Category Archives: misc. ramblings

foundational bushcraft instructor training

Over the last three weeks I have been delivering a course designed specifically for transitioning service personnel and veterans. Run as an intensive (dawn until dusk) over nine nights and six days the first cohort of six decended upon the woodland here at Runnng Deer CIC. Challenging for both instructor and student this course is a foundational course into teaching bushcraft. This is not purely a skills-based course but it teaches how to teach, plan and deliver sessions to all ages. It challenged assumption and introduced a range of activities, considerations and tools to equip and inspire the budding instructor. The course aims to

  • Provide a useful framework of teaching theory
  • Provide ‘set’ activities (and hints/tips) for individuals and groups that apply the teaching framework
  •  Inspire participants and to give them confidence to move forward into teaching bushcraft and wilderness skills
  • Give a grounding in the management of risk
  • Make participants aware of issues of compliance, equipment and its maintenance
  • Consolidate or establish the key skills to teach in the areas of:
    a) Bushcraft ‘cornerstones’: Fire, Water and Shelter
    b) Sensory, nature awareness and observational skills
    c) Crafts and Campcraft
    d) Foraging and plant ID

Here are a few photos from the first course (click on any to enlarge):

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wild plants and the law

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Because ‘gathering’ or foraging is an essential part of primitive living I thought it would be useful to give some useful guidelines on wild ‘things’ and the law. This will vary hugely from country to country so check out your local laws and customs. This posting is very much UK specific.

The protection of wild plants is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its amendments. To view this Act please click here

Of particular interest are the following sections and schedules of the Act:

  • Part 1 – Section 1-8 Protection of Birds
  • Part 1 – Section 9-12 Protection of Animals
  • Part 1 – Section 13 Protection of Wild Plants – Specifically Schedule 8
Section 13
Part 1 (a) intentional picking, uprooting or destruction of plants on Schedule 8
Part 1 (b) unauthorised intentional uprooting of any wild plant not included in Schedule 8
Part 2 (a) selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale, any plant (live or dead, part or derivative) on Schedule 8
Part 2 (b) advertising for buying or selling such things

Bluffers guide to foraging (use with caution!)

  • If you are on private land, without explicit or implicit permission from the owner then you are trespassing – for whatever reason.  However this is not a criminal offence but a civil offence – you can be sued but not prosecuted. Where implicit permission is given (ie National Trust Land) then you are okay. If you are on a public right of way (PROW) then you are also okay.
  • The fundamental law governing foraging is the common law right to collect the ‘four ‘f’s – fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage’.  However there are two caveats  1) that the material picked is for personal use, not commercial gain, and (2) that it is growing wild (ie: not farmed or purposely grown). This fundamental law is enshrined in the 1968 Theft Act.

A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks
flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not
(although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it
for reward, or for sale or other commercial purpose’

  • What this is saying is that even if someone is trespassing they are not stealing. There are of course exceptions. On some land this right has been withdrawn with a byelaw forbidding the collection of any plant, fungus or animal (eg; National Trust land, SSSi etc). However – as with the first bullet point – you can still be ‘done’ for trespass.
  • Land given access rights under the Countryside and Rights Of Way (CROW) Act of 2000 confers no right to collect wild food. The act states that a person is not entitled to be on the land if he ‘…..intentionally removes, damages or destroys any plant, shrub, tree or root or any part of a plant, shrub, tree or root.’ Therefore there little you other than walk such land.
  • Conservation law is covered by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Actwhich states that ‘….if any person ….not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant…he shall be guilty of an offence.’ Certain plants mentioned in the 1981 act are on the ‘schedule 8’ list and it is illegal to damage them in any way. Similarly there are laws protecting the picking of plants not on Schedule 8 that are protected by a conservation status such as SSSi.
  • When a site is registered as an SSSI, a list is drawn up of species which made it interesting in the first place and it is illegal to damage any of these organisms. Also published with the declaration of the site is a list of ‘operations likely to damage’the SSSI. These activities are not necessarily banned, but consultation with, and permission from, Natural England is required. Within the list is a catch all along the lines of ‘removal of or damage to any plant, fungus or animal’.

edible fungi of the week: parasol mushroom

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Macrolepiota procera

These large, majestic, edible fungi are most common in woodland clearings and on their grassy fringes. They can grow alone but often in groups. You can also find them on verges and established (permanent) pasture. In Britain then tend to grow between July and November.

Identification

The cap of the parasol starts as a small, pale brown orb with a slightly darker area at its zenith. As is grows, flattens and expands this breaks into scales. The brown bump in the centre remains. When cut the flesh of the cap does not change colour much and remains white. A mature specimen has a cap diameter of between 10 and 25 cms. Avoid specimens smaller than this.

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The gills of this parasol are broad and crowded. They are white of off-white (cream) and are markedly free from the stipe. In these pictures the crowded gills are wavy as the parasol in this specimen has not fully extended yet. The spore print is white.

