Bushcraft axe

Basic Axe Care

Basic Axe Care

The axe is an essential bit of kit, whether you’re heading out to the woods for the day or off on expedition. Having an axe with you is the difference between being able stay warm and cook food or not! But how do you look after it? Let’s look at the steps of basic axe care.

Why should we maintain our axes? 

A well maintained axe is a safer axe and a more efficient axe too. They are often exposed to all winds and weathers, used repeatedly and transported around a lot, these factors can cause the axe to degrade if not cared for. The axe head is made from steel, but not usually stainless, so this leaves it at greater risk of rust, especially if not stored correctly and left damp and dirty. The axe handle is made of wood and if not properly cared for will warp and change in size meaning the handle could break or the head could become loose, which is not safe or ideal in any situation. Weekend bushcraft courses UK Dorset Hampshire

Basic axe care for the axe head-

Corrosion is the axe’s worst enemy, it makes it unsafe and reduces longevity. It also means it is more likely to chip and become blunt. Rust disintegrates the metal causing it to weaken, so to prevent this the axe head needs to be properly maintained. 

First of all the axe head needs to be cleaned, it can often get covered in sap, tannins and dirt so this needs removing before further maintenance and storage. This can usually be wiped off with hot water and a cloth and then dried with a dry clean cloth. Once cleaned, it is good practice to oil the axe head, this keeps it in optimum condition and adds a protective layer. There are many oils that can be used but in an ideal situation an oil such as gun oil would be the oil of choice. This type of oil dries after application rather than leaving and wet slippy coating which can attract dirt as well as wipe onto other equipment and the sheath. The application is simple, apply to the clean axe head with a dry clean cloth. Use small circular motions to work the oil into the surface and to insure good coverage. Leave to dry for a short time before removing any excess with a clean dry cloth before replacing the sheath.

 

If any patches of rust have developed then use some wire wool along with the oil to gently work through the rust, then apply extra oil in this area for added protection.

(We will cover axe sharpening in a different blog) 

Spoon scarvingBasic axe care of the sheath-

The sheath, or mask as it’s sometimes known, needs care too. This piece of equipment helps to prevent damage to the axe head but also to you when handling it and to stop damage to equipment when stored or transported with it. As the sheath is made of leather it will dry and split easily if not cared for. Try and keep it clean and dry, but when it does get dirty, clean it with hot water and a cloth. Once dried apply a protective layer with a leather conditioner, oil or aqueous wax, this will improve its longevity and give protective barrier. 

Basic axe care of the handle-

Most axe handles are made from hickory wood, this is strong and reliant but still needs maintenance and care. A poorly cared for handle is unsafe. It can warp or shrink which means the axe head can become loose making it unsafe and ineffective. 

Clean surface muck and grime off with hot soapy water and a sponge before drying thoroughly. If it needs deeper cleaning then some hand sanding may be necessary. Handles should be regularly treated with boiled linseed oil to keep the handle in good condition. It should be noted that only boiled linseed oil should be used rather than raw linseed oil as the raw version does not dry. This would leave the handle slippy and therefore unsafe to handle for obvious reasons! 

Important- it is well documented that rags soaked in boiled linseed oil can spontaneously combust if left, especially if bundled or scrunched up together. Please do NOT leave these indoors or near anything flammable. Once finished with we burn ours, but if this is not an option for you then the next safest option is to hang them outside to

basic axe care

 air dry. Hang them unfolded away from anything combustable and then dispose of them safely once completely dried. 

Ideally your axe needs to be stored out of the elements in a climate controlled building. Too warm and dry will cause shrinkage of the handle, too cold and damp and it will warp and degrade. Also be sure to store the axe correctly too. Do not stack equipment on top of it as this can deform the handle and damage the head, the same applies when transporting your kit. 

Basic axe care needs to be part of your kit maintenance. It is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will buy for bushcraft. No matter how great your knife is, it can’t fell a tree or split firewood. And without firewood you won’t have a source of heat or ability to cook food. So take care of your axe!


