barking possibilities

At this time of year, when everything warms up, new growth is springing up everywhere and the sap is in full flow it is easy to peel bark from many trees. Bark has been used for thousands of years as a useful source of shelter (bark sheets or shingles), containers or carriers (for water or food) or to make cordage to lash, join or stitch things. On a grand scale you could even make a canoe out of it.

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In this country several species of tree bark has been frequently used – birch, willow, cherry, linden (lime) are all on this list. Their bark can be thick and supple when green. It dries rock hard.

Today I popped out the back and wandered through the bluebell infused woods and happened across a recently fallen young willow tree. Fallen trees are good because stripping bark because it damages and can even kill the tree (ever heard of ‘ring barking’?). If you only require a small piece of bark you can take a vertical section from the trunk or use a good section of side branch. But remember this is damaging so please have a conscience.

Here is a quick step-by-step as I cut edges to the bark, loosened it (this can be done by gently tapping the bark with another piece of wood) and then getting a wedged piece of wood and/or your hands under the bark to ease it off. It should come away in one strip.

The last couple of pictures show that I have lashed it to something cylinderical (it could even be placed back on the trunk/limb you took it from. This helps the long edges from curling as it dries. Another good tip is to cut, trim, chamfer, punch holes or use it when green or semi-green as it is softer, more flexible and easier to work. Often taken the very outer layer of the bark off (by scraping) can help the hole piece be less brittle when it dries.

A word of caution too. Under the bark maybe very sharp little growths – as you will see from the pictures below – they can cut fingers if you go at it too quickly!

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Careful of those sharp bits under the bark! See below.

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ouch! sharp bits….

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If you are interested in some of the things you can make from bark then take a look at these posts:

Making a bark container

Bark cordage

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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):


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’.

Vanguard Endeavor ED2 8×42 Binoculars

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Having already reviewed the previous model of these excellent binoculars I was keen to look at the next generation of them – most notably with the addition of Japanese Hoya Extra-low dispersion glass. Extra-dense, low abberation/artifact free/minimal distortion glass appeared in the previous model but the new addition of a Hoya manufactured glass element in the new model brought the prospect of Hoya’s many decades of high reputation with it.

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In my previous review I explained what I needed in a pair of binoculars – apart from excellent optical performance it needed to be light weight and of robust manufacture. The equipment of a Wilderness Guide needs to be relied upon and needs to look after itself out in the rigours of the everyday and multi-day wilderness experience. It needs to be lugged everywhere with plenty of other kit. These binoculars have been by my side, in the outdoors, day and night for several weeks now – exposed to the elements, the heat, the humidity, the wet, the dry, the damp, the cold. They have been dragged  through dense woodland, lashed to a pack and left hanging from a limb of a tree. Interesting though the laboratory stats are for equipment I am more interested in their real-world performance. So I’ll leave the stats to those indoors!

Build quality

These binoculars share many of the similar features of the previous model: the twist out eyecups (now with slightly longer eye relief for spectacle wearers), the twin bridge design (now in a less flashy black to avoid spooking wildlife), the leather effect, medium hard rubber with thumb indents for secure grip. The lockable diopter adjustment on one of the eye-cups is an excellent feature taken across from the previous model, as is the tripod mount. The objective lenses are well recessed to help with lens flare and to protect them from scratches. The flip up/down lens caps are very convenient. To look at the shared features with the previous model please look at the old review here.

Internal blackening/dampening looks well done to help reduce stray light in the barrel. The tooling/machining tolerances and finish are high with no loose bits of metal, glass or plastic. The fit and finish is extremely high. The overall package is slightly heavier than the last model – this might be because of the welcome addition of a magnesium chassis (great to help with keeping things in place with changes in temperature aswell as overall robustness). The density of the glass might also have a minimal affect. The dual bridge (which helps grip) is metal, as I suspect the underlying body of the twist-out eye cups. The feel of the binoculars is solid, balanced and comfortable in the hand. The focus mechanism is smooth with no ‘play’, the bridge is smooth in changing angle of IPD (inter-pupillary distance) and the twisting of the eye-cups confident and multi-staged. Fully o-ring sealed and nitrogen-purged tops off the package.

In real life the binoculars proved to be robust and reliable for the duration of the review, showing no signs of wear or tear in the rougher outdoor environment.

