Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Fire Management

This is designed to set out guidelines for selecting an area to light a fire, when to light a fire and fire light etiquette. Please stay within these guidelines when lighting fires.

  • It is important to check whether you have permission to light a fire within the area which you have selected to camp. It may be against local or national law to light a fire at certain times of the year or in certain places. It is the individuals' responsibility when they are lighting a fire to ensure they are aware of this.

  • Ensure where you are lighting a fire isn’t going to cause damage to the local environment either through marking the earth or burning of certain materials.

  • Be conscious of the possible spread of fire in the area you select. Remember gorse/peat areas can cause a widespread fire.

  • Have an emergency method of extinguish with you when lighting and keeping your fire. This can simply be a pot of water.

  • Cut a sod out or place a base to limit the damage to the ground.

  • The person who has lit the fire is the fire keeper. Please ask before using their fire.

  • If someone is attempting to light a fire, allow them space and time. If you wish to offer your assistance or advice please do so tactfully.

  • If you have lit the fire for yourself, please be conscious of where you do so. i.e. do not light it in the common area just for yourself

  • Only light a fire when it is needed.

  • Avoid lighting multiple fires in the one camp area. i.e having 3 or 4 fires going within the one camp area

  • A small fire for what you need to the ideal. Do not build a large fire unnecessarily.

  • Be aware of what you are burning. Do not throw any unnatural material onto the fire

  • Do not throw wood onto the fire, place it.

  • Dry dead wood should be what you are aiming for when burning wood. If necessary, take wood with you to your camp area. Avoid cutting green living wood for your fire. This minimises the impact on the area.

  • A well maintained fire will not leave large bits of charred or unburnt wood. This makes clean-up a lot easier in the morning.

  • If you are placing rocks to make a boundary for the fire, be aware what rock type it is. A hot fire can cause some rocks to split and spit.

  • Always try and use a Bushcraft method of lighting a fire unless the situation does not allow it or a quick fire is needed.

  • When turning in for the night, ensure the fire is completely out.

  • When leaving a camp area, ensure there is an absolute minimum sign of a fire. Ensure there are no embers left burning when you leaving. Remove all rocks and other fire material (charcoal) from the fire area and do your best to completely remove its trace.

Monday, 15 August 2016

What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is a term used to describe skills that allow us to live comfortably in the natural world, using
natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner. These skills were second nature to our ancestors, although many indigenous tribes and backwoodsmen still use these skills today.

A journey towards a full understanding of Bushcraft is not mere sentimentality; rather it is an empowering tool which allows us to reconnect with our roots and the natural world around us.

Bushcraft is a long-term extension of survival skills; it is about surviving and thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills includes for example the following:

  • Dressing right and the 3-layer principle
  • Navigation with map & compass
  • Navigation by signs in nature
  • Moving with ease in nature
  • Identification and behaviour of wildlife, and especially the possibly dangerous ones
  • How to choose a camp location
  • Different type of camp and shelter construction
  • Knots
  • Making fire with simple means
  • Collecting dfferent tinder & firewood and their characteristics and uses
  • Cooking with simple means
  • Food and medical sources in nature
  • Preparation of food and water found in nature
  • How different types of food affect your body
  • Handling knife, saw and axe
  • Wood carving
  • Maintenance of knife, saw and axe
  • Laws and local customs concerning living in nature
  • First Aid
  • Medical knowledge for life in nature and for emergencies
  • Field Hygiene

These are the most important areas of knowledge and skill you should strive to learn and improve on, and it is a lifetime of study with endless possibilities. With time you will find that you need fairly little beyond a good knife and a warm sleeping bag. 

The respect gained for our unknown ancestors in the acquisition of these skills can be an important part of Bushcraft. Regarding respect and understanding, one thread of Bushcraft is also concerned with respect and understanding of the natural world, its flora and fauna and the way these elements interact.

In teaching basic Bushcraft to children we are imparting an understanding of, and respect for, our world, the changing environment, other cultures and each other - it's also great fun!

Common Myths

"There’s no such thing as Bushcraft equipment. There’s Bushcraft. And there’s equipment." - Paul Kirtley

You have to be in the woods to practise Bushcraft. What if you live in an area where there are hardly any trees, a good example is the Hebrides, please find me a tree there. As I write this I am sitting here and I am  making more nettle cordage. To me that is Bushcraft.