Canoeing preparation

Canoeing and Bushcraft

Canoeing and Bushcraft

The strong link between canoeing and bushcraft has been around for generations. Initially relied upon as a main mode of transport, canoeing for many indigenous people was a part of daily life. Often made out of birch bark, or expertly carved out of logs, traditional canoes are a far cry from the modern canoes we use today.Canoe the river Spey bivvy on its banks on our bushcraft course

Some native tribes had to travel great distances along waterways in search of food or to transport goods so bushcraft skills were essential to enable them to thrive on such journeys. Many skills such as fire lighting, trapping and providing shelter were common everyday skills to them in their home environment but they also needed to transport such tools and skills on a smaller scale. This is key for successful bushcraft on such journeys. 

Bringing it forward to the modern day, we now do these journeys for pleasure rather than necessity, but some of the fundamentals remain the same. Pack light and pack the essentials, but it’s also about skills too. Skills in both bushcraft and paddling grow with the journey.

Canoeing and bushcraft navigtion
Hazel knows where she' going.

Combining canoeing and bushcraft can expand your horizons and opens the doors to many new adventures. Getting to see many places that aren’t accessible by foot only water makes the adventure extra special. Even exploring areas you may be familiar with on foot can be so different when explored on the water. It is one of the best ways to de-stress, slow down and connect with nature. While on the water you are moving along more peacefully and are less likely to disturb the wildlife. Not only is this better for the environment but it gives so many great opportunities to see wildlife that you’d never otherwise spot. Many of these creatures are easily spooked or easily missed so this calmer quieter method of exploring increases your chance of having some amazing wildlife encounters.

Many of our Canadian canoe expeditions take place in Scotland on the beautiful River Spey or the incredible Great Glen. The Scottish wildlife never fails to amaze us with some incredible sights, from Ospreys to Buzzards, Red Deer to Red Squirrels, Otters and Pine Martens, they all look spectacular to see out in their natural habitats. 

We also take expeditions to Sweden with its incredible landscapes, abundance of wild blueberries and beautiful wildlife, canoeing and wild camping is a great way to visit this amazing country too.

Canoeing for a day can be great, but canoeing for longer periods allows you to explore further and find some amazing wild camping spots, many that you’d never discover on foot. After a great day paddling, pulling your canoe up on to the bank and setting up camp for the night is part of the joy of the journey. 

As well as ensuring it is a safe spot to camp, make sure it’s a beautiful one too, after all you want to put your feet up and enjoy the scenery that nature has to offer.

Having made sure there is no risk of flooding or soggy sleeping bags, set up your bed for the night, light your fire and start cooking.Bushcraft is about more than survival On expeditions we always advise to take food rather than relying on foraging for food along your journey. You may be able to make the most of a few foraged berries or herbs, but be sure you know what you are eating and don’t take them all as the wildlife need some too. Don’t underestimate how much food you will need, paddling all day burns calories and you won’t enjoy the journey if you are hungry and your energy is depleted. 

Make sure your shelter is adequate too, the weather can change rapidly overnight, so just because it’s dry when you set up camp don’t cut corners on your shelter just because you are tired from a days paddling.

For me one of the best bits of a canoe trip is waking up in my hammock and watching the sun rise and listening to the wildlife as the dawn chorus starts, this is the time that nature seems to burst in to life. 

You may often feel a reluctance to emerge from your warm sleeping bag, but lighting a campfire to cook breakfast and make coffee makes it that little bit easier. Once fuelled from a campfire breakfast and your kit packed away, make sure you you have left the camping spot without litter, hopefully how you found it. For the safety of the wildlife, the protection of the environment as well as the respect of fellow adventurers. 

Then it’s time to push your canoe back in to the river and continue your adventure. 


Family bushcraft course

Family Bushcraft

Introducing Your Family To Bushcraft

Daily family life can be hectic. Rushing to work, school runs, clubs, pressures from bosses and meeting family needs can leave you all stressed and frazzled. Fitting in quality family time, away from screens and stresses can be hard, and often feels too much hassle to sort, but it’s worth it.

Time as a family doing an activity together improves communication, strengthens relationships and reduces stress. Learning a new skill together makes this time even more valuable as I boosts self esteem and promotes resilience and adaptability, all essential life skills. 

Introducing your family to bushcraft can spark engagement with nature while boosting their confidence as they expand their horizons, as well as learning about and assessing risk with some of their new found skills.Family bushcraft course knife safety children

Children naturally love to explore, learn and move and bushcraft harnesses all these qualities. Whether it’s building a shelter, lighting a fire or learning about the forest around them, children of all ages thrive and strengthen as they engage in fun activities out in the woods. 

