Nature Based Bushcrafting

Over the last few months I have not done much in the way of bushcraft so there has been a slight lack of How To …. tutorials coming out. I plan to change that after the Moot (where I will be looking for inspiration) however I have been getting out on little trips recently¬†to photograph nature.

This post is just to record some of the moments I have had over the last few months. Starting with an accidental shot of a very wet and bedraggled willow catkin. It was a damp day and I was trying to get a close up of a bug but after looking at the picture found the catkin to be of more interest.

Pussy Willow

Not long after ripping a muscle in my calf I hobbled out into my garden and applied the 20 metre rule. That is stand still, kneel down, sit down and lie down but continually look around you for approx 20 metres and you should see something worth shooting. When I eventually laid down I came up close and personal to these beautiful little Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

There was a re-wilding theme on the BCUK website a couple of months ago and I was stuck for ideas. Not long after the closing date I remembered this place outside our village. Proper re-wilding you could say ūüôā

DSC_6902
Re-wilding

Back in April I went out for a walk with my kids in Morgaston woods and the bluebells were just coming through. I spotted this slightly thicker patch and after getting the kids to lie down (it was a job with all the pricklies) I got this rather nice shot. The angle of the shot made the bluebell patch seem much thicker than it actually was.

Peek a boo

Another one from my garden during my hobbling period. I was particularly taken with the water droplets on the primroses.

Spring days

My son has been undertaking some nature observations for his naturalists badge at cubs. we have been getting out and about as much as we can identifying trees and flowers such as these lovely Ramsons.

Naturalist badge – IDing the Ramsons

Spring would not be the same without a picture or two of some fluffy creatures. I thought this Greylag geese family looked particularly impressive at The Vyne National Trust property.

The Greylag family

This was a ‘face off’. I spotted this deer in the shadow of the woods while out looking at the bluebells. I had to change the lens on my camera as she was a fair distance away. Normally they run off by the time I change lenses but this one kept me square in her sights the whole time.

Staring contest

We moved on from just identifying plants for Finlay’s naturalist badge to tasting them as well. We tried out a whole range of leaves including the likes of these¬†Jack by the hedge plants.

Naturalist badge – IDing the other garlic – Jack by the hedge

Some of the best finds were literary stumbled on like this complete fox skeleton in the New Forest. It was found by some of my Junior Sea Cadets and we laid it all out onto this log to get a real good look at it. Many of these kids have never been out of the city before so this was quite a find for them.

A Foxy find

I spotted this little butterfly sitting on a Herb Robert flower while visiting my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival a couple of weeks ago. Normally these little devils are away before you can get near them but this one just seemed to be soaking up the sun.

Delicate beauty

One of my favourite pictures was taken last weekend at The Vyne National Trust property. I heard a splash by the side of the lake and turned to see this Coot with a large Signal Crayfish in its beak.

The joy was not to last for the Coot though as another Coot came along and stole the crayfish away – such is nature sometimes I suppose.

A top spot

So although I have not been out doing practical bushcrafting much I have been getting out and observing nature with a keen eye Рso you could say it was the more nature based side of bushcrafting.

Cheers

George

Picture of the Week – Week 8 – Life and Death

My good friend Rick popped over to visit me today and we went for a Bimble around the village in the afternoon.

There were plenty of Daffodils and Lesser Celandine on show and even a few Snowdrops still hanging around but other than that all was pretty quiet on the flower front.

When we got to one of the village ponds I was saw that only the Yellow Iris was starting to show through so had a quick look and was about to head off.

Contrasts - Life and Death
Contrasts – Life and Death

Rick though mentioned that he liked the contrast of life and death between the Iris and the Reedmace. I could see his point but until I got right down and took this picture at a very low angle did I truly see what he meant.

As an aside to all this I managed to damage my ear drum when I lay down on my side to take the picture. I felt an intense pain in my right ear and realised¬†a dead stalk of some plant or other had gone into my ear – here’s hoping the pain does not get worse.

Cheers

George

Useful Island Beauty

a stark reminder of a very different time

I made two trips to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland this May: the first time to attend my gran’s funeral and the second time to spend a week there on holiday with my family.¬†The island has beautiful beaches, rocky coves, stunning moorland but also some of the most useful and beautiful plants a bushcrafter or forager would want.

Island Beauty
Island beauty

I was initially struck by some of the flowers I spotted in my sister Tina’s garden. The bluebell is very common where I live now in the south of England but not so much on the island. I have used bluebell sap to help attach feathers to arrow shafts as flights (seemingly a common practice up until the Middle Ages) and I have heard that the Elizabethans used it as an early paper glue.

The red campion was growing right beside the bluebells and this¬†again has many uses historically. The roots contain saponins which are great for making a form of soap. Great for washing clothes but not for the fish –¬†the soap was also used in the past to paralyse fish so making for easier fishing.

Tina's garden - Bluebells and Red Campion
Tina’s garden – bluebells and red campion

The beautiful pink flower in the top picture is dame’s rocket and the lower flower is common scurvy grass. Both of these are high in vitamin C and both were used in the past to ward off scurvy.