You have to use a tarp or make shelters in the wild or you are not practising true Bushcraft. No, Bushcraft is a skill set. if you want to use a tent, then use one. equally if you want to make a shelter make one. if you wish to use a tarp then use one.

You have to cook over an open fire. There are places where lighting fires is forbidden. In these locations my preferred method is to use a meths stove.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Book Review: Homo Britannicus -The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain by Chris Stringer

Reading Chris Stringer's Homo Britannicus is a bit like going down to the pub beer garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon and listening to an acquaintance who's fast becoming a friend setting out their life's work and passion – he wants you to grasp the excitement of the work, and understand what's going on, but he's also scrupulous in making clear in this fast-moving field what's now known fact, what's generally believed but could be overturned in a moment, and the theories he holds that run against the general view of the field.

What's more, Stringer wants you to understand why this is important, beyond the pure science, beyond the romance of history – for his study of the spread of 700,000 years of human occupation of Britain has a powerful lesson about just how difficult an environment this proved for multiple species Homo, and just how often the environment wiped them out, or forced them to flee.

Stringer is one of the leading lights in the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, which after centuries of amateur enthusiasm and chance discoveries has sought to bring planning and careful science to a field that's often been left to chance, amateur enthusiasm, and occasionally blighted, as with the Piltdown Man, by forgery, and more frequently by over-claim and media distortion.

He begins with a brisk skip through this often less than illustrious history, but the story properly begins 700,000 years ago – at a site in what is now East Anglia, where a species using only shaped stones for tools lived on a peninsula linked to western Europe. The site is Pakefield, and, Stringer explains, through a technique called amino-acid dating, human occupation here has been dated back this far – the oldest firmly dated site north of the Alps. The tools are very simple – but, he explains, they were made from water-worn pebbles, a material not suited to large flaked tools like handaxes. The flora and fauna of the time suggests a remarkably mild environment, and it is clear that Stringer inclines towards supporting the view that this "Costa del Cromer" was only a brief episode of migration under unusually favourable conditions, not real adaptation to anything like normal northern conditions.

There's then a gap to 500,000 years ago, when Homo heidelbergensis, a species that made very finely shaped handaxes, lived (and thought to be an ancestor of both Neaderthals and us) – best known through the much-reported Boxgrove site. It deserves its fame, for rare conditions of preservation mean that not only mere artefacts are preserved, but moments in real time – when a person crouched down to knap a flint tool, then walked off with it, leaving the debris spread around the worksite and their footprints visible. There are also butchery sites – the bones and the tools left there when the work was done.

But the evidence also shows more. On the bones of the big game being butchered here — rhinos, deer and horses — the human tool marks on the bones always precede the teeth marks of hyena or wolves, indicating that these people were either capable of hunting game for themselves, or at least fighting off the fiercest of scavengers until they'd got what they wanted from a carcass. Stringer explains that when this discovery was made in the 1990s it was a revelation – for while secondary scavenging and using tools for marrow extraction may have been enough to allow the first human expansion out of Africa about 2 million years ago, primary access, with intestines and offal, meant a much better quality and variety of food.

Very late in the work at Boxgrove, on one last throw of the dice, the investigators found one of the Boxgrove men – or at least his tibia and a couple of teeth. From this they were able to draw conclusions about the sort of individual this diet could produce – 1.8 metres (5' 11") tall, weighing about 90kg (200lb), and perhaps 40 years old when he died. What's more, they know he was righthanded from the marks on his teeth made when he used them as a "third hand" while slicing items with stone tools. (Reading this book, one often longs for a time machine – but with this level of science you almost have one.)

But their rather idyllic life beside a lake, with elephants, rhinos, horses and giant deer grazing the grasslands was to come to an abrupt end, with a huge ice cap advancing rapidly from the north. (In the process it pushed the Thames to its present course.) The heidelbergers must have fled, or died out.
By 400,000 years ago, however, kinder conditions had returned, even warmer than today, in the period known as the Hoxnian, when with them emerged a new species of human, recognisably an ancestor of the Neanderthals. Or — and this is one of the great mysteries yet to be solved — there might have been two species, for apparently contemporaneously there are two distinct types of tools in use.