On a basic level, just the activity of walking and exploring the woodland develops balance and co ordination as they jump ditches, balance on fallen trees and swing from branches. Then learning skills such as fire lighting requires logical thinking, observation skills and fine motor skills. All of these factors transfer into positive qualities outside of the woods too with better mental health, increased self esteem and improved concentration. So introducing your family to bushcraft has so many benefits to their health and well being as well as their personal development. 

Activities involving focus and time in the fresh air also promote better sleep, and let’s face it, that is something all family members will benefit from. It is also amazing to see how many ‘fussy eaters’ will devour a whole meal because they are hungry from outdoor activities and food cooked on the campfire tastes amazing! 

As family members learn and develop their bushcraft skills they can learn food prep and campfire cooking. Often family members who aren’t keen to cook at home in the kitchen are suddenly enthusiastic to cook over the campfire, and who can blame them, it’s great fun and the food tastes better. family bushcraft course

You my have concerns about introducing your family to bushcraft because some of the activities and skills require the use of knives. But learning proper and safe knife handling skills teaches family members to respect knives and how to use them sensibly and safely. Sat around the campfire learning how to safely carve, promotes concentration, respect for tools and is a relaxing and mindful activity to engage in. It also brings about a feeling of satisfaction and achievement as carving skills develop and different items are made. So whether it’s learning to make a basic tent peg to secure your shelter or carving an intricate spoon, this skill is a great activity to de-stress and connect with your family group.  

So what are you waiting, come out to the woods with your family and learn some new skills!


Signs of spring

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

We are all looking forward to spring more than ever before. Having had another lockdown, but this time through the darkest bleakest part of the year, the thought of longer warmer days and nature bursting into life is more appealing than ever. The sights and sounds of the natural world starting to wake up will give us a feeling of new hope for the year ahead. But what are the signs of spring? 

As winter turns to spring many of the birds who have migrated here for our colder months head back to their summer homes. This also means that many birds who migrated away return for the summer months. One of the first birds to return to our shores is the Chiff Chaff, they usually arrive in March with the swallows, house martins and cuckoos following in April. The birds start to return to their British nesting sites ready to breed as the days lengthen once again. You’ll know they are home as you’ll often hear them before you see them. buzzard spring

If you are lucky enough to have an outside space to escape to, head out at dawn and as the winter turns to spring you’ll notice that the bird song increases as more birds return home but also as they start to shout the loudest to attract a mate and defend their territory. The birds will become more physically active too. A great example of this is the buzzard that we are lucky enough to have in our woods, usually seen just casually gliding or perching, once the longer days start to arrive he starts to show off his skydiving skills to attract a mate, he’s a very impressive show off!

As you look down to the woodland floor, the small green shoots are starting to burst up through the leaf litter showing bright vibrant greens as the early flowers start to emerge. Many herbaceous plants rush to flower before the leaf cover of the canopy blocks out the light once the tree’s leaf growth emerges.

SnowdropsSigns of spring are often first to be seen in January to February. Their botanical name, galanthus nivalis, translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’ both because of the white carpet of flowers it produces, but also as the plant commonly gets covered in snow after blooming because of its early appearance.  

Lesser Celendine, crocuses and primroses are also early flowers bringing colour to the woodland and food for insects starting to venture out as the days get longer. We are seeing the early shoots of the bluebells bursting back into life here but these won’t be blooming until May, though when they do, the bees go crazy for them.

As well as signs of spring on the woodland floor the trees are not to be outdone with buds starting to open to make the most of the increasing daylight hours and milder temperatures. Some trees develop their new leaves before flowering while others flower first to attract in the early insects and pollinators before putting their energy into new leaf growth. The hazel, birch and alder catkins are all visible at this time before the leaf cover becomes dense.

As the vegetation bursts into life so do the insects. With the milder weather you may get early sightings of brimstone, peacocks, commas and red admiral butterflies as they come out of winter having hibernated as adults. Orange tips and holly blues are true signs of spring, they winter as chrysalises emerging as the weather warms and days lengthen. These are often found near woodland and mature gardens as they use holly and ivy as larvae host plants. 

