanding of what is necessary and the true value of things. That camping stool made from polluting plastic polymers doesn’t seem so comfortable after a while.

Too idealistic?

Some will argue that all this is very idealistic and lovely, but with such an overpopulated nation if we all went out and took a few cob nuts, pine needles, and that hazel branch there wouldn’t be much left for anyone to enjoy afterward. While I appreciate fully that there are places so sensitive and important that they need very strict protection; I am not talking about those places. What I am talking about is the in-between places. The hidden stream amongst the willows on Dartmoor. The perfect camp between the gnarled pines in the Cairngorms. The vast secluded coppices of Sussex. All we need is more respect and understanding of these places. I don’t want to live in a world where the wild is a place we observe whilst sticking to the way-marked path. The only way we can truly protect wild places is by them meaning something to us.  Without direct participation in those places, without its dirt under our fingernails, its fruits in our stomach, its deadwood keeping us warm and its leaves keeping us dry, I fail to see how we will ever really care or understand enough to protect them.

To wrap it up

What I am trying to get at is to follow these sayings without thinking about the larger scale or bigger picture is the wrong way to go. We should be thinking more about balancing these two opposing phases, maybe a better phrase would be – just because we can, does not mean we should! I carry tent pegs so I don’t cut trees when wild camping, I have my fires on the ground which I then clean up. I’ve learned a little about trees and woodlands and how they grow, so my understanding of what I can take and what I should not is improved. I source my carving wood from fallen trees, snapped limbs or even the local tree surgeons. Tapping birch can be done by just a small pruning cut on a branch rather than boring in to the tree with a drill!

Source you’re kit from people in the UK who make things by hand in small batches. Yes, you may pay more, but I can assure you it will last so much longer and be more of a joy to use than any cheap mass produced equipment will ever be. Even better, make it yourself, or at least have a go. Then you might just appreciate why these things cost what they do.  This is where “Leave no trace should be changed to leave as little trace as possible. Go out enjoy the wild places, that’s what they are there for and next time you head to the woods think about the bigger environmental impact and now because you know more maybe you will carry that little extra!

Summer is well and truly here and with it comes an increase in popularity of the humble bivvy bag. While an option in winter many, perhaps understandably prefer to stick to tents. When it comes to summer, however, there’s not a lot that can beat the experience of sleeping out in a bivvy bag.

In this blog, we’re going to look at the benefits of the bivvy, run through a few options of bivvy bags and then provide you with a description of the bivvy experience that you can have on one of our weekend bushcraft courses.

As always, please feel to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

Benefits of the bivvy

In this section, we’re going to take a look at the benefits of the bivvy. Keep in mind though that these are just our opinions, everyone experiences the outdoors in different ways.  

Sleep anywhere in a bivvy bag
Sleep anywhere

A bivvy bag gives you the ability to sleep in places where you just couldn’t pitch a tent. Tuck up behind the rocks close to the summit of the mountain or relax, on your inflatable mat, and in your bivvy bag on a stretch of beach.

 

A word on sleeping anywhere

A word on sleeping anywhere, wild camping is illegal in England and Wales outside of Dartmoor, although it may be unofficially tolerated elsewhere. If you do choose to go bivvying on Dartmoor, elsewhere in England/Wales or in Scotland then make sure that you have the skills to leave absolutely no trace. Your presence should not impact on the environment in any way, leave your campsite as you found it and carry out all rubbish – even if it isn’t yours.

 

Experience the outside

As great as tents are, and they certainly have their place, they do place a barrier between you and the environment. With a bivvy bag though, no such barrier exists. You can remain warm, and most importantly dry, inside your sleeping bag, inside your bivvy bag, while totally immersed in nature, watching the stars as you fall asleep.


Lightweight

We will look at the weight of bivvy bags in the next section but generally speaking they are lighter than a tent. What is certain is that at the lower end of the market a bivvy bag will weigh in much, much lighter than a tent. What this means is that your overall kit weight is lower, helping you to make up more miles during the day.  

 

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

Sleep anywhere bushcraft bivvy


Which bivvy bag is for you?

Ah outdoors kit, always a topic that generates a lot of discussions. The opinions in this blog are just that, opinions. Each person will have their own preferences when it comes to kit and decisions can really only be made with experience. Also, no one piece of kit will do for all situations, the demands on your kit in a summer in the UK are going to be very different from the demands of a Canadian winter. One final point of note,  Wildway Bushcraft do not benefit from any of these companies or products – we don’t make any money if you chose to buy one!

  • Snugpak
    Snugpak have a, deservedly, good reputation in the outdoors world. Their bivvy bag is great from the UK weather. It weighs in at 300 grams, is fully waterproof and breathable. The standard version measures 228 cm long though an extra large version is available. It retails for around £70.
    https://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/bivvi-bag
  • Alpkit
    Alpkit’s Hunka and Hunka XL are fully waterproof and breathable bivvy bags weighing in at 330 grams and 490 grams respectively. The XL measures 235 cm in length while the standard measures 215 cm. The Hunka retails for around £48 while the XL goes for £65.
    https://www.alpkit.com/products/hunka-xl
  • Rab Survival Zone Bivvy
    The Survival Zone bivvy bag from Rab weighs in at a very light 422 grams and measures 240cm in length. Fully waterproof and breathable with a very small pack size the Rab Survival Zone retails from near enough £95 making it one of the most expensive on this list.
    https://rab.equipment/uk/survival-zone-bivi
  • Ex-Army
    Army surplus bivvy bags, British and Dutch seem to be popular, are a very cost-effective way to start your bivvying adventures.  Hooped bivvys, that is bivvy bags with one short pole forming a half-hoop over the head in order to create more space in the bag, are popular design styles in this genre. There is a huge range of army surplus bivvy bags out there and price, weight, and quality vary hugely. Go and visit your nearest army surplus store for a better understanding of what would suit you.

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

Canoe the river Spey bivvy on its banks on our bushcraft course


Bivvying on our weekend course

The first thing to note is that our weekend bushcraft course is not a survival exercise. If there is anything that you’re uncomfortable with just let one of our instructors know, likewise you are free to bring a tent to sleep in to help you get accustomed to the woods or to go the whole hog and sleep out under the stars. So, what can you expect, it terms of bivvying, on our weekend bushcraft course?

Our first evening in the woods

On the first evening of our weekend bushcraft course, you will be given the chance to sleep, in your bivvy bag, under a tarp. This will not only get you accustomed to our woods but it will also give you a chance to learn about and practice your camp set-up. Most importantly though, it will give you a night out under the stars (visibility of stars not guaranteed.)

Building your own shelter

The second evening of our weekend bushcraft course will, among many, many other things, give you a chance to sleep out in a shelter that you have built yourself. This is a great opportunity to sleep out without a tarp, close to a fire, truly in amongst nature.

Bushcraft course build your own shelter

Bushcraft, not survival

At Wildway Bushcraft, we teach bushcraft, not survival. We’re all about living in harmony with nature not about overcoming it.  That’s why our weekend bushcraft courses focus on your learning if there is anything that you’re uncomfortable with, let our instructors know and they will do their best to help you. So, if you would rather sleep in a tent than under a tarp, that’s okay with us.

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.

 

Kit

We’ve already mentioned quite a few bivvy bags that might suit your needs, what follows here is a list of other kit that you might find useful when bivvying out in the woods.

  • Fallkniven DC4
    Fallkniven DC4
    This diamond/ceramic whetstone is perfect for use in the field.  

    https://www.fallkniven.com/en/knife/dc4/ 
  • Knife 
    Bushcraft knife Bear BladesWildway Bushcraft uses Bear Blades.
    “Constructed from superb quality D2 steel this knife is ideal for bushcraft and wood crafting. Our most popular knife due to its versatility and functionality, suited to tough daily use in the woods.”
    http://bearblades.co.uk/   
  • Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

    Bushcraft axe

    Copyright Gransfors Bruk
    https://www.gransforsbruk.com/en/product/gransfors-small-forest-axe/

     

    Wildway Bushcraft use a small forest axe from Gransfors Bruk. You can find out more information about Gransfors Bruk via the link below.
    https://www.gransforsbruk.com/en/product/gransfors-small-forest-axe/ 

 

Further reading

Use the directional arrows to navigate other posts that might be of interest.

 

 

LEARN HOW TO USE AN AXE, BUILD SHELTERS, LIGHT FIRES AND MORE ON OUR IOL ACCREDITED WEEKEND BUSHCRAFT COURSE.