Sweet Chestnut (Castanae sativa)

Sweet Chestnut (Castanae sativa)

 The Sweet Chestnut is a long lived deciduous giant, found in woodlands across the UK. Known for its edible nuts and solid wood, it is thought that it was the Romans who introduced this iconic tree to our shores.

In the same family as both the Oak and the Beech the Sweet Chestnut is known to live up to 700 years old and grows up to 35-40 metres in height.

The glossy leaves of the Sweet Chestnut are a vibrant green and grow up to 28cm in length. Approximately 8-9 cm at its widest point, the leaves are a slight oblong to oval shape with serrated edges making them very distinctive.

Sweet Chestnut bark is a dark grey-brown-purple shade that darkens with age. As the tree ages it also develops deep vertical fissures giving it a distinctive pattern that spirals up around the trunk. Out on the branches the bark becomes less grey and is a deeper purple-brown colour on the twigs with small oval buds being more of a dark purple colour. In winter these trees are easily identified because of their distinctive bark, as well as the remains of chestnut husks around the base of the tree.

From spring into summer the sweet chestnut, a monoecious tree, develops long yellow catkin flowers that are very popular with butterflies. The flowers of the catkins are predominately male but have a few female flowers towards the base. Though the tree produces both male and female flowers they can not self pollinate, they rely on pollinating insects to do this for them. To help with this, the catkins release a very strong fragrance to attract the insects.

Once pollinated, the female flowers develop into the tree’s fruit, the chestnuts. 

Sweet chestnut trees produce chestnuts from just 3-5 years of age, with increasing crops each year until they reach maturity at 15-20 years old where they then continue to produce a large quantity of nuts each year. Chestnuts can be foraged, roasted and enjoyed, but forage responsibly. Remember that these chestnuts are the next generation of tree as well as valuable food for our native wildlife. 

These nuts can be found in autumn incased in bright green spiky spherical shells, not to be confused with the NON edible horse chestnut (or conker). The shells of the edible sweet chestnut are covered in hundreds of thin tiny spike protrusions where as the NON edible horse chestnut casings have fewer, thicker and longer spikes in a spherical shell.  

Once foraged, remove them, carefully, from their spiky shells, prick them and then roast and enjoy. Chestnuts are the only nut that are high in Vitamin C,  as well as being a rich source of magnesium, potassium and iron. Once roasted these versatile nuts can be added to a variety of recipes such as stuffings, pies and pastries, so forage responsibly but then enjoy your nutritious bounty!


Yew Tree  (Taxus baccata)

Yew Tree  (Taxus baccata)

The Yew tree is a long lived evergreen native to the UK. Reaching up to 20m at maturity this is deemed to be a medium tree which supports many species of wildlife whilst providing a dense understory or hedgerow. 

This is said to be one of the longest lived trees in Europe, only deemed ancient once it has reached 900 years old. In fact there are believed to be 10 Yew trees in England dating back to the 10th Century. 

The leaves of the Yew tree are short, straight needles with a pointed tip. These leaves grow in two rows either side of the twig. The leaves are dark green in colour on top with a greyish green colour underneath. The year round leaf colour makes for easier winter identification.

Yew tree bark is a distinctive reddish brown colour with purple tones. The heartwood of the tree ranges in colour from a deep brown-orange, a vibrant golden orange to a distinctive purple. As the heartwood makes contact with the air and is left to dry these colours become more visible and distinctive. 

Yew trees are dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers are found on separate trees, rather than being monoecious where both male and female flowers are present on the one tree. Monoecious trees are more common, probably because their chance of successful reproduction is far higher. 

The flowers of the yew are seen from late February to April. The male flower is a small white globe like flower that becomes more yellow as its pollen content increases. The female flowers are also small, but are scaly and bud like in structure and are green when young and turning brown with age.