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The stem usually has a large double-ring. This can loosen and can fall to its base. The stem is pale cream or white, smooth in texture and has small brown ‘snakeskin’ scales or bands. The stem above the ring is very smooth and has no pattern. If you break open the stem you will find it loose (ie not dense) and fibrous. However the stem is quite robust and tough. Sometimes the stem will be hollow too. At its base the stem is bulbous (c.2.5cm). At is top it is slightly tapered (1/5cm).

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The odour of this mushroom is not particularly distinctive

Similar species

Chlorophyllum rhacodes, the Shaggy Parasol, is smaller but it has larger, reflexed scales and a stipe that lacks the brown snakeskin patterning. This is classed as a poisonous fungi. They do not grow larger than 10cm – so one of the reasons not to pick any parasol smaller than 10cm. Its flesh turns red when cut, and the stem does not have the snakeskin pattern

Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


review – vanguard endeavor ed 8×42 binoculars

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Many Wilderness Guides have a pair of bins as a constant companion. Looking ahead for route choices, spotting wildlife, tracking, stalking and hunting are all part and parcel of its role. We use them from early doors to late in the evening. Deciding fair or foul is not a choice we take when it comes to weather- arctic to equatorial, desert dry to dehli deluge – our equipment is relied upon and trusted, not just for pleasure and leisure but for safety too. Our kit needs to work and work well. Wide paths or smooth terrain are almost never a reality – knocks and shocks are just part of the everyday. When it comes to the scenery we work in the huge vistas of the high fells and plains can turn quickly to the crowded canopies of the woods, forest and jungles. Our optics need to see near and far.

The final litmus test is their packability and portability: they are just one more thing to pack in our sack. It is hardly ever a short stroll from the car…it is days or sometimes weeks on end on the trail. Every ounce hurts. Especially as you get older!

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A good package for a wilderness guide.

My choice of binoculars for this review are the Vanguard Endeavour ED 8×42. Designed, developed and produced by Vanguard in China at its own plant rather than contracting it out to an unbranded production facility. Quality control should be less of an issue. 8x optics are a good compromise between magnification and stability, field of view, depth of field and brightness.  I bought these through Amazon at a snip of 212 gbp and currently benefiting from an additional 40 gbp cash-back offer.

Taking into account the spec that includes phase correction, silver alloy reflective coatings and full multi-coating on all glass/prism surfaces makes this bino, on paper, a steal. But what counts is real-world quality and performance.

These binoculars are excellent and certainly have a home in amongst my kit. The build quality is amazing, the optics are good and for the price – pretty special. You can get the low-down on the specs on other sites on the web, just do a search. Whilst these reviews are very useful what I am testing is the product in real life, doing a real and important job. This optic is not sitting in a draw, occasionally polished and then taken for a short walk from the car for an hour or two. These bins are taken into the back of the beyond. Into the Wild Lands.

So what do you really need to know? Well,  the optics are very good, the build quality is excellent, the specification nearly top-notch and the price amazing.

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well made optics and an excellent tethered objective lens cover

So lets take a closer look at what counts:

The optics
ED Glass – which is a type of dense, low distortion/aberration glass that has all the latest corrections and coatings. It offers a bright image, with good resolution, and a generous, sharp sweetspot right in the centre of where your eye naturally looks and focusses. Of course there is field curvature which means the towards the edge the sharpness tails off but at mid-to-longer distances this is very good, nearer it is very acceptable. Take a look at the images below – you will see that images are sharp until quite near the edge. In other bins – especially at this price – the drop-off towards the edge can be quite alarming. Not here though.

Chromatic aberation is fairly controlled (good but not great), contrast is good and the sharpness right at the centre is almost so sharp it hurts. The 42mm objective lens, the highly reflective coatings and the good internal ‘dampening’ of stray light means the images are bright – from dawn until dusk.

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good sharpness, sweetspot and edge definition at medium to long distances (300-1000m) – using a 5mp smartphone camera.

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good sharpness and resolution (edge to edge) at medium to long distances (using a 5mp smartphone camera)

The build quality

The rubber armour that protects the barrels of the bins is neither too soft or too hard – well textured and cosmetically very attractive. Looking at the general external surfaces, alignments and internal structures demonstrates a good production line with excellent machining tolerances. The focus knob is large and grippy (even with gloves) and gearing smooth, fast and confident. There is no play in the mechanism. The objective lenses are well recessed for protection. The twin bridge design inspires confidence in holding: even over rough terrain.

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big, agressively gears, smooth focussing knob

The features

I have mentioned the optical features earlier but the addition of multi-stop eyecups and good eye relief, the lockable dioptre adjustment, the large, grippy focussing knob, the tripod mount, the twin bridge design, the rain covers and the tethered objective covers makes for a very complete package. I don’t even need to mention the strap and the case (both good)

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Tripod mounting cover at centre of hinge. Excellent objective lens covers.

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Large, grippy focussing knob and good, snug eye-cup raincovers

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Nice touch – lockable diopter adjustment

Well that’s the good news. Now for the bad. There are few. But for me they are as a professional user, and in the context I use them in, are significant – especially for an ‘endurance’ user.