The first bumblebees are a great sign of spring and can usually be seen from March. These are the queens who have survived winter and are in search of early flowers for food and suitable nesting sites. Once the queen has found a suitable place she then lays her first clutch of eggs which become the first batch of female worker bees. The larvae are fed by the queen, so through spring she’ll be seen busily collecting pollen from the spring flowers so she can feed her increasing army of workers. These young emerge as adults in the summer months. To support our vulnerable bees why not plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the year? That’s one of jobs here in the woods to ensure the local bees have a variety of food sources……as long as the deer don’t eat them first.

With the increasing numbers of active insects sparks increased activity of mammals that feed on them. Another sign of spring is the sight of bats at dusk. After a winter of hibernation the bats come out on the milder evenings to enjoy the spring feast. They have used up their fat reserves through winter so look to replenish and nourish themselves, especially the pregnant females who mated in Autumn. 

We also have badgers here in the woods, though they don’t hibernate through winter their activity is greatly reduced in an attempt to conserve energy and escape the winter weather. As spring arrives they start to venture out as their main food source, the earthworm, comes to the surface as soil temperatures increase.
Badger cubs are typically born in February so there will be more activity around the sett as there are more hungry mouths to feed.

In ponds and ditches a classic sign of spring is the distinctive clusters of frog spawn appearing from January onwards as the temperatures become milder. Females lay their eggs in well vegetated ponds and ditches then as the eggs swell they float to the surface. She lays thousands of eggs, each one is a tiny tadpole embryo surrounded by a protective jellylike layer, but only 40-50% make it to adulthood, most succumb to predation.   

 

So whether you are out on a walk, heading for new adventures or practicing your bushcraft skills, take time to look around you. Spring is well and truly on its way, enjoy it, immerse yourself in it and let it recharge you to get you through these tricky times. 


Bushcraft Coffee

Bushcraft Coffee

If there is one thing that makes campfire bushcraft coffee taste even better, it's drinking it in the woods. Coffee made over the campfire just tastes so much better. Here at Wildway we have perfected the art of making our coffee over the fire with nothing but a billy can. No need for anything fancy, no presses, grinders or filter papers. Simple.

First off make sure you have bought a good brand of coffee in to the woods in the first place. We were sent afree sample by Rave and boy was it good. We had not heard of these guys before but they are UK based company that ethically source coffee from around the world. They also seem very keen on the environment with the no nonsense packaging which is a massive plus for us. You could do a lot worse than giving them a try. I am working my way though their range as we speak. Anyway on to the process.

So once you have got your coffee sorted lets get this bad boy made.

Step 1

Empty the coffee into the billy can, one large spoonful for each person and one for the pot is how I measure it out. At this stage I should add that the best ground for this is espresso but it's not the end of the world.

Step 2

Warm the grounds over the campfire, this really adds to the flavour. Don't burn them or it will taste like bitter.

Step 3

Add cold water into the warm billy can.

Step 4

Bring to the boil, until you can see the coffee start to bubble around the edges.

Step 5

Remove from the heat and stir with a hand carved spoon or a stick!

Step 6

Gently tap the side of the can allowing the coffee grounds to settle.

Step 7

Add sugar and milk to taste. Black and one sugar if best!

 

There you go simple campfire bushcraft coffee, so next time you head to the woods keep it simple and give this a go you never know it might change your world, or at least give you less to carry!


Wild Summer Edibles

Wild Summer Edibles

10 Wild Summer Edibles

As we continue to navigate our way through this strange and crazy year, even more of us are finding solace in the great outdoors and learning the benefits of foraging wild summer edibles.

Whether heading off for adventures, or just exploring the areas near our homes, we will all be noticing the changes in the seasons, maybe even more so this year as we have been forced to slow down and stay closer to home.

Noticing the seasonal changes not only helps connect with nature more but also opens up our eyes for opportunities, the wild summer edible kind!

As spring edibles have passed, now is the time make the most of the summer abundance. Ensuring that you leave enough for the wildlife and have the landowner’s permission, foraging at this time of the year is incredibly rewarding. But be very sure to get your plant identification correct as there are plenty of poisonous plants around too!

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)Wild Summer Edibles

Found in open woodland and scrubland, or on the banks of chalk downlands, these little red fruit are summer treasures.

The plant and fruit look like small versions of the cultivated fruit that we know and enjoy from our gardens, shops and farmers markets. Though it is worth knowing that the wild strawberries aren’t as sweet as the cultivated fruits and are just the size of a 5 pence piece.