Best represented at a site in Swanscombe, there were people making handaxes, but there was also a culture known as Clactonian, after Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, using tools made with the flakes taken from a flint core. It had been thought that maybe the same people were using different tools for different purposes — handaxes for butchering big mammals, flakes for finer work — but during excavations for the Channel Tunnel rail link in 2003, an elephant skeleton was found surrounded by about 100 Clactonian tools. Speculation suggests, Stringer says — and he obviously has some sympathy with it — that Clactonian culture was a pre-existing European one, eventually displaced by the Neanderthal handaxe culture.

The handaxe was, Stringer says, the Paleolithic equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. "They sat easily in the hand, they had a point at one end (or a chisel-like surface if broken across), a cutting or scraping edge down one side, and a ticker butt for use as a hammer. … Microscopic studies of used handaxe edges suggest that they were employed for a variety of tasks including butchery, working wood and chopping plant materials…" But Stringer adds, there is a mystery, for to do all of these things they didn't need to be as finely made as many are. He's obviously attracted to Mithen and Kohn's theory, that making these was in effect a mating ritual, a way of displaying your attractiveness as a mate, just like a peacock's tail. But it's one of the pleasures of this book that he asks these sorts of questions, as well as charting the attractive, practical tale.

Again, however, the ice returned, then it went, but in one of the other great mysteries, the Neanderthals were never really able to establish themselves as a population. Even when Britain was a hunters' paradise of warmth and big game, there were no humans – although they were well established in neighbouring France and Belgium. (The possibility that for some of this time it was an island isn't, Stringer says, sufficient to explain the situation.)

By about 60,000 years ago, however, they had definitively returned, and a rich site in Norfolk, at Lynford, shows them thriving in a climate of warm summers, although Arctic winters. But then we arrived – whether we were the villains of the piece, whether we interbred with them, or whether we simply witnessed a tragedy (and all of the recent science seems to rule out the middle possibility – at least on any significant scale).

Stringer identifies as one of the most important difference between us and the Neanderthal a social reach across the landscape. "Whereas virtually all Neanderthal stone tools were made from raw materials sourced within an hour's walk from their sites, Cro-Magnons were either much more mobile or had exchange networks for resources covering hundreds of miles." But while with anatomically modern humans there arrived new uses of clay, of bone, and of pigments (in cave paintings), he makes the important point that they did bury their dead, sometimes with burial objects such as food, they knew about pigments (some have suggested that they used their bodies as canvas), and they clearly used materials such as wood that almost never survive.

We, however, did hardly better than the Neanderthals at clinging on in Britain, arriving about 30,000 years ago, but gone by 25,000; back about 15,000 years ago to produce some fine art on Creswall Crags in Derbyshire, although in Somerset's Gorge a confusing but unpleasant looking picture of cannibalism appears about the same time. But again came the ice, and again we went, and it was only about 11,500 years ago that permanent occupation began.

It's this period that brings Homo britannicus into its really modern significance – looking at climate change between 45,000 and 12,000 years ago. Much of that variability was down to the Gulf Stream, but "on many occasions in the past 100,000 years, for reasons that are still not fully understood, the Gulf Stream has completely shut down and the conveyor has rapidly swung into reverse, surrounding Britain with the freezing waters its latitudinal position would otherwise dictate. The polar front migrated towards the Equator, often lying as far south as the coast of Portugal, and even feeding icebergs into the Mediterranean … Astonishingly, some of these extreme oscillations happened over only about ten years." (p.148)

Against this description, Stringer's account of a climate change finds Britain by the end of this century growing oranges, lemons, avocados, grapes and olives. But he points out, if the well-known feedback mechanisms kick in — permafrost melting, icecaps melting — we could see massive sea level rises: one metre "would threaten not only London, but Hull, Liverpool, the south coasts of England and Wales, and East Anglia, as well as the Netherlands…"

Stringer asks what the human species that came before us, and our own ancestors, tell us about the possibility of surviving such rapid, dangerous change. Good old ancient Homo erectus — the first out of Africa, who lasted over a million years and spread across the entire tropical and sub-tropical Old World (think Java man) — puts our history as a footnote in terms of length, but they only ever had a limited ecological niche.

