For the last three months I have been out on regular bimbles with my son Finlay to observe and learn about nature for his Naturalist badge at Cubs.
This is not an easy badge to obtain and takes three months to complete with a number of different standards to meet (some of the standards have different options to choose from).
The standards/options Finlay chose to do were:
Observe a natural area over a three month period a number of times to observe and record changes in nature
Learn to identify six trees and six wild flowers
Learn the Country Code
Build a Bug Hotel
Rather than just observe one natural area we spotted three good areas around the village to observe. We visited each area five times over three months to observe the changes occurring in nature.
Area 1 – Scrubland
This site was next to one of his playgrounds and initially seemed very promising (in the hope we would see a variety of different spring flowers) with all the Dandelion seed heads. They were still there on our second visit however the thick grass seemed to be inhibiting the growth of many of the spring flowers we were hoping to see.
Over the following visits we spotted a few White Campion flowers and some Green Alkanet however it was the grasses, Docks and Cleavers (Sticky Willy) that seemed to dominate in the end. Finlay seemed happy with that as I usually found loads of Cleaver strands stuck to my back when we got home 🙂
Area 2 – The Pond
I have been observing a particular pond in our village over the years and knew it would be good for Finlay to observe changes in nature.
The pond is full Reedmace (aka Cattail), Iris, and ringed by Marsh Marigolds and Mare’s Tail. Initially all the growth was very subdued however you can see in the second picture below (2nd visit) that there was far more shade as the plants had started to grow. Finlay is in the same spot in each picture to observe and act as a measure to the growth.
There is always something happening at the pond with wildlife. Usually we disturbed a duck or two but we did spot plenty of frogs and insects. One visit we found a dead pidgeon by the side of the pond and noticed that the Iris had started to produce its seed heads near the end of our visits.
Over the last 3 visits the Iris and the Reedmace soon came to dominate the pond and the outer ring of Marsh Marigolds generally died back.
Area 3 – The Stream
We have a culvert near our house and there is a good patch of Reedmace growing beside it. This spot I thought ideal to show Finlay how quickly this plant grows.
Initially it was the last years growth that dominated the stream with a lot of Hedge Garlic growing beside it. Over the subsequent visits the spring flowers all died off and the Reedmace shot up.
The growth you can see below happened over a two and a half month period.
On our last visit we spotted that the pollen spikes of the Reedmace had appeared. These are a great plant for any bushcrafter as the young spikes can be boiled and eaten, the roots are edible as well as the young plant shoots.
As this plant grows frequently beside (as seen by the pond) its lookalike poisonous neighbour – Iris, learn to 100% identify both plants before attempting to forage Reedmace.
Trees and Flowers
Over the last three months we studied our trees and wildflower as well as Finlay had to learn to identify six trees and six wildflowers.
For trees we focused on Oak, Hawthorn, Sycamore, Beech, Holly and Hazel. We started this on our first forage way back in in May when we went out on our first foraging hike together – Foraging with Finlay. He is pretty confident with most of the trees now however he still has to think about some of them. We remember them by shapes i.e. the star for Sycamore, ear lobes for Oak, spikes for Holly etc.
Some of the flowers we saw regularly included White Campion, Forget-me-nots and Herb Robert. I think he struggles with White Campion as that one disappeared early but then again not many people can easily identify it.
One he does remember easily is Green Alkannet (something to do with the blue flower and it having the word ‘Green’ in its title I think), Self Heal and Wild Strawberries. The white flowers of Strawberries he remembered well, in anticipation of the feast we had on the last visit.
It was not all learn, learn, learn as we had lots of fun along the way. Sometimes his sister Catherine joined us, there was lots of time spent in the parks , some beautiful insects were spotted and best of all we got muddy and spent quality time together.
The Countryside Code
We spent time talking about how we treat the countryside while out and about. When I was a young lad we all had to be able to recite the country code however that list has now fallen out of favour now. The main aims now are to ‘Respect, Protect and Enjoy’ the countryside. Our trips would touch on these aims and a good pamphlet on the current code can be found here at the Peak District website.
The Bug Hotel
The last standard for the badge was to build something for nature. We opted for a Bug hotel in the garden. Finlay, Catherine and one of his friends (another Finlay) spent a long time collecting and building their Bug hotel. I wrote a separate post on this titled – Building the Bug Hotel.
It has been great fun working on this project with Finlay. He really deserves his Naturalist badge now and I look forward to working on some of these more challenging badges with him in the future. One day he will no longer need me to help him but in the meantime I intend to get out and about with him as much as possible.
Yesterday I picked the kids up from school and instead of curling up in front of the Xbox or the iPads off we went to the woods.
I know we get out to the woods on a regular basis however not normally on a school night. I did not know what we would do with our limited time but as it turned out it was surprisingly a lot.
As soon as we got into Morgaston wood the kids picked up some deer tracks and after sitting for five minutes we were rewarded by spotting a deer crossing one of the paths.
As we trundled along I got them to find some fungi. There was not much around but we did get some King Alfred’s Cakes, some Birch Polypore and some Artists fungi.
The Bluebells were really coming out and there were plenty of Primroses around. Just on the edge of the wood though we spotted our first Cuckoo flowers by a ditch. This is a sturdy little plant as it grows in some really exposed areas however it does have a very dainty look about it.
It was not all learning – there was plenty of time to just explore and get muddy – as you do 🙂
This was a challenge to myself as I had to watch every step I took in case I re-opened my torn calf muscle – It was worth the effort though.