The wild strawberry plant produces the same white flower as the cultivated strawberry plants. Once pollinated the small red fruits develop and are then ripe and ready for picking, just ensure that you leave plenty for the wildlife too as these are a great energy source for small ground mammals and birds.

These berries are packed. Full of vitamins and can be enjoyed raw, added to a summer salad or smoothy or cooked into jams and puddings too. I think these are one of the best wild summer edibles around.

Meadowsweet ( Filipendula ulmaria)

The Meadowsweet plant is found across Northern and Southern Europe and is often used in herbal medicine for its health benefits as it is said to treat colds, ease digestive discomfort and to reduce inflammation.

This perennial herb grows in damp meadows, hedgerows and ditches, growing up to 120cm in height. The leaves are dark green on top and greyish underneath, and are deeply veined and toothed along the edges.

Meadowsweet flowers are small and white, growing in clusters. As the name suggests, this sweet smelling flower blooms from June through to September with the white flower clusters up on a long stem. These flowers are often described as having a fuzzy or frothy appearance due to the clusters of longer pollen stamens and are often used in wines, beers and vinegars. Eaten raw the young leaves add extra nutrients to a summer salad or can bee cooked into soups and stews.

Although this plant has many health benefits, make sure you do not get it confused. When foraging at any time of the year plant identification is key. If in doubt, don’t risk it. You must be sure what wild summer edible plant your eating!

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

Rock Samphire is best foraged from May to October. This salt tolerant, hardy succulent is found along rocky coastlines, growing on cliffs and in crevices. Care needs to be taken when foraging this nutrient rich perennial herb, so we advise not to harvest from cliffs but to forage from rocky flats, but be aware of incoming tides.

Not leaf like at all, this plant has spraying antler like protrusions that are circular, like multiple stems, not to be confused with the unrelated but similarly named marsh samphire.

The ‘leaves’ of the rock samphire have a strong carroty or herb like taste and make a great nutrient rich addition to a summer salad, as can the flowers that bloom from June to September. From August to October the seed pods can be harvested and pickled making a great substitute for capers.

Rock samphire are high in vitamins and minerals and historically used by sailors to help stave off scurvy due to its high vitamin C content. Though it is worth knowing that this plant is very much like Marmite, due to its distinctive flavour you’ll either love it or hate it!

Wild Cherry (Prunus avian)

Wild cherry, a popular native tree is often treasured for its abundance of summer berries by humans and wildlife alike. Historically also treasured for its hard wood for building, as well as its source of food, cherry trees can grow up to 30 meters living for up to 60 years.

As well as in gardens, cherry trees can be found in parklands, woodlands and hedgerows. The propagation of the trees relies heavily on the birds eating the cherries and spreading the seeds, hence the second part of its botanical name being avium.

Once pollinated by our insect pollinators the sweet smelling distinctive blossoms of spring develop in to green berries. In a short time these ripen in to the red gems, once ripe there is a small window of opportunity for foraging before the birds have a glut themselves.

If you are lucky enough to share with the local wildlife and don’t miss out, then you’ll discover that they are smaller and more tart than the cultivated species of cherry that we enjoy from the shops.

These vivid red fruits are nutrient rich and commonly used to relieve coughs, colds, digestive symptoms and reduce the discomfort of gout. They are very tart in flavour and, when eaten raw, to many can cause digestive upset in some people. Wild cherries can be added to jams, pies and tarts as well as making a great sauce to accompany game.

Once you can identify a cherry tree, you’ll soon recognise them around when out and about on your adventures. They are certainly trees to be treasured and produce some of the best wild summer edibles about.

Red Currants (Ribes rubrum)

The red currants are a member of the genus Ribes in the gooseberry family. This shrub is easy to identify and commonly found in dark shady woodland, hedgerows and riverbanks, especially across the southern half of England.

These plants grow up to 1-1.5m in height and are upright in stature with a woody stem and leaves that are similar to a small maple leaf. Once you know what you are looking for they are easy to identify, but often confused with the black currant which has a larger leaf of about three times the size.

In late spring the plant produces dull and disappointing flowers of a yellow-green colour, but in early summer small clusters of up to twenty green berries form in each cluster. As the berries ripen and become a vibrant red they are ready for foraging, but just as with many berries, there is a small window of opportunity to enjoy them before the wildlife have had their fill.