When mature and covered in pollen, the male flower releases his pollen which is carried by the wind to the female flowers on the other yew trees. Wind pollination can take place between trees that are miles apart as the tiny pollen particles travel easily in the air.

After the female flowers have been pollinated the fruit then forms on the female trees. This fruit bears the tree’s seed, each seed being enclosed in a red fleshy open ended berry. These berries are known as Arils.

As well as being a tree steeped in history, the Yew has many uses. The timber gathered from the yew tree is one of the strongest and most durable. In fact, one of the world’s oldest archaeological artefacts is a spear head made from yew, and is thought to be 450,000 years old. For this reason yew has traditionally been used for making tools and long bows.

Yew trees also provide great protection for many species of wildlife due to its dense structure. This not only protects against the weather and predators but provides lots of nesting opportunities for small mammals, such as squirrels and varying species of birds. 

As well as providing a home, the yew also provides a food source with its fruit providing sustenance for squirrels, dormice and a few native birds who seem immune to its toxic properties. The only species known to be brave enough to consume the leaves are the Satin Beauty Moth’s Caterpillars. 

I mention about the bravery of this caterpillar as the yew tree is one of the most toxic trees where humans are concerned. Often associated with death and morbid connotations this tree has a grizzly reputation, and for good reasons.

The yew tree contains highly toxic taxane alkaloids, and each part of the tree is poisonous to humans. Eating just a few leaves can make a child critically ill, so ingestion should be avoided.

However, modern medicine has used this toxicity to our advantage, using the taxane alkaloids gained from the tree’s foliage in cancer fighting medication. These toxins are used in a form of chemotherapy, in closely monitored and controlled doses, to kill off the active cancer cells.

Along with its toxic reputation, the yew tree has often been seen as a symbol of death. It is thought that this is due to the large number of yew trees found in graveyards and church grounds across the UK. This is said to be because that Yew saplings were planted on the graves, or put in with the bodies, of plague victims to protect and purify the dead. 

 

Another theory for the amount of yews found in graveyards is to protect the land. By planting yew trees in the church yards those with “commoner’s rights” were discouraged from grazing their livestock there as yew is also highly poisonous to livestock too. 

Some accounts of mythology also state yew as a symbol of rebirth or resurrection, especially in the Celtic culture. It is thought that this is because of the tree’s ability to form new root systems and trunks. As low branches droop down and touch the ground they have the ability to root themselves from the end of that branch, then over time that branch becomes a new trunk. 

So there we have it, the mighty Yew tree, one to be respected for both good and bad reasons. Respect and be mindful of its toxicity, but admire its strength, durability and and the incredible ages that many of them can reach providing a valuable habitat as well as a part of history too. 


Hypothermia

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is classed as a medical emergency and occurs when the body loses heat faster then it can produce heat.

It is obviously best to stay warm and aim to prevent hypothermia but none of us are immune, and if it does occur you need to know how to spot it and what action to take.

The normal body temperature in a healthy adult is 37 degrees Celsius, hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius. This can occur due to exposure to cold weather conditions or submersion in cold water. 

When the body temperature drops the body’s vital organs and nervous system are put under increased stress and struggle to function effectively. This changes brain function making the victim unable to think clearly and make rational decisions. This is why it is important to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of hypothermia in those around you, but also attempt to notice changes within yourself too. 

Signs of hypothermia in adults-

-Shivering

-Drowsiness

-Slowing or slurring of speech

-Confusion

-Fumbling of hands

-Exhaustion 

If left untreated, the victim may stop shivering and soon unconsciousness will follow, so don’t ignore the early signs.

Children are even harder to keep warm. For a start many of them hate to have multiple layers on, this can make them feel restricted and unable to run and play in a way they are used to. It is important to teach our children from a young age about the importance of wearing the right cloths for certain weather conditions so they get to enjoy adventures too. Another problem with keeping children warm is that to get decent warm kit for them can be expensive, especially as they grow out of it so fast, but it’s worth the investment so they stay safer and can enjoy the journey too. Also let’s not over look their smaller frame, our body mass does have a bearing on how well we cope with cold, how well we adjust and how well we produce heat, so always be more cautious with children out in the cold than other adults. 