As I was contemplating heading out to do some photography for this nature challenge I spotted some beautiful blue wild flowers. The problem I had though was they were all really tiny so out came my macro lens extensions, mini tripod and remote control for my camera.
There was a bit of wind and it was occasionally gusting so I had to be really patient to get a decent shot. The picture above of the forget-me-nots I took in the front garden in view of anyone passing by. The sight of me lying down on the grass taking close ups in front of everyone seemed to amuse my wife Alison and daughter Catherine for some reason 🙂
The next flower was really tiny – ground ivy (aka alehoof or creeping charlie). It was tucked away in a shady corner under a lot of leaf cover. I used all my lens extensions to get this shot right into the centre of the flower.
To finish off I spotted an upright bluebell flower. I took this one without the tripod and when the wind suddenly stopped. I think it was worth the perseverance though.
I have no idea what tomorrow will bring in this 7 day challenge but I may venture further afield if I can.
This year I have had real fun trying to capture just a little bit of the nature I see around me when out and about on my adventures. I have had a look through some of the nature pictures I have taken this year selected the ones I have fond memories off.
Plants and Fungi
I went to the Brecon Beacons in the Spring with a few of my friends from Crisis and while walking along the banks of the Afon Mellte river near Ystradfellte I was struck by all the spring flowers emerging but it was something else that really caught my eye.
I initially walked passed these emerging Fern Fiddleheads. I stopped myself as I realised that they would make for a cracking shot if I got down low. I am glad I went back as they are quite magical looking when you get down low (I did have some passers-by step around me as I lay in the path).
I often take a bimble around my village photographing wild flowers and rarely do I pay much attention to the mass of wheat being grown in all the fields.
I was though stopped in my tracks by this dainty little picture. It was not until I got the picture up on the computer did I realise how beautiful it would look. These are two pieces of nature that you would not normally pay the slightest bit of attention to however when they come together they end up looking like a painting.
I have dabbled a bit in Black and White photography this year and felt that this shot of some Cotton Grass lent well to that style.
I was really struggling to find some interesting shots while up in the Lake District this year and so ended up lying face down in a bog to get this shot. Well worth it though in my opinion.
I really love to explore the art of Macro photography and have now got a couple of tripods and lens to help me with this.
While in France on a wet morning I was walking with my friends Simon and Rick and came across these Damson Berries. Problem was I did not bring my tripod along with me. I must of taken about 50 pictures of this berry and this was the only one that was properly in focus.
A real fluke but one I am glad I persevered with.
We had a busy time running a Basic Expedition Leadership course for Sea Cadet instructors this year. While waiting for them to appear out of the woods on a navigation exercise I decided to try out an experiment.
I positioned myself by a fallen log and focussed on some fungus on the log. As the guys passed by I took the shot and I think I can say the experiment worked pretty well.
I cannot remember where I took this picture but I do remember seeing this little guy perched on the upturned tip of a succulent leaf. I took the shot as I could make out through the lens that his legs were resting not on the leaf but on the hairs protruding from it.
I sat watching him for about 5 minutes and he did not move once – it was as if he was on some sort of guard duty.
For some reason this year spiders webs have been out in force. While in the Ashdown Forest my friend Charlie spotted this amazing web that was strung between two trees. The trees were about 20 feet apart and when photographed from an angle a rainbow appeared in it.
I did not see this at the time of taking the picture but had it pointed out to me by my wife Alison and my friend Eleanor. Kind of took me back a bit as I did not see it at all – maybe it is just a camera thing.
My daughter spotted this little Dragonfly resting up at our local Church when I was running a Bushcraft stand at the church open day.
She came running up to tell me but I was teaching bowdrill and had to tell her to wait. I thought he would have been gone by the time I walked over but thankfully he was still there. Looking closely I could see why – he was sitting comfortably on a little downy bed sunning himself.
This is another one of these pictures that you take and only realise something was happening afterwards. It was taken in Southern France on an unidentified flower. I had spotted the small spider but that was all.
Later when processing the picture in Lightroom I saw that he had caught and immobilised a small wasp. I wish I had spent more time watching what was going on but at least the spider got his lunch.
This has to be my favourite nature picture of the year. It was taken by the banks of Coniston Water in the Lake District while assessing a Gold DofE Expedition.
I was waiting for the teams to appear at a check point when I started stalking Damselflies – probably looked a bit of an idiot ;-). I used my extension rings to get a bit closer and this little chap was not fazed by me at all (unlike most of the others who soon flew off).
Thats it for my nature memories so I will finish up with this rather nice sunset taken off Kings Standing in the Ashdown Forest. I have really enjoyed capturing nature images over the year and will no doubt be out and about looking for more beautiful and unusual images next year.
My last post in this series will be on the Memorable Moments I have had in the last year in the world of Bushcraft.
In this digital/technology dominated world we live in today I always try and make time to keep an eye on what Mother Nature is up to around me – obviously with a camera about my person 🙂
One place where I can really immerse myself back into nature is every year at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot for a couple of weeks. This post will concentrate on some of the different ways we at the Moot interact with nature.
The Moot is located in a wood on the edge of the National Nature Reserve at Merthyr Mawr Warren in South Wales. Merthyr Mawr Warren is I am told the site of the second largest sand dunes in Europe.
The wood we use is on the edge of these dunes and was heavily planted with a variety of plants/trees after the Second World War by the local estate owners to help stabilise the dunes.