Red currants are backed full of nutrients that aid circulatory health and energy. They can be enjoyed raw or added to many recipes including jams, tarts or sauces to accompany cooked meats.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)Wild Summer Edibles

The Bilberry plant is found in woodland, moorlands and forests in temperate and subarctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere. This deciduous small shrub prefers acidic, well drained soil with partial shade.

The bilberry, also known as the whortleberry, huckleberry and European blueberry, is in fact part of the heather family and as well as producing the edible berries, bilberry has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years.

So what is the difference between bilberries and blueberries? Traditionally blueberries were more of a cultivated type of berry, where as the bilberry was only ever found in the wild, though these days there are cultivated bilberries too. Blueberry flesh is light in colour whereas the bilberry flesh is a deep purple red. The bilberry plant is a low growing shrub so can be easily confused with blueberries, but both are edible so can both be enjoyed. Which is a bonus when collecting wild summer edibles!

Wild growing bilberries are packed full of nutrients and are partially beneficial for eye health. The berries can be enjoyed raw or added to recipes such as jams, sauces or pies.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is a perennial flowering plant that can be foraged for food or dried to be used as a cooling herb for herbal remedies. It grows in a variety of places from shady parks, grasslands, under trees and in the cracks of pavements too. If you look closely you’ll see that the plant has a single line of hairs down just one side of its stem making it slightly easier to identify.

Commonly deemed as a weed by gardeners, this foraged green has a fresh grass like flavour and no bitterness that is common in other foraged leaves. At this time of year look out for its small white star like flowers that can be eaten too. Both leaves and flowers can be added to salads, soups or pesto to give added nutrients to popular dishes.

When foraging pick the young lush leafy tops as these are the most tender, nutrient rich a delicious part of the plant. The older leaves can be a little tough and stringy. Similar to spinach these leaves are high in iron and can be eaten raw and cooked, though if eaten raw in abundance can lead to digestive discomfort. As with all foraging be sure to get your plant identification correct before you tuck in.

Elder Flowers & Berries (Sambucus nigra)

The Elder tree is steeped in history and folklore. Regarded as a protected tree because of the ‘Elder Mother’ residing in the trees trunk this was often grown next to gateways and entrances as it was regarded to keep away bad luck. For this reason the trees were rarely cut down or burnt.

Elders were also closely protected because of their medicinal benefits too. Not just the berries, but the flowers, the bark, roots and leaves have been used for centuries to treat a number of ailments and illnesses.

Often found in hedgerows and woodland, the Elder tree can reach heights of 10-12 metres. The trees are found to rarely live longer than 80 years and are characterised by their short trunk and greyish-brown farrowed bark.

From May, bunches of tiny white flowers hanging in sprays the size of saucers develop with a distinctive sweet smell. These flowers can be foraged and used to make classic summer drinks such as sweet elderflower cordial, elderflower champagne, sorbets or cakes.

If left, once pollinated, these small white flowers turn into a cluster of small purple-black berries. These sour berries are packed full of nutrients but should not be eaten raw as they induce vomiting and diarrhoea. However they are often taken in cooked supplement form to boost the immune system, reduce stress and support heart health.

Once cooked these berries can be made into jams, juices and pies and enjoyed with a glass of elderflower cordial, the taste of summertime.

Crab Apples (Malus sylvestris)

Found in hedgerows, gardens and woodlands these small ancestors of the cultivated apple tree can live up to 100 years old. These smaller trees favour moist soil and when exposed to the elements become twisted and gnarled with the twigs often developing spines. It is thought that this spined and crabbed appearance is one of the reasons that it has its name.

These smaller native trees are spherical and irregular in shape with a wide canopy. Though commonly a smaller tree, the Woodland Trust state that some have been found at 10 meters in height.

The small sweet smelling pink and white blossoms bloom from spring into summer, then once pollinated develop the tree’s fruit in late summer. Crab apples can be a variety of colours ranging from golden yellows, greens to russet reds when they are ready to harvest in late summer into early autumn.

Eaten raw these fruits can be incredibly bitter and can cause some digestive discomfort, but when cooked with sugar they make a great addition to summer puddings and to jams and jellies too.

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

The bramble plant that produces the blackberries can grow just about anywhere. They make up dense hedgerows, cover scrubland, are found in woodland and are capable of growing pretty much anywhere in our climate.

As well as making the perfect habitat for a variety of wildlife these hardy prickly plants produce tasty and nutritious sweet berries from late summer into autumn.