Signs of hypothermia in children-

-Shivering

-Drowsiness

-Numbness in hands and/or feet

-Lack of co-ordination

-Muscles aches or pains in limbs

-Stumbling or tripping

-Slowing of speech, or stopped talking

-Head dropping low

-General changes in behaviour that aren’t normal for your child

Act fast with any of these signs, hypothermia is a medical emergency that can happen to any one of us. 

What action to take?

In severe cases call for emergency medical help before carrying out these steps. In mild cases follow these steps and then get the victim to a minor medical facility for assessment if they are still struggling.

-Get the person to a shelter out of the elements and next to a fire.

-Remove any wet clothing.

-It is important to warm the vital organs so get warm layers on the chest, neck, heat and groin area as a priority.

-Use as many dry layers as you have and if you have a dry sleeping bag then get them in there too.

-Use the buddy system and cuddle up with the victim to use your body heat to help them warm up.

-Warm drinks can help, but only give drinks if the victim is alert enough, don’t give drink is the victim is struggling to remain conscious, or is unconscious. -Don’t give food until the victim has recovered and fully alert as there is a high risk of choking.

-Don’t give alcohol as this can mask other symptoms and give a false sense of warmth.

-Even when the victim starts to warm back up and becomes more alert make sure they still have plenty of layers on, keep them warm and allow them to rest but monitor them very closely, but always if there is any doubt get medical help.

Hypothermia is best avoided, so be prepared when you head out for adventures, but none of us are immune so be vigilant and act fast. Remember…

Avoid-Spot-Treat

 

 

   


Dehydration In Winter

Dehydration In Winter

Dehydration only happens in summer, right? Wrong!

Dehydration can certainly be a problem in the warmer summer weather, but equally it is an issue as the temperature drops during the winter months too, but why?

In the cold our thirst response, the signals that tell us that we are actually thirsty, are diminished by an incredible 40%! This happens as blood vessels constrict because of the cold. As the vessels vasoconstrict the volume of blood is kept closer to the vital organs in the body’s core to retain heat, this signals to the body that blood volume is still ok and that extra fluid isn’t needed, which means less thirst triggers to our brain. Because the body isn’t recognising thirst as readily it also doesn’t trigger the hormone response to the kidneys to retain fluid, so urine production continues as normal, this adds to the fluid loss.

Wearing extra layers in the winter also adds to increased fluid needs as the body works harder to move around with extra layers causing restriction to normal movement. Even well fitted layers weigh slightly more and change movement patterns compared to our lightweight looser summer layers. 

 

In the cold, fluid is lost through breathing more than in the heat. The increased respiratory fluid loss occurs because when you can see your breath in the lower temperatures that is actually water vapour you are looking at which accounts for extra fluid loss. 

Sweat is another fluid loss factor to consider, especially when exercising outside. You may think that you are not sweating because it is so cold but actually it is just harder to detect or feel the sweat. It is said that sweat actually evaporates from the body faster in the cold than the heat, this is due to the greater difference in temperature between your body and the air temperature in such conditions. 

But what are the signs of dehydration?

Mild dehydration shows itself as headaches, tiredness and mild light headedness. These are symptoms that can easily be mistaken just for lack of sleep of feeling a bit under the weather, but if you don’t increase your fluid intake at this point then the symptoms will soon become more intense and uncomfortable as you start to become unwell.

As dehydration progresses the headaches get worse, dizziness becomes more severe, tiredness becomes more intense, added with feelings of nausea and muscle cramps and stiffness, urgent intervention is needed for anyone at this stage.