I like to take a walk around the site as often as possible while I am at the Moot to see what I can spot. One of my favourite spots was this little old water wheel at the edge of the site. It is a most beautiful and quiet spot to sit and observe nature.
I have a little Robin (Ok I am sure there are different ones every few years) who comes to visit me at my camp. This little fella is not shy and is always on the lookout for scraps.
My kids make this site their playground and interact with nature all the time, from climbing strange looking tree roots to making their own art by throwing Himalayan Balsam up into trees so that they hang down (quite a weird site passing these trees). As we are continually clearing back the Balsam I do not mind them doing this.
As bushcrafters we try and minimise the impact we have on the site. For firewood we have an agreement with the local estate to buy in timber from them so as to not strip out the local wood for firewood.
Occasionally with the agreement of the estate we will take out a tree or two that has become a danger to those camping in the woods.
We have been coming to the site for over ten years and this policy of minimal impact has meant that the site remains a place of real natural diversity.
A key attraction that the Moot has is of a place of learning. We have many highly experienced instructors that come along each year to teach. This can range from creating natural art, foraging for edible plants, understanding how everything interacts and using natures raw materials to make useful items.
Part of all this learning is to know when to forage and when not to forage. In a class with Fraser from Coastal Survival this year we foraged on the coastline. We looked at many of the crabs that could be found in the rock pools and returned the many smaller ones or ones carrying eggs to where we found them. There were plenty of big crabs and shrimps though to harvest for the pot.
We also forage for lots of plants that make great teas.
If you like wild flowers then the Moot is a place to go to see them. Take a wander along the edge of the wood by the dunes and you will spot some real beauties like the Vipers Bugloss, Evening Primrose and the Common Centaury.
Bushcrafters like to forage plants that they find useful and there are plenty of plants to be found here like the Rosebay Willowherb, Thistles and Burdock.
They are beautiful in their own right when in flower but it is for their uses that I look for them.
Thistles come in many varieties and I like to collect the downy seed heads for use as an ember extender. A good source of information on this plant can be found on the Eat The Weeds site – Thistle: It’s That Spine of Year
The final picture you can see at the bottom right is the bushcrafters old favourite – Burdock. As well as having an edible root at the end of its first year I collect the second year stalks to make hangers for my kit. I wrote a post on this last year – How To…. Make a Simple Burdock Hanger
I like to do a bit of Macro photography from time to time and there is plenty of scope to do this at the Moot with plants and insects. Below are just some of the shots I have taken there recently showing the cycle of life.
Below you can see the lovely stripes of the Cinnabar caterpillar, the delicate features of what I think is a Meadow Brown Butterfly sunning itself, the busy life of the feeding Six Spotted Burnett to the beauty of a discarded snail shell.
Children and adults can be put off by insects however with a little bit of play and observation you can soon learn to live alongside insects.
My daughter had a real dislike of wasps before coming to the Moot but now is quite intrigued by them. The caterpillar you can see in the bottom picture dropped onto my friends arm one day. He was quite beautiful to look at but thankfully not poisonous in any way.
I love to photograph insects and they come in many forms at Merthyr Mawr.
A skill I learnt a couple of years ago from Perry McGee of the National Tracking School was the art of Dowsing. Perry taught me this in minutes and I was able to located water sources and even follow a buried hose. I do not know how this really works but it is a force of nature that intrigues me.
Whatever interests you about watching or interacting with nature the Moot is a place to do that.
I love to photograph what I see and I have found a great place to do that at the Moot.
While out and about assessing for a Gold DofE expedition last July in the Lake District with the Sea Cadets I spent a lot of time searching out all the beauty that was around me.
This could be natural or man made however when I returned and looked at my pictures I was able to neatly drop them into different categories. These orchids below (Common and Marsh) I categorised with the carved toadstool in the middle as ‘Tall beauty’.
Sometimes the beauty was totally unexpected, as with the Money tree, the Laughing tree and a hedge carpeted in spiders’ webs.
The gentle beauty of the Valerian, the Dandelion seed head and the Cotton grass struck me as they ofen live in a very inhospitable environments. They look very fragile however they are designed to withstand much of what nature can throw at them.
July is a great time for spotting the Sundews and Butterworts in the marshy places of the lakes. Once you get down close you can easily get drawn into these sticky little fellas.
I spent a lot of time crossing or just gazing at the numerous little streams or waterfalls that trip. They can be quite hypnotic and relaxing if you allow yourself the time to relax (there’s lots of waiting around on a DofE trip).
One day I was wandering along the road admiring the betony and the Cuckoo flowers when a tractor came along and mowed the whole lot down ( I appreciate that this is a working landscape – I am the tourist here and I remember that fact) – they were gone in a blink of an eye.
Thankfully many of the farmers in the Lakes encourage wild flowers in their fields these days so there was still plenty to see and for the insects to visit.
There were plenty of reds around, such as the Foxglove and the English Stonecrop (not sure about the little fella on the bottom right). Had to take these pictures from weird angles, often involving climbing rocky outcrops.
The Bog Asphodels and yellow Poppies were simply stunning. I do not see these plants in many other places and they were carpeting whole areas up in the Lakes.
I had to jump on a number of occasions to avoid squashing frogs however they do like to play dead if they are spotted, allowing you the chance to really get up close to them.
My favourite pictures of the trip was of this little Damselfly. Simply stunning.
I had fun with my macro lens extensions (especially with the rather grumpy little fella on the bottom left – I think I was in his personal space by the look in his eye).
Lastly some fleeting beauty – the geese on Coniston Water and a deer and an owl in the woods
Keep your eyes open on your next trip out and you will see different beauty all around.