These bins are heavy. Not so heavy for their class (42mm – full size) and design (roof prism). But they are over 700g. Its not a matter of holding them that is the issue. They are well balanced and comfortable. But with all the other kit I can carry – the bulk and extra weight is something to ponder when packing. Maybe 30 or 32mm objectives would offer a more compact, albeit more compromised package. All these grammes add up. a little here, a little there…..and then you start thinking that maybe there is something one needs to leave behind! Big binoculars often get left at home. However, if you are not carrying the optics for big distances over many days – along with other kit then this will may not be an issue. But I would be interested in comparing their small 30/32mm bins.

The other issue, and this is not specific to the Vanguards, is the narrow depth of field. Roof prism designs often ‘suffer’ from a narrow ‘in focus’ band or depth of field. This means that re-focussing  – especially in woods or forests  – can be a constant hassle. On the other hand the traditional porro-prism design often benefits from a greater depth of field, making the focussing less onerous or irritating. But this is not an issue restricted to the Vanguards but almost all roof prism designs. Its just part of the compromise (for a more compact and robust package) that you have to accept. However, the large focussing knob with agressively fast gearing is a mixed blessing. Focussing can be fast from near to infinity: almost too fast. It is easy to overshoot the mark. However this is just a personal preference and a niggly observation at that. You might, on the other hand, quite like this characteristic. On the open range, and at greater distances this is not an issue. But a few hours in a woodland will give you a good sense of what I mean and if this is something that is irrelevant or becomes irritating.

One of the reasons for the keen price on these bins is that a new model has come out. One that has improved Hoya ED glass. Combining this into a 8×30/32 package is something I am very interested in trying as it may suit my professional needs more closely. But until the piggy bank is full again this will have to wait until another day!

My score for these bins is a solid 8/10. Well done Vanguard. Go get a pair while stocks last.

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june & july’s diary

Here is an updated outline of upcoming courses and experiences being run at the WildernessGuide

  • 7 June – Coastal, Saltmarsh and Riverine Forage Day, Devon. Private booking.
  • 22-24 June – Specialist Tracking Topics, Dartmoor. Invite only.
  • 5-6 July – Axe Skills Mentor, Dartmoor.
  • 21-24 July – Dartmoor Wilderness Adventure, Dartmoor. Private booking.
  • 26 July – Coastal Foraging, Devon. Private booking.
  • 1-4 August – The ReWilding

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STOP and PLAN-M

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The wilderness is place where for every chance of delight there is also a promise of danger. A couple of wrong steps or bad decisions and the ticket can become just one-way.

Although much of the knowledge detailed on this website is all about living in and comfortably passing through the wilderness there will always be things that combine and fail in a way that unexpectedly tip us into dangerous or unforseen situations – and it is times like this that it is critical not to lose your head and let the circumstances overwealm. By letting this situation get the better of you means that you surrender the best chance of regaining the upper hand, getting yourself out of danger and back in one piece.

Travelling in the wilderness will always remove many of the close-at-hand safety nets society provides so we are left with little to help us struggle back through the panic when moment things go wrong. At times like this panic can lead to confusion and the inability to think clearly and make the right choices and not the wrong ones that will continue that spiral towards death or injury.

Strange things happen to the brain when it is panicked, stressed or exhausted  – even trying to undertake some simple, sequenced tasks can become almost impossible. This is why it is worth memorising two very simple words and using the letters as a guide for the steps that you need to take to drag yourself back from the brink. In this way you don’t have to think too much….just follow…and do.

S-T-O-P

STOP don’t panic
THINK about your situation
ORIENTATE yourself
PLAN your next steps and goals

PLAN-M

PROTECTION – the priority is to protect yourself from immediate hazard and from further danger, from the environment (heat, cold, weather), from threats (natural or tactical)

LOCATION – next is increasing your chances of being located (signalling and enabling rescue). The converse may be true in a hostile environment – you might NOT want to be located. Hiding your sign and trail may be order of the day.

ACQUISITION – this is the stage you need to focus on acquiring the resources you need to survive until rescue – this means shelter, fire, water, food, tools, weapons, medicines, and any other resources that are available or required.

NAVIGATION – determining both where you might be and where your might head (if rescue is not an option). Estimating time, distance and direction – both from where you have come, where you are going and where you are currently are using a variety of natural methods and basic map-making skills.

MEDICATION – This is survival-related medicine and treatment, concentrating on environmental issues and injuries (due to heat/cold/malnutrition/lack of water), dealing with adequate nutrition, food/waterborne toxins/organisms/pathogens and their removal, use of natural medicines if necessary.

There other pithy words and phrases that can be memorised and used but two of the above will hold you in as good a stead as any. Travel safely.


my running barefoot article published in Active Dartmoor Mag

It is always really good to see an article you have written in physical print. So here is the next best thing….a photo of the article! Click on image to enlarge to read or download.  

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