The most successful were, he says, the Gravettians of some 27,000 years ago, who were "able to switch mobility patterns, at times settling in large camps with stable supplies, at other rimes dispersing and diversifying to gather scattered and varied food resources … the extensive spread of the so-called Venus figures at the time across Europe and Asia, as far east as Lake Baikal, gives a further clue to the success … their wide social networks … all important when local resources were unpredictable and it might be necessary at times to rely on the support of neighbours to bail you out."
Studying hundreds of thousands of years of human history — imagining not just all of those species, but all of those small bands of individuals who battled, and eventually fell, imagining the last surviving individual from thousands and thousands of cases of human failure, cowering before a lion, simply lying down to die, alone and defeated, or even resorting to the last desperate option of cannibalism — has obviously had an impact on Stringer and his team. And you'd hardly be human if it didn't move you, too. But, by extension, its a peak at the past that certainly gives you a broader perspective on the problems of today.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Atlatl, History and Construction

Atlatls are ancient weapons that preceded the bow and arrow in most parts of the world and are one of humankind’s first mechanical inventions. The word atlatl (pronounced at-latal or atal-atal) comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec, who were still using them when encountered by the Spanish in the 1500s. Other words include spear-thrower, estolica (Spanish), propulseur (French), speerschleuder (German) and woomera or miru (English versions of the most common Australian terms).

An atlatl is essentially a stick with a handle on one end and a hook or socket that engages a light spear or “dart” on the other. The flipping motion of the atlatl propels a light spear much faster and farther than it could be thrown by hand alone. The following will show you how to make an easy atlatl that can be done in a day.  I  am going to call the throwing part the atlatl, and the spear-like part, the dart.

Almost everyone’s ancestor used atlatls at some time in the past. The only continent with no record of atlatl use is Africa. Spear throwers were invented in the Upper Paleolithic period by early modern humans, who originated even earlier in Africa, so it is quite possible that we simply don’t have the evidence yet for early African spear throwers.

The first known spear throwers come from European Upper Paleolithic sites in France and Spain. Most are from the Magdalenian period (ca 15,000 B.C.), with at least one example possibly from the earlier Solutrean. The surviving hook parts are carved out of ivory or reindeer antler, and the fancy ones are well-known examples of prehistoric art.

Early people in the Americas used atlatls to hunt the Pleistocene “megafauna” like mammoths and mastodons some 11,000 years B.C. Much later, a variety of atlatl types were in use in different part of North America. Many of the large stone projectile points found in American sites were used with atlatl darts, and are not “arrowheads.” The bow and arrow began replacing the atlatl around 1000 B.C., but atlatls continued to be used alongside bows into modern times in some areas, most notably Mexico and the Arctic. Bows and arrows are easier to use, and more ammunition can be carried, but atlatl and dart systems have some advantages. They can be used one handed, allowing the other hand to hold a shield in war, or a paddle in a kayak. They throw a heavier projectile, which is easier to attach to a line for harpooning, and they are less affected by wet conditions.


An atlatl dart can be thrown with the same penetrating power as an arrow shot from a 50-pound-draw longbow. Hunting and target range is typically 10 to 30 yards, but the world-record throw is over 848 feet.

When you throw an with an atlatl, make sure you have an open area that’s at least 30yds long, with nothing breakable behind it.

There should never be anyone in front of you when you throw.


Step 1: The atlatl.

The first thing to do is to get a branch selected for the atlatl. The one that I selected was forty centimetres (sixteen inches), but the main thing to do is to get the size that fits you. The piece that I selected had a bit of a natural curve to it, which in my opinion is good for an atlatl.

Step 2: Cutting.

After that, cut off all the little branches                   

Step 3: Thinning.

Then start thinning down the sides. Once you are done with that, start thinning down the top and bottom. Make sure that you know where you want your handle to be so that you don't accidentally carve it some of it off. If you are wanting a curve in the atlatl, then this is where you want to start carving it.

Step 4: The stop cut.

Next, start making the stop cut that the dart will rest in. 

Step 5: Last refinements.

Next, make the last refinements, sand the whole thing down, and voila! You are done with the atlatl.