Day 30 of the 30 Day Challenge has arrived for me and a lovely day it was spent walking by the River Loddon here in Hampshire with my family.
We decided to head off down some of the tracks Alison uses to run along and explore them in a bit more detail. There were plenty of beautiful horses grazing in their paddocks along the way and a perfect bridge for Pooh sticks.
I was particularly glad to be at home for this final day and to spend it with Alison, Catherine and Finlay just having fun outside with nature.
We soon headed out onto the fields as there were lots of private property signs discouraging us from going further along the river. There was though plenty to find in the fields and the hedgerows such as these Poppies Alison found in the wheat..
I spotted the tiny little Shepherds Purse plant along the path and there were beautiful thistles growing in the hedges.
The path took us across a field and Catherine spotted herself a little moth hidden in the grass. There were butterflies flitting about everywhere but too fast for me to photograph.
There was plenty of more exploring to be had both in the grass and the hedgerows. I spotted some lovely Woundwort by a bridge and Finlay got himself part of wing from a recently killed bird.
As it was a school night we could not stay long so it was soon time to go home. We got in one more set of Pooh Sticks, climbed a few logs and Finlay got himself a large Pheasant feather.
That is it for me for the 30 Day Challenge. It has been a challenge to make time every day for nature however it has been well worth it – a real tonic you could say.
The Wildlife Trusts no doubt will run this again next year but in the meantime the next project is Random Days of Wildness. I can work with that I think.
Thanks for following me on this journey over the last 30 days.
Mid May found me heading to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales with my good friends Gordon, Rick and Stu. We all have volunteered together with the homeless charity Crisis for nearly 20 years now and for a variety of reasons we are known as ‘The Grumpy Old Men’s Club’. We like to get away together once a year just to catch up and have a bit of fun (in our usual grumpy old way).
From The Gap we headed west around Cribyn and up onto Pen y Fan. There was little wind here and lots of cloud cover making excellent walking (I do not particularly like hillwalking in sunny conditions – must be a Scottish thing). We took our time but we were soon all at the top.
We did not hang around long and via Corn Du we headed South again by way of the ridge on Craig Gwaun Taf. This route has much less traffic on it and soon we were on our own again. The windswept peat banks made for a bit of fun along the way.
As we moved down Craig Gwaun Taf we could see clearly now the resevoir at Upper Neuadd. It looked as though someone had pulled the plug hole in it.
Further down the track near Twyn Mwyalchod (grid SO021176) we came across a Trig Point painted with a Welsh dragon and two little plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan war. Quite a moving site in such a beautiful location.
Our descent took us through a conifer plantation that had been felled a couple of years ago (there was significant re-growth). It was tricky going in places but we took our time and were soon by the Taf Fechan river (translates as the Little Taff).
We could not cross due to the high water level so we headed downriver to find a bridge near the road. By the road we came across an abandoned campsite that had been left in a poor condition. Everything had been bagged up but just left there. Also along the way we spotted that the billberries were coming through. Not ripe yet but definitely coming through.
Needless to say there was plenty of time to sit and relax or as usual to stroll around and take pictures.
As you can see the drive took us a little time but we were in no rush.
The spring flora was well displayed along the River Mellte. Wood anemones were in abundance ( top left below),’ the ferns were just unfurling, the cuckoo flowers (bottom left) were everywhere and I was especially happy to spot an area of water avens (bottom right) along the river bank.
The biggest and most spectacular falls on the walk are to be found at Sgwd yr Eira (Waterfall of the Snow) and it is safe to walk underneath the overflow. When you near the falls you have to descend some steep steps and it was when we were nearing here we started to hear some shouting.
The shouting turned out to be a local Kyokushin Karate club doing waterfall training. They have been doing this since 1980 and come down every year. For a while we watched them doing training under the spray of the waterfall and then one by one, as you can see below, they jumped into the river. This type of training is common in Japan, apparently.
Once we had finished here it was a slow climb out of the ravine and we headed back upstream to find some of the other waterfalls.
There are quite a number of waterfalls on the river and I normally come to Sgwd y Pannwr (Fullers Falls) to sit and have lunch. It has a lovely flat area of rock to sit on and you can paddle in some of the shallow areas. Today however there were a lot of outdoor groups canyoning and I got some fantastic pictures of the guys leaping off the side of the waterfall.
The last waterfall had a large group climbing down the side of it and when they got to the base of the falls, one by one they disappeared into it. We did not hang around to see them emerge, but as I heard nothing in the news all must have made it safely out 😉
We were soon back at the car park ready for the trip home.
This was a great weekend with the Grumpy Old Men’s club and I look forward to many more.
Spring is well and truly under way now and I have been getting out as much as possible either by myself, with my family or with friends.
There is a lot to see if you look close enough as my son is with this suspended feather trap. I love feather traps (that is anything that catches a feather) as they make for beautiful pictures.
While reviewing my spring pictures I noticed there were dominant colours coming through. Below (from left to right) are the purples of the snakes head fritillary, two emerging and an emerged early purple orchid, and a lovely red campion.
I was particularly pleased to capture the orchids just emerging from their leaf sheath.
The woods and the hedgerows are awash with small white flowers at the moment. I was pleased to see that our local woods (The Frith near Bramley, Hants) sports such a wide range.
For a few weeks at this time the wood anemone’s can be easily spotted (top left) and if you look close enough you will spot the delicate wild strawberry flowers (top right) just coming through. One day I will take the time to work out whether they are the barren or the fruiting types.
