A walk along a country path or a stroll amongst the woodland trees is a pleasant experience for all of us. It evokes childhood memories and takes us back to a place that time forgot. The woodsman is no longer a common sight but not too many years ago the faint smell of smoke from his fire would have filled the air as he worked amongst the tall trees which surrounded him.
Although times have changed, one thing the woodsman would have known still remains the same – bushcraft. A wide and varied subject, bushcraft is often confused and thought to be useful only to those who visit remote areas. However, the skill is an art form that can be enjoyed by all and used in everyday life anywhere in the world.
In early Spring the morning frosts start to wither away and allow the young shoots to announce themselves for all to see. It’s also a good time of year to look for wild food! For most of us, wild food will be a completely new and maybe daunting experience, whilst for our ancestors it was a matter of survival. In this age of convenience foods and supermarkets, long lost are the skills and knowledge that we all once had. We tend to think of everything wild as being dirty or poisonous! Some things are of course poisonous so it is vital that any plant is identified correctly. It’s also very important to only collect plants from clean areas, away from roads, etc.
Springtime sees a large array of wild food start to appear. The leaves of the Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) make for an interesting woodland snack or if you happen to be in ancient woodland then maybe you will stumble across a patch of the sharp tasting Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which is guaranteed to liven up any wild salad. Spring is also a peaceful time of year to practice bushcraft. The slight nip in the air can be quelled by the lighting of a fire using the primitive art of friction fire lighting. Once mastered, the art of natural fire lighting is one of the most inspirational and satisfying things that one can achieve. The fire is the main camp base where stories are told and bushcraft techniques passed on from one generation to another.
Soon the Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) will be stout enough to make natural twine and the Pignuts (Conopodium majus) will be reaching towards the sun for some lucky soul to find. As the months roll forward, further edible foods may be found and other crafts can be employed. Summer is a lovely time to sit in the woods and carve spoons and bowls whilst the cuckoo sings its seasonal song in the distance.
Bushcraft is a skill that provides a different way of looking at life and the environment. It allows us to live by nature’s rhythm and tune into each passing season. It teaches us to respect the countryside and conserve what we have for future generations. Bushcraft is not about using up all natural resources, it’s about being at one with nature, using what is needed and not fighting against it. I believe that if more of us were to employ some of its techniques, we could all learn to protect our environment as well as living a more natural and healthy lifestyle.
Teacher of Bushcraft for Essex Wildlife Trust
Resident Bushcraft and Wildfood Specialist for Healthy Life Essex