This situation, if left uncorrected, continues on to severe dehydration which is classed as a medical emergency and medical attention is needed urgently. At this point further symptoms include rapid pulse rate, rapid breathing, sunken eyes, cold pale skin, fainting episodes and unconsciousness can follow.   

It is said that by the time we feel thirst we are already in need of fluid, so now knowing that the thirst response is lowered by a huge 40% in colder weather we can see it is important to take our hydration levels seriously in the cold weather. Well, that seems another great reason to get the kettle on the campfire and enjoy another hot drink. 

 


bow drill set

Making a Bow Drill Set

Making a Bow Drill Set

Being able to create fire by friction is a fundamental skill in bushcraft. Not only is it a fire lighting method that has been used for thousands of years but is a technique that could save your life out in a survival situation. Making a bow drill set can seem daunting to some but there are some tips to make it a bit easier for yourself. So let’s take a look at how to make a bow drill set. 

The bow drill set is made up from the following parts each with its specific job-

The Bow- this should be about the same length as half of your arm span, though some prefer it slightly shorter. It can be made of any dry wood but needs to be slightly curved. Attach a piece of paracord tying it off to both ends of the bow. The cord shouldn’t be as tight as a guitar string but needs to be relatively taught.  

bow drill setThe Drill- this is the upright section of the bow drill set and is in contact with the bearing block at the top for stability and pressure, and the hearth board at the bottom where the friction and heat production takes place. 

To make the drill you need to select a straight piece of dry wood, Hazel, Sycamore, Ivy and Willow are all great wood choices for this.

Start by bevelling and rounding one end of the drill, this is the end that will work with the hearth board at the base. On the other end carve a taper, slightly like an Eiffel Tower shape, so you can minimise the friction caused at the top of the drill in contact with your bearing block. By making the contact point at the top of your drill smaller than the bottom one you will reduce the chance of creating heat at the wrong end of your bow drill set.

The Bearing Block- this is the section of the bow drill set that stabilises the drill at the top and enables you to provide downward pressure. This can be made from anything from a block of wood, seashell or antler. It needs to be a strong enough material to take the downward pressure but also needs to be slightly curved or have a small cup like shape carved in to stabilise the top of the drill. 

The Hearth Board- this is the base of the bow drill set which sits on the ground to not only provide the stable platform but is the other point of friction along with the base of the drill. This is also where the wood dust collects as the result of the friction along with the heat which will combine to create the ember. 

Sycamore, Ivy, Willow, Alder and Cedar are all great wood choices for making the hearth board. The board needs to be about 5cm wide and long enough that you can make it stable with your foot. 

A small bowl like indentation needs to be made for the drill base to fit in to create the point of friction so it’s important that it fits well to maximise area of contact. To make this, push the tip of your knife in to the wood and twist the knife in a drill-like action to form the indentation.

Next, to improve the fit of the drill in to the hearth board you need to load your bow with your drill, so the drill is running on the outside of the string. Place the bearing block at the top and put the base of the drill in to the hearth board indentation. bow drill set

bow drill setNow start to use your bow back and forth to help to bed in the base of the drill in to hearth board creating a better fit. Once you reach a point that they fit together nicely, and you’ve probably created smoke by this point, you now need to cut a V-shape in to the circular indentation of the hearth board. Cut out a small pizza slice shape piece that should take out a small section of the indentation with it too. This allows the hot wood dust to collect in one place to help focus the heat and fuel together, which will then become your ember. It is a good idea to place a piece of bark or wood under the hearth board to make it easier to collect the ember once you get it.

Now all you need to do is get practicing, remember to be patient, this rarely works first time and takes some effort and determination to get it, so be persistent.


Introducing Your Family To 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 it boosts self esteem and promotes resilience and adaptability, all essential life skills. Family bushcraft course

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.

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. 

family bushcraftOn 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 too. All of these factors transfer into positive qualities outside of the woods 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 quality 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! family bushcraft

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.

You may 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!

family bushcraft


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.