Also hiding out in the woodland glades are the beautiful but tasty (the leaves that is) wood sorrel (bottom left). Like the wood anemone the wood sorrel is best viewed on sunny days while it is fully open.
Bottom right is stitchwort (‘greater’ I think). I have been finding this in great patches alongside hedges where they receive a lot of sunlight. I particularly liked this picture with the single stitchwort being framed by the dandelion.
As I write this the early dog violets (top right) where I live are on the wane but the beautiful bluebells are really coming through now in great carpets.
Bottom left is the often overlooked blue flower of ground ivy. As this little plant grows easily on disturbed ground you find it in your vegetable patches if you do not clear it out regularly. I like it though as it does add a lovely tinge of blue to an otherwise mass of green.
One of the nicest blue flowers (even more than bluebells I think) out at this time is the forget-me-not (bottom right). I took this picture by a riverside outside Dundee as it clung precariously to an old stone wall.
The last dominant colour I have noticed this spring is yellow. One of the earliest and for some reason this year one of the most abundant (top left) is the primrose. I am finding this delicious little plant everywhere.
The other three (top right), the cowslip, the buttercup and the male goat willow catkins are just coming out around here. There are so many dandelions out at the moment so it is good to see that carpet of yellow being broken up by other yellows.
The final picture is of the odds and sods I have taken over the last few weeks. The horsetail and the female goat willow catkin up close look very striking but it is the picture of the kids getting out and about from their usual digital world and enjoying a bit of sun and flowers that I love the most.
All of the pictures were taken inside the Brecon Beacons National Park mostly on the hillsides.
On the left below is Bog Asphodel a beautiful yellow flower that is now in decline. Historically farmers associated this plant with ailments to sheep such as brittle bones or foot rot. It was not the plant that caused the problems but the poor soil the sheep lived on. As farming practices change so does the soil and so the plant is now in decline.
At the top right you see Tormentil and this little plant is always ovelooked but once you become aware of it you see it all over the hills. This is an astringent little plant that was used to treat gum disease and colic. Another common name is bloodroot for the red dye it produces.
At the bottom right you can see Perforate St John’s Wort. I normally spot this plant low down slopes but I found this one in a gully quite high up where it had found some shelter. Herbalists use this plant to treat depression to this day however due to its perforated leaves (hold one up to the sun to see them) it was previously thought to be good for treating wounds and stopping bleeding.
I found Water Forget-Me-Not in a number of locations, sometimes on its own and sometimes in whole carpets but always around water in sheltered spots. Apart from being given to loved ones in the past so they would not feel forgotten this little plant was seen as cleanser of mucus so thought good for treating whooping cough and bronchitis.
A little point on naming plants is that when I am out and about especially with my younger students I do not always tell them the names of the plants. I get them to agree a random name for different plants and say out these names as they go along every time they spot one – for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again (must be a Blackadder thing). Once we are back at camp I then get them to ID Bob for its given name. This seems to make the plant names stick with them more. I got this idea many years ago from a fellow bushcrafter.
Another couple of plants of wet areas are the Sundew (top) and the Butterwort (below). Both plants exude sticky fluids to catch insects and have been used to treat rough skin to make it smoother (Butterwort) and also to treat sunburn (Sundew).
I came across a bank made up of shaped stones to support a small railway and saw that it was completely covered in Wild Strawberries. I have never seen so many Wild Strawberries in one place. The bank was facing the South West over open water so that must have had quite an influence on its growth.
Back out on the moorland the land was dominated by the Soft Rushes. As recently as the second world war the soft piths of these plants were used as candles.
I found the Water Mint in a tiny stream in amongst the Rushes. I did not identify it easily at first as it was not in flower but its smell and square stem gave it away. A great medicinal plant and I like it in my tea.
The Brambles (top) I spotted in mid July were just starting to ripen their Blackberries. Is it me or are the blackberries very early this year?
I spotted these Bilberries (bottom) while walking with the cadets where the sheep could not get easy access to so we had a bit of a feast.
Both these fruits make excellent puddings and jams.
The beautiful Meadowsweet was in full bloom in July and was growing abundantly in the low lying areas around the hills where it had plenty of light and water. This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.
On the left you can see the Common Spotted Orchid. I came across this beautiful flower in the hills but on the steep grassy slope by a river where the soil was not too acidic. A common ingredient in love potions all over the world I am told.
At the top right is the tiny Wild Thyme, a plant I got confused with Self Heal for a long time. As a medicinal plant it was used as a sedative and was good for hangovers.
The Red Clover in the bottom right is a little flower spotted all the time by most people but at this time you can see that it has opened up slightly. This little fella I can remember as a kid providing me with a shot of nectar. It is also loved by farmers as a nitrogen rich fertiliser or as a feed for animals
I did not see a great deal of the Bell Heather (top left) as it does not like the soil to be to acidic so it can be an indicator of drier ground. Traditionally this plant has been used in the making of ropes and baskets due to its long fibrous stems.
The Marsh Thistle (bottom left) as you can see by the insect feeding on it is a good source of food for many different types of insects. The young shoots are quite tasty too.
On the right is the majestic Foxglove. I did not spot too many high up in the hills but found a few in some of the more protected gulleys. A poisonous plant but one I remember playing finger puppets with as a child. As I know it is poisonous now as a father I do not let my kids go anywhere near it.
The Meadow Crane’s Bill (top left) named after the fruiting body it grows that resembles a Cranes beak. This is another medicinal plant used historically for treating wounds and nowadays for treating diarrhoea and also as a gargle.