The white blossoms that bloom from spring into summer develop into juicy edible berries from July to late August. They start as small hard green berries then as they ripen and grow in size they change from pink, to red and when fully ripen they are a deep purple-black colour and ready for harvesting.

These tasty, nutrient dense berries can be enjoyed raw straight from the plant, added to smoothies and salads or cooked into recipes such as pies, crumbles and hedgerow jams, or frozen to be enjoyed through the winter months.

 

So whether you are foraging greens to boost your summer salads and soups, harvesting berries to boost your health or picking fruit to freeze for comforting winter puddings, summer is the time of abundance.

Remember to forage your summer edibles responsibly and carefully insuring you have identified the plant correctly. Make sure you have the land owner’s permission, that you only take what you need and leave enough for others. But most importantly leave enough for the wildlife as they will be feeding young and themselves to make sure they are strong and healthy ready for the winter months. So get out there and enjoy your wild summer edibles!


Bushcraft at Home

Indoor Bushcraft

Indoor Bushcraft- 5 Things To Do Right Now

This is a tricky time for all of us, we are doing the right thing by staying home and staying safe. Only venturing out once a day for your daily exercise can feel so alien when you are used to spending most of your time out in the woods or away on expedition like the team here. So we thought we’d share a few tips and give you 5 things to do right now during this lockdown period to stay busy, stay focused and stay positive. A sort of indoor bushcraft so to speak!

We are all missing the great outdoors and the adventures that we were supposed to be away on right now but lets look at how you can still be doing bushcraft and adventure related stuff at home.

1. Sharpening Tools-Bushcraft axe

Knives and axes are both essential parts of bushcraft kit. A blunt tool is going to make your life more difficult when out in the woods, and a badly maintained tool is a dangerous tool.

So use this time to go through and assess your tools. Are they safe? Are they in full working order? Take this time to sharpen the blade, strop the blade too if needed, then ensure the blade is dry before putting it away to avoid rust.

Assess the handle too, it maybe in need of some TLC. Oiling the wooden handles of your tools will help with their strength and longevity and keep them safe and effective to use.

Also take a look at the protective sheath too, if it is leather give it an oil to keep it supple and strong which will keep your blade protected and ensure the longevity of your tools.

2. Sort Out Your Kit-

Make the use of this time to pull out all of your kit, and I mean all of it. Take a good look at each item, does it need some maintenance? Do you actually use it or is just taking up valuable space?

Also look at how you store your kit and pack your kit too. Sometimes life can be so busy between work, family and heading off on adventures that taking the time to properly sort and store kit is less of a priority, but now is the time to do it. Kit that needs maintenance leave out and carry out some repairs on each piece. This is also a great time to waterproof wet weather kit too, even if it doesn’t look too warn, use this time to get another waterproof layer on, you’ll be glad of it next winter.

3. New Kit-

A favourite subject of the team, new kit! Everyone loves getting new kit but no one likes buying duff kit or being ripped off. So use this time to work out what you actually need then research the product, speak to friends who use the kit and read plenty of reviews. A perfect indoor bushcraft job!

4. Expand Your Knowledge-

It’s always good to expand your knowledge and update your skills, no matter how long you’ve been doing bushcraft.

There are some great books and online resources so you can read up on most elements of bushcraft. Whether it’s improving your plant identification, updating your navigation knowledge or learning more about water filtration, then now is a great time to expand your knowledge.

Also, check out our Facebook Page and YouTube Channel for further info, tips and video clips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Practice Your Skills-

OK, so this one is a bit more limiting in this current situation of lockdown, but there are still some skills that can be practised in your own home. Obviously if you have garden then there will be skills you can practice outside such as firelighting and tarp set ups. But inside you can still practice your carving skills, work on your map reading and navigation knowledge as well as practising natural cordage.

So stay positive, practice your skills as much as you can, expand your knowledge and plan your next adventures.


Wild Garlic

Spring Edibles To Forage

Spring Edibles To Forage

After the gloom of winter the early spring edibles to forage are a welcome sight. After a period of slim pickings during the winter months you can start to gather some highly nutritious edibles from February onwards. As the young leaves and shoots come through there are some tender sweet greens to gather.

As always though, when foraging be sure to have the land owner’s permission, ensure you have identified the correct plant and don’t take it all for yourself, after all the wildlife have had a long hard winter and need nourishment too.