Pros:

  • Excellent fit and finish
  • Excellent materials: ED Hoya glass, medium hard rubber (preferred), robust magnesium chassis, metal bridge, metal eyepieces, good internal dampening for stray light, strap loops are a part of chassis.
  • Good handling characteristics – grip and balance, smooth/slick operation of all moving parts. Focus wheel large and grippy (even with gloves)
  • Design well thought out: lockable diopter, twin bridge, thumb indents, recessed objectives and tripod attachment

Cons:

  • Slightly increased weight over previous model

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Focussing

The ED2s have a close focussing of under 2 metres (for the pair I tested anyway) making it useful for looking at plants and butterflies.

The focussing wheel is agressively geared  – so you go from close focus to infinitely in three-quarters of a turn. There is no ‘play’ in the gearing AND due to the slight resistance to the focus wheel makes for precise focussing and little chance of overshooting the focus point. I personally really liked the speed of focus – in a woodland environment having to react quickly to moving game and changing focus lengths quickly from infinity to close benefited with the speed. The focus wheel is large and roughly textured for confident grip in the wet, with cold hands or with gloves.

Pros:

  • Good size and grip of focus wheel
  • Fast focussing due to gearing
  • Reasonably close focus of under 2 metres
  • No play in mechanism allows for confident and accurate focus

Cons:

  • None

Optical quality

I found it hard to fault the optical quality of these binoculars. They are noticeable sharper than the previous model. There is a much larger sweet-spot of sharp focus that extends to the edges of the lens. The image is very flat. I could not pick up on any aberration, distortion or artifacts. The image is extremely sharp, with good contrast, colour rendition and importantly, brightness at dawn and dusk. In short, these optics are stunning.

The below sets of images are taken with a very ‘average’ 5mp smartphone camera THROUGH the lens of the binoculars. All photos where taken hand-held. The resolution has been dropped from the original to make them more web-friendly. But I think they are good enough to show the excellent sharpness (centre and edge), the flatness of the image and lack of distortion, the close focus and the dawn/dusk performance.

Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

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really sharp right to the edge. Real HD.

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large in-focus sweetspot

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good definition of wolf fur

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contrasty image and just look at the detail on the feathers

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easy to focus on moving images through undergrowth

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reasonably good close focus for butterflies

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good definition at 400-500 metres

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spot the buzzard on the telegraph pole at 400 metres

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matt, all-black binoculars better for stalking than shiny ones means getting closer to the game

Finally and importantly was the brightness of the optics, especially at dawn and dusk. the 42mm objectives and the decent light transmission (because of the quality of glass and coatings) means that they were very handy to see into dense woodland and also when the light fades. Here are three pairs of photos taken at dusk, each taken of the same scene but once with just the camera and once through the binoculars. Even taking into account the auto-exposure function of the camera I think this represents roughly what I experienced through the binoculars.

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Next:

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And finally:

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Having used these binoculars in the rain I think the only thing missing from these that was present in the previous model is a rainguard coating on the objectives. But this is small matter.

Pros:

  • Very sharp
  • Large sweetspot
  • Flat image with little distortion right to the edge
  • No discernable aberations or artifacts
  • Good colour rendition
  • Very bright image at dawn and dusk
  • Good eye relief means whole image easily viewed with little clipping

Cons:

  • None

Accessories

These flagship binoculars comes with the normal accessories – lenscloth, comfortable strap, good rain covers for the lenses, an excellent premuim warranty and a serviceable case. On the subject of the case I would not mind a clip or molle attachment to fasten it to belts, webbing or rucksacks and a double zip would be more handy. But this is just a minor quibble.

  • Lens cloth
  • Wide, comfortable strap
  • Vanguard Premium Warranty
  • Rain covers for lenses
  • Half decent case with belt loop

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Final word

These flagship Vanguard binoculars really do represent amazing quality for the price (c.399GBP for the 8x42s). I struggle to imagine how going up another price bracket would give you significantly better quality than what is represented here. They have stayed outside day and night for two or three weeks and have been fog free (although it has been mild and rather dry) These bins are giant killers and set a standard for others to try and match at this price. Vanguard produced an excellent pair in  their old model. These raise the bar clean out of sight. Well done.

If I was to give just one criticism of these optics would be that although they are not the heaviest or lightest 8x42s around the extra grammes in a multi-pack might, just might get me to consider if I would take them. For 95% of users this would not be an issue. For me…I’d be very interested in seeing if the 8x32s hit the sweetspot of lightness and optical quality.

Well done Vanguard.

These optics were sent to me for review. I will be returning them to Vanguard.