Bottom left is the tiny Self Heal. Another plant that is easily missed but was once seen as the woodmans friend and used to treat small cuts they got from their tools.
On the right is the tall and slender Great Burnet. I found this one in only one spot on my trip near a railway line and nearly walked past it. I like to nibble the young leaves. It’s other name is Burnip due to its ability to help treat burns.
On the left is the well known medicinal plant Yarrow. This tough plant was growing all over the lower slopes. Up high you still saw the odd one but hugging the earth very closely. I remember being on a Bushcraft course, having a cold and being given Yarrow tea laced with honey. That cold did not hang around as it normally would do with me.
I think the yellow flower on the right is a Hawkbit. These little yellow flowers are difficult to identify correctly if you do not look closely at the leaves. I forgot to do this but I think it is a Hawkbit. The genus of this plant is Leontodon which translates to Lions Tooth – referring to the squared of but toothed tips of the flower.
My last picture I included as I came across a lot of logging in the lower slopes of the hills. It is Larch I think and I really liked the contrast between the young green growth, the growing cones and the sharpness of the stump left by the loggers.
I really enjoyed spotting and photographing these plants (I had to climb down into some steep gullies) however please let me know if you think I have identified any of them incorrectly.
I made a number of bimbles around Bramley in June observing the changes occurring so I have decided to merge the three trips into one report. I took my kids out on two of them: it’s great seeing them starting to observe nature with more of an eye for detail.
My wife Alison gave me a macro camera lens for my iPad mini for Fathers Day and I took this lovely picture of this orange hawkweed with it.
The cherry tree I have been monitoring produced its fruit in June. On the first trip they were yellow, on the second they were red and on the third trip they had all been stripped away by the birds.
I did also manage to find a few wild strawberries over the month but they were soon getting nibbled away at as well.
On the second trip I spotted that some damselflies were flitting about a watercress-covered pond. I kept trying to get a decent picture of them but the pictures always ended up fuzzy. On the last trip after a patient wait I managed to snap this picture with the iPad mini using the macro lens.
At another pond where I am watching the reedmace growing I came across the yellow flower below. I had never seen this before so had to look it up: the closest I can get to it is a flower called the monkey flower. Happy to be educated by anyone if they can ID it as something else. If it is monkey flower then the leaves and stem were traditionally used by Native Americans as a salt substitute just as colts foot was used here. I was first taught how to dry out the leaves of colts foot by my friend Kevin Warrington – Laplanders Natural Lore Blog.
Even though the bluebell has lost its flower I still think it is a beautiful plant in this late stage of its life cycle. These pods will eventually darken before they open to disperse their seeds.
This was one of the first self heal flowers I came across this year right at the beginning of the month. It is a wonderful medicinal plant that I have used a number of times along with woundwort, plantain and yarrow to treat small cuts and grazes. It was also known as carpenter’s herb because of this ability to treat small cuts.
As the month has worn on this plant has appeared all around the village in great numbers. It is a pity that most people do not give it a second thought.
Two very tiny details in abundance at the moment are the cuckoo spit and the tiny green alder cones. The cuckoo spit contains the Froghopper nymph which uses the spit much like a home when it emerges as a place of safety.
Some of the alder cones have a red tongue-like protrusion caused by the fungus Taphrinaalni. The fungus develops in some of the cones and forces the cone to grow these protrusions so as to produce and release its spores – a kind of forced symbiosis I suppose. My source on this was the Donegal Wildlife Blogspot
My first mullein flower of the year. This was the only mullein I saw in flower but there are plenty growing around the village. A great medicinal plant used for treating chest infections, TB, digestive problems, sore throats and many more ailments. Nature News has a good page on the plant.
I personally like it as it makes a good handrill, a good torch when covered with oil or fats but also as its leaves are soft and have anti-bacterial properties, which means they make great toilet paper.
As I have been taking Paul Kirtley’s online Masterclass in Plant ID I have been monitoring a lot of different sites and trees around the village since February and plan to do so for a whole year. It has been great to see all the changes occurring with the flowers and the trees leaves coming through but I was particularly happy to spot my first hazelnut and acorn of the year this month.
It was not until the end of my last bimble, as I turned my last corner to go home, that I spotted my first poppy of the year. The edible part of the plant is the seed which is used in cakes and also crushed to make an oil.
Two other new spots this month were the enchanters and the woodynightshades. The enchanters nightshade I found dotted all around the woodland floor but the woody nightshade I found in a hedge by our local park. They are not related but are both beautiful flowers. The enchanters was known to the Saxons as aelfthone to treat what they saw as elf sickness – any sudden sickness brought on for no known reason.
Woody nightshade is another plant used medicinally in the past and is also known as bittersweet because of the bitter then sweet taste you got when chewing the root of the plant. Large doses of this plant though are deadly so one left to well-trained herbalists.
I have found only one patch of ground where I have seen the commonbistort growing. This was taken near the end of its flowering stage and was covered in these moths. I have never tried this plant but I am told that the young leaves and the root are edible. In the Lake District the plant is used in the making of a pudding called the Bistort Easter-Ledge Pudding.
My friend Alan Smylieis an excellent forager and photographer and I was chatting to him about the common mallow and the limeflowers that you can see below. Apart from looking beautiful he is making a wildcherry jelly infused with mallow leaves and he makes a tea from the lime flowers. I hope to do a forage or two with Al at this years BCUK Bushmoot in August and pick his brains a bit more about some of these plants.