Dame’s rocket is a member of the mustard family and the flowers are edible, making them great for salads. The common scurvy grass is also edible as well as being medicinally important and the leaves were often used¬†in sandwiches prior to the popularity of watercress.

Dame's Rocket and Common Scurvy Grass
Dame’s rocket and common scurvy grass

The lady’s smock (or cuckoo flower) can make for a majestic and striking picture. Sometimes I see this flower growing and think it looks lonely; it really is one of these taller flowers that can withstand some pretty harsh environments.

This was another edible high in vitamin C that was used historically to treat scurvy but also makes for a spicy addition to a salad. The flower in folklore has received a lot of bad press – it has been associated with bad luck and the evil eye so was thought to be best left outside the house (we are a superstitious lot, us Scots).

Lady's Smock
Lady’s smock

Who would have thought that this delicate little plant called thrift could be so tough and beautiful at the same time? The stalks of this tiny plant were commonly used in the past for basketry. On an island where plants do not grow very tall due to the wind basket weavers would use whatever material came to hand and the stalks of thrift, although short, are strong and flexible.

Up to the 1700s a tonic called arby was made out of the root of this plant in Scotland as a cure for TB but the best use I have heard of for thrift was as a hangover cure for sailors (according to Charles Coates, The Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland).

Delicate Thrift
Delicate thrift

The three flowers below are very common on the island as well as much of the rest of the UK. We found the primroses on Lewis still in full bloom in May: they make for a good snack on the go, though I have read in Paul Kirtley’s blog that they can cause contact dermatitis in some people.

The hogweed stalk you can see in the bottom left is from last year’s growth and¬†I can remember as a lad using the hollow stalks as pea shooters. I have seen people cook¬†the young leaves and shoots but cannot recall trying any. I have, though, had the seeds in various stews over the years.

The final picture is of Wordsworth’s favourite flower – not the daffodil, but¬†grianne (Gaelic for the Sun), known to him and most of us¬†as¬†¬†lesser celandine. This is an edible plant if handled properly,¬†highly¬†toxic if not. It’s best to cook it well and only use the youngest of leaves. Again this is a plant that has good levels of vitamin C and is quite astringent, making it medicinally important. However the sap in its raw format is very corrosive and has been used to remove warts; there are stories in Scotland of beggars¬†using the juice of the plant to create sores in order to gain more sympathy and money. A useful plant in the right hands, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

Primroses, Hogweed and Lesser Celandine
Primroses, hogweed and lesser celandine

The island seems to be suffering an infestation of horsetail (top picture on either side of the nettle). This plant is a pain for gardeners but a bushcrafter’s friend. I have used horsetail as a pot scrubber many a time, it has a rough texture due to the high content of silica in it. The plant also makes an excellent natural sandpaper.

I spent a couple of days in the grounds of Lews Castle grounds in Stornoway and came across some useful trees there (the sheltered grounds are the only place on the island where there is a large concentration of deciduous trees). The leaf and flower in the bottom picture is from the whitebeam and it produces an excellent smooth wood ideal for tool handles and cogs before the widespread use of iron. My friend Phil¬†Brown from Badger Bushcraft produces an excellent jelly from the tree’s fruit.

Horsetail, Nettle and Whitebeam
Horsetail, nettle and whitebeam

Two other useful trees I came across in the grounds were the wych¬†elm (scotch elm) and what I think what was a white elm. Both are real bushcrafters’ friends as the inner bark makes a great cordage. The word wych is an Old English word meaning pliable and this pilability also extends into the wood as well; these trees make for really excellent bows. A good blog on this can also be found on the Badger Bushcraft site – Wych Elm or Scotch Elm Cordage From Dried Bark.

Wych Elm and Common Elm
Wych elm (Scotch elm) and white elm

I was visiting my friend Fraser from Coastal Survival earlier in the year and he showed me how you can squeeze the juice out of the marsh horsetail (bottom left) and the combination of fluid and silica make for an excellent handwash (great for helping small cuts heal quickly as well).

On the right is a young silverweed plant. This is the plant that prior to the introduction of potatoes (and in times of the potato blights) was a staple food on the islands. This plant is known as Seachdamh Aran (the Seventh Bread). It was thought that a man could sustain himself for a year on a patch of silverweed the square of his own height. In North Uist, during the clearances, homeless folk were said to be living on shellfish and on bread made from dried silverweed roots. A good document on this can be found on the BBC website.

Marsh Horsetail and Silverweed
Marsh horsetail and silverweed

This is one of my favourite pictures was this one. I loved the waterfall and the shelf with the scurvy grass happily growing under it.

Island beauty
Island beauty

It was not until I was reviewing my holiday pictures that I realised that the majority of the plants I had photographed were so useful.  I found out a lot about some of these books from my guide book РThe Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland by Charles Coates.

It’s a stark reminder of a very different time, when these plants protected peasants against scurvy or starvation – worth remembering if you’re tempted to dismiss them as just ‘pretty flowers’.

Cheers

George