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.


aide memoire: drinking water management

Water. The stuff of life. If oil is gold. Then water is diamond. Three days without it can result in organ damage and ultimately failure. Keeping the stuff fresh and uncontaminated is nearly as important as getting hold of the stuff. In this ‘aide memoire series’ we, at The WildernessGuide, seek to give snippets of advice and wisdom. In this post it is about water management.

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  • Don’t assume ANY water source is pure – even if it is clear. Chemical, Bacterial, Viral contamination cannot be seen.
  • All turbid water will need filtering before purification – not only for visual appeal and taste but for subsequent safe purification. Turbid water shields bacteria and viruses from effective treatment and can clog filters making them less effective.
  • Keep your cup, water bottle and threads on the bottle clean with purified water (flush/flood and over-fill them). This is important. Flushing threads and caps with purifed water should become habitual. One of the ways I do this on my ‘purified’ bottle is to (once the water inside is pure) invert it and unscrew the lid partially so the thread and lid floods and washes clean.)
  • Use separate bottles for collecting and storing filtered water and one for purified water. Do not confuse. Don’t share your water bottle. Keep their lids on. If you are going to flavour the water then flavour it in the cup and not the canteen.
  • Boiling is the best method, then followed by chlorine dioxide (despite residual chlorites)
  • Ensure that water, food and sanitation facilities are located separately with clean procedures between them. For instance never wash hands at the spout of a drinking water container. Take a look at the camp hygiene article for further information.
  • Ensure you have at least one other back-up method of purification. Ideally you should have three if you are working in a high risk/critical environment.
  • If you are storing water for any amount of time (drop sites, RV points, base camps etc) then consider using preservatives in your water such as silver ions (Micropur Forte for instance has silver in it and keeps water potable for up to 6 months.). Always boil ‘old’ water before use.
  • Old ’empty’ water containers often have little amounts of water in them. These can be a breeding ground for legionella. Enure that either your containers are dry before storage or you properly flush them before use.

This article will be amended and added to over time. It does not aim to be complete but as a useful ‘aide memoire


making a bark container

 

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There are many ways to make bark containers. This is a cherry bark container and is fairly water-resistant due to the application of pitch-glue on the seams and a lid rimmed with a leather bung-strip.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

Cut your self a smooth, straight, unblemished bit of timber. If you can avoid knots and side shoots or branches then this would be preferred. Its circumference should be slightly larger than the container you plan to make – this is because the bark you take off will slightly overlap at the join so it loses a bit of its diameter.

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Slit the bark down its length. Cherry has a very thick inner bark and a thin outer bark.

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Strip the out bark off the inner bark. For this type of container this is cosmetically optional rather than, in woven containers, important because in that case it helps maintain a less brittle and more flexible bark for weaving.

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Sharpen and flatten into a chisel shape a small green stick to push under the bark to help remove it from the timber. This really helps get the bark off in one piece.

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Now the bark is now fully off the timber – and in one piece!

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Next take the timber and cut two ’rounds’ or slices. One is for the lid – which should be a little thicker than the one for the base. The reason for the lid being thicker is you carve a lip into it so its wedges into the top rim, whereas the base sits flush.

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Drill a hole in the lid with your knife from one side then the other.

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This can take a short thong of leather (tied in a knot at either end) as handle by passing it thourhg the hole you have made in the lid.

Now,  run your knife around the mid-point of rim of the lid and remove a layer of wood all the way round.

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Chamfer the edges. Leave to dry out. Leave the base to dry out aswell. Both will shrink a little.

Next, take the flat piece of removed bark and chamfer the edge which forms the main seam when you roll the bark back into its round shape. By skivving or chamfering the edge it helps it sit more flush as a seam and helps the base and the lid form a better seal.

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After this is done it is time to dry the bark. Choose a slightly smaller diameter branch  – possibly a section from the branch you have cut but further up where it is smaller –  and wrap the bark section around it. It should easily fit and slightly overlap.

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Because the bark will curl at its edges as it hardens and dries it is important to bind/lash the entire piece tight to the limb. You can do this by tightly wrapping some paracord or other string around the bark section multiple times before tying it off. Then leave for a few days in a dry place for it to season.

If you are stitching the piece together then making the holes in the overlapped piece of bark whilst green and soft is preferable. But in this case since I am using sap-pitch glue then there is no need.

Once dry, unbind the bark and it should naturally be rigid and overlap at the join.

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Then it is a simple case of making some pitch glue. For this one I use the resin from the cherry tree itself which was conveniently exuding from several places on the tree. Otherwise you could make some from pine resin. Instructions on how to do that are here.

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Its now a simple exercise to glue in the base and the main seam.

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After that you have a finished container!

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