In the stream near our house I have found carpets of watercress growing. The flowers attract a lot of insects and the whole plant can seem to fill a stream. It was not until I got into the stream did I notice that the plant seems to float on the water with the roots of to the side of the stream. The plant is edible but only if you know the water is clean.
On the left is the pin cushion head of a devilsbitscabious flower. This beautiful flower is a source of food for many insects in the summer. In particular the declining Marsh Fritillary Butterfly relies heavily on this flower. When I see this flower appear each year I know that summer has finally arrived.
At the bottom right is the lovely meadowsweet. This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.
I spotted this little fella taking a rest on the seed head of a Ribwort Plantain plant. He was not at all fazed as my phone camera came in close.
On our second trip out we came across this ash tree that had been used as a scratching post for deer. It looks like they had used the tree to help rub the felt of their antlers. I could see teeth marks on the edges of the ripped off bark and lots of scratches on the wood itself where it appears they were rubbing their antlers.
Apart from the sign on the tree there were plenty of tracks. We had lots of deer slots, badger prints, pheasant, squirrel and what maybe a vole print.
I do not know if the top right print is a vole but it is certainly small enough to be one and the bottom one are the tracks of a grey squirrel.
There have been lots of early purple and early marsh orchids in the woods around the village but I have only spotted two of these pyramidalorchids this year. They seem to like drier, more open ground and I found one near the railway line and the other on the edge of a field so they are probably less common due to the fertilizer run-off from fields and toxins from the railways but also because they do not produce nectar themselves but rely on other nearby orchids to attract insects.
That was my June when it came to observing nature around Bramley. My kids had a great time and so did I, taking them out, photographing and researching some of the plants.
Happy Christmas to everyone. I hope you are having a great time and looking forward to a good New Year.
As the weather here in the UK has been a tad damp and windy I thought it would be good to just bring a bit of colour at this time.
My Facebook friends will no doubt have seen the monthly albums of plants I have been posting over the year. I took a look at them again and decided to pull a few of the ones from each month that I particularly liked for the blog.
The plants may or may not have a bushcraft use, they are just the ones I really liked and not some sort of ID guide.
If I decide on a bit of foraging I only pick plants that I have 100% identified and that it is legal to do so. If you have positively identified a wild plant and have never tried it before then I advise you to test your tolerance to it first. A great explanation on this can be found on Robin Harfords Eat Weeds site. The test is clearly laid out and simple to remember.
I will name each plant and one or two uses (if I know of any). Apart from online references which I will link to in the post my main source of reference will be from the excellent and little-known plant ID book by Charles Coates called The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland.
One of the hidden gems of the Common Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) is found on its leaves. Here you will find the home of the Holly Leaf Miner larvae (Phytomyza ilicis). I studied this little larvae in university and it still intrigues me to this day. The adult fly lays an egg in the stem of the leaf and when it turns into a larvae it burrows into the leaf. A large circular exit hole (over 1mm) usually means the larvae has hatched successfully. A small circular hole usually means the larvae has been predated by a parasitic wasp and a triangular tear as you see here means a blue tit has had a snack.
I have put a link to an excellent PDF on the Miner by the Field Studies Council at the bottom of the post.
Learning to identify plants when not in flower is a must for bushcrafters so as to be able to forage successfully year round.
On the left you can see the purple spotted leaves of the Arum plant sometimes known as Cuckoo-pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) and on the right the crinkly leaves of the Wild/Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris).
I advise people not to touch Arum as it can cause quite nasty allergic reactions if not handled correctly. Arum has traditionally been used as a soap (called Portland Sago) and the starch from the root was commonly used to stiffen Elizabethan ruffs. My favourite use though I found in Coates: “Victorians omitted it from their flower guides because of its suggestive shape. For some reason, young men placed it in their shoe to gain the prettiest dance partners”. Unless you are an expert in processing this plant I would advise you just to identify it in all its different stages and leave it be.
The Primrose is a different resource entirely. The word Primrose comes from the latin Prima rosa meaning ‘first rose’. Once identified properly this makes an excellent addition to any salad or a tasty snack while foraging as the leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea and I have heard of friends making a wine using the flowers.
The beautiful Blubell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) starts to stick its leaves out in March. I loved the way this one had managed to pierce some leaf litter from the previous year. Bluebell in conjunction with some other species can be an indicator species for ancient woodland.
The picture of these Crocuses was taken outside our church and it is a sight I love to photograph every year.
Another lovely sight in the early spring is the appearance of the catkins on the Goat/Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). This tree, apart from its medicinal uses, makes for excellent cordage from the inner bark and is a great bowdrill wood. Watch out when you burn it as it does tend to spark a bit. These are male catkins I think and are one of the earliest indicators of spring, appearing long before the leaves.
I took this picture of the Primrose with the flowers and the Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) on the right without the flowers as a comparison. When both do not have flowers they can be confused for each other. The Primrose has a more rounded leaf tip and the Foxglove has a very pointed leaf tip. As a forager in the early spring/late winter it is important you can comfortably identify both these plants. Foxglove is still used today in a synthetic form as a heart drug, so is, as Coates states, “Best left for the Bees”.
Until I looked in Coates I did not know much about Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) other than that they always appear in late winter. Turns out they are not native to the UK and were only first documented in the wild in 1770. In the past the flower was likened to a death shroud so it was seen as unlucky to bring a single one into your house but OK to bring in a bunch. These flowers as you can guess come from the local graveyard – kind of apt in the light of this new knowledge for me.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is not a plant I see too often in the wild. This one I found on the edges of a wood in the grounds of a stately home. As well as being rather beautiful it has some medicinal uses for treating migraines.