Step 6: The dart.

Now, it is time for the dart. I cut a long, straight piece of wood, and then cut it down to the length that I wanted. It was about ninety-three centimetres (thirty-six inches)  

Step 7: Trimming.

Then  trim off all the little starts of branches.

Step 8: Shaving off bark.

Then  remove a bit of bark off of the end that will rest in the stop-cut of the atlatl, for the feathers.

Step 9: Tying feathers.

Take three feathers, cut off the smaller sides with a pair of scissors. After that I glued them just enough to hold them on, take some Cordage and proceeded to wrap the feathers onto the now-fully-fledged-dart. Also, when you are doing it, try to make to end of the feathers curve to the side a bit, and it will spin when thrown

Step 10: Carving a tip.

Take the other end of the soon-to-be dart, and carve a tip, making sure to make it off-center so that the tip was not made out of the fluffy inner wood. Alternatively you could attach a flint arrowhead. (tutorial on how to make flint arrowheads coming soon) If you are unable to make your own they are available from the very talented Will Lord

Step 11: Hardening the tip.

Then harden the tip with fire. The fire hardening process removes moisture from the wood by slowly and lightly charring it over a fire. This process also causes the resins in the wood to harden giving it a stronger, durable point.

Step 12: Have fun!!!

Have fun throwing the dart with the atlatl!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Making Cordage

Cordage (rope and string) can be made from many different fibres including (Bast) Dogbane, Milkweed, Nettles, Hemp, Flax; (Leaves) Cattail, Yucca, Agave, Douglas Iris; (Bark) Willow, Maple, Basswood, Cedar; (Root) Leather Root, Beach Lupine; (Whole stem) Tule, straw, Juncus. Each material has specific requirements for extracting and preparing the fibres, but there are only two basic ways for using the fibres to make a cord: braiding (or plaiting) and twining. Braiding was usually done with flat, split materials such as cattail or flattened straw. The instructions in this article will deal only with twining, specifically with two ply (S-twist, Z ply, also called right handed) cordage.

After preparing a bundle of fibre half the thickness of the finished cord, place your hands six to twelve inches apart and about one third of the way from one end. Twisting the fibres clockwise with both hands, wind the bundle tight (making single-ply cordage). Bring your hands closer together and keep twisting. The kink should rotate on its own in a counterclockwise direction (Fig. la & b). Twist until two or three rotations occur (Fig. 2a & b). This is the start of a two ply cord. At this time you can attach the end to something (or someone) which can rotate (free-end) and keep twisting with both hands turning clockwise OR you can attach the end to something solid (fixed-end) and begin twisting and counter-rotating (see below).

Counter-rotating, one form of finger-twisting, involves each hand applying a clockwise (S) twist into a ply, while passing the right ply over, and the left ply under (counter-clockwise or Z-plying). In Figure 3a, your left hand twists ply A clockwise, while your right hand does the same with ply B. At the same time, you pass ply B over and behind your left thumb and lock it in place with your remaining fingers, as in Figure 3b. You then take A in your right hand and B in your left and repeat, over and over and over again! These two methods are particularly handy with larger and coarser materials such as cattail and tule ropes.

Finger-twisting finer material is usually done completely in the hand, with the finished string being wound on a bobbin or netting needle as you go. Your left hand acts to control tension while your right hand does the twisting. Begin as in Figure 1, then place the Y (the point where the two plys come together) between your left thumb and fore finger. Take the lower of the two ply strands and twist it tightly clockwise until it begins to kink. Lock the twist in by closing your remaining three fingers over the strand (see Fig. 4a.). Then, while holding the twisted ply A securely, twist ply B with your right thumb and forefinger. As you twist, you should feel the completed string begin to twist counter-clockwise (step Fig. 4b.). Follow this motion with your left thumb and forefinger while maintaining even tension and a symmetrical Y . Next move your left thumb up to the fork in the Y as before and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you need to add more fibre.

If you began your cord off-centre, then one side will run out of fibre first. As you get to within about 3 inches of the end of this short ply, prepare another bundle of fibres the same size as you began with, but taper the end of the bundle for about 4 inches. Lay this bundle parallel to the bundle being replaced, and sticking out about