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) 

Wild GarlicWith the leaves appearing from February the aromatic wild garlic is a welcome sight early in the season and a delicious and versatile spring edible.  They grow in clusters and can be found in shaded woodland and hedgerows, and when the flowers are in bloom you will smell them before you see them!

Before the flowers appear, if you are unsure if you have the right plant or not, just crush a leaf in the palm of your hand and if it is wild garlic it will have distinctive onion-garlic scent.  

Both the long pointed leaves and the fragrant white flowers are edible and can be enjoyed in many forms. Add to sauces or stews, make your own wild garlic pesto, or maybe try making wild garlic bread on the camp fire. The flavour is incredible.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 

Also known as Jack-by-the-hedge, garlic mustard is another vibrant spring edible found from February-March onwards. The leaves have a milder garlic flavour than wild garlic but still make a great addition to an early spring salad or stew. 

These heart shaped leaves have a toothed outer boarder and are hairless with a glossy sheen. When crushed they also release an onion-garlic scent, but it is not as strong as that from wild garlic. As these leaves are harder to spot, and smell, than the wild garlic be sure you have got your identification right before tucking in.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) 

Nettles with their distinctive leaves are easy to spot and grow just about anywhere. New growth emerges from February onwards and it is the tender young tips that are the best parts of the plant to forage.

Packed full of iron and vitamins A & D this wild edible is very similar to spinach in nutritional value and has a similar flavour. Add to soups and stews, or make into tea or beer.

Famous for its “stinging” ability, you may prefer to wear gloves when foraging these beauties.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

HawthornHawthorn is known for its tough and prickly exterior, commonly used as an effective barrier and hedge line of farmland. But in early spring as the tree springs in to life its fresh delicate leaves and buds make tasty additions to salads and fresh dishes, or can be enjoyed straight from the plant. 

Historically these were a commonly foraged spring edible and the fresh young leaves and buds where referred to as ‘bread and cheese’ by foragers. The tender young leaves acting as the bread and the tasty flower buds being the cheese.

From summer onwards the leaves become tough and not as enjoyable to eat, so forage early.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

GorseFound in well drained and sandy areas such as heathland, cliff tops and scrubland, the gorse bush with its distinctive floral bloom provides vivid colour in the early spring. The vibrant yellow flowers are edible and sweet with their enticing coconut scent and almond flavour.

Care should be taken when foraging these flowers as they are well protected by the sharp thorn like leaves of the gorse shrub, but they are worth the prickly gamble!

These bright yellow flowers can be enjoyed raw eaten straight from the plant, or added to salads and puddings. Or enjoy steeped in hot water brewed as tea.

Cleavers (Gatium aparine)

CleaversCleavers, or Goose Grass, are easily found from February onwards, emerging along hedgerows, paths, parklands and woodland areas too.

These spring edibles can be treated just as a vegetable, an ideal addition to soups and stews. The early young plant tops are the best part to eat as they are tender and tasty. As the plant matures it becomes bitter and fibrous, and it is better to harvest the plant tops before the seeds appear in early summer.

Once the seeds have ripened and hardened these too can be harvested, best enjoyed roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Don’t be put off by its name, this spring edible is packed full of nutrients and regularly used in herbal remedies. This broadleaf weed has egg shaped leaves with pointy tips. The white flowers with elongated petals are edible too when they appear later in the season. 

These make a nutritional addition to an early spring salad, stew or smoothy.

Not to be confused with the poisonous yellow pimpernel. A key identification feature to look for in the chickweed is a visible single line of hairs running down one side of the stem, if there isn’t, don’t chance it.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Commonly found on grass verges, through out parklands, meadows and woodland dandelions are easy to forage. Their distinctive shaped leaf makes them easily recognisable, and even more so when their bright yellow flower appears in early spring too making this plant the ideal spring edible to forage. Dandelion

Both leaf and flowers are edible and can be enjoyed in salads or stews, or steeped in boiling water to make a tea. Just be mindful of their diuretic properties when consumed in larger quantities.  

So now the days are getting longer and the new growth is coming through, it’s a great time to get out exploring and see what delicious and nutritious treats nature has to offer this spring. Just remember to forage responsibly, enjoy your findings and be sure of your plant identification- If in doubt, leave it out!


Christmas tree

Norway Spruce

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


deer chewing the cud

Poo, Prints & Pawmarks

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