A sight that cannot be beaten is a carpet of Bluebells. I did watch a programme where Ray Mears crushed the bulb up in his mouth and spat it out to make a form of primitive glue. Not something I’ve tried personally but I have had limited success using the crushed leaves for fletching primitive arrows.
This picture I took at Mottisfont House in Hampshire. I think it is a Magnolia tree but it does makes a perfect canvas for some climbing children.
According to Coates the Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a favourite of rabbits which is possibly a reason I do not see it very often in the wild. It is such a striking flower with these drooping petals.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a common plant found around my village growing in the long grass of the meadows. This plant has long been used to treat wounds but from reading Coates it seemingly has been used by herbalists to help treat hangovers. You just never know sometimes.
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) like the other plantains is a great bushcrafters’ plant. It is a hardy plant able to withstand a lot of foot traffic. The leaves can be made into a poultice or ointment to help stem bleeding or to soothe burns and stings. One herbalist explained to me that chewing some of the seeds helped to keep mozzies away and some of my bushcrafting friends have made cordage from the fibrous sinews in the leaves. My favourite use is to squeeze the juice out of the leaves and rub it on nettle stings to ease the pain. I have put another good link at the end of the post about Plantain.
Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) is one of these plants that most people do not give a second glance. Personally I think it is one of the most beautiful flowers we have. Traditionally used by woodland workers to help close up cuts.
I always come across Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) while leading groups out in the New Forest in the early summer. It is an easy plant to miss but if you keep your eyes open for well lit, low lying boggy areas you will spot them. Apart from its medicinal properties for treating breathing issues it seemingly has a reputation as an aphrodisiac – Coates notes: “Known as a love charm for its ability to lure insects, it was secreted in girls’ clothing by amorous men”.
I think that this is the Common Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) but I may well be wrong. I have spotted quite a few different types this year either in long grass or in woodland glades. In Scotland I have found many on the coast growing in sheltered areas of rocky outcrops.
There is one ditch in my village that has a clump of Common Bistort (Polygonum bistorta) growing in it. This is a plant that likes ditches and damp places. I have no bushcraft use for it but I do enjoy the sight of it as I pass by.
The Meadow Crane’s Bill (Geranium pratense) was used to treat wounds in the past. Coates notes that it has been used as a medicine since Roman times. It seems a very versatile plant for herbalists treating a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea, as a gargle for sore throats and for treating toothache.
This fine example of Borage (Borago officinalis) was from the Eden Project in Cornwall though I do spot this plant on many of my trips. It is edible and has medicinal uses. It’s originally from Southern Europe where the leaves are added to different pasta dishes and soups. Before we added cucumber to Pimms seemingly the preferred addition was Borage leaves (source Wikipedia)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is another bushcrafter’s friend. Not only is the peeled bark/skin an excellent source of tinder, it is the little devil that makes all those beautiful spirals on young shoots such as hazel that make great walking sticks. Coates suggests it has some medicinal uses as the leaves and flowers contain the active ingredient of aspirin.
The Wood Aven (Geum urbanum) is one useful plant and has quite a history. Medicinally it has been documented in use as far back as the Greeks and to this day herbalists still use it to help treat fevers and other ailments. The root has a clove-like smell and so was traditionally hung in houses to keep away evil spirits. My favourite use however was as a flavouring for beer. Coates lists lots of other uses: one to know and try out.
I took this picture of the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) at our BCUK Bushmoot in South Wales. A visitor from the States and another medicinal/edible plant. Coates notes that the roots were once eaten as a prelude to wine drinking as we eat olives today. He adds that it contains vitamin F which is helpful with protecting arteries from fatty decay.
I love to look at the Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum): as far as I am concerned it is a work of art. I use the stem as a hand drill and love to watch the Six Spotted Burnetts feeding off the head. The heads were traditionally used in the clothing industry to raise the fibre of cloth after weaving.
I ask the young ones to feel the leaves (gently) and I love seeing the look on their faces when they feel the barbs on the back of the leaf. When they spot the water that collects as a small pool at the base of the leaf I tell the little ones that this is where fairies come to drink. As a small child you could well believe this as the plant does look like it has magical properties.
Burdock must be one of the most well known bushcrafters’ plant. It has a two-year life cycle and the root of the plant at the end of its first year’s growth provides good carbohydrates and vitamins. Coates comments that the young leaves are edible which I agree with, but personally I cannot stand the taste of the leaves at any time. The base of the stem when the plant is young is quite palatable though.
I have friends who use the dried-out base of the second year plant attached to a bow drill spindle and swear by it. I like to use the second year stem as a clothes and kit hanger, trimming the branches from the stem leaving a small point protruding where each branch was and hanging it up in a tent for my bits and bobs. This was a traditional method on the Isle of Lewis where I come from as there are very few trees on the island so wood is hard to come by.
A plant of many names is the Reedmace (Typha latifolia), other names being Cattail, Fairy Woman’s Spindle and now officially Bulrush (caused so much confusion that one). The root, like that of Burdock, is a great source of carbohydrates, you can make a flour out of the seed head (also makes great flash burn tinder) and a passable hand drill. A plant with too many uses to list.
If you have reached this far well done. I did not want to put in so many pictures but it was very hard to choose which pictures to put up.
Apologies if I got anything wrong but I hope you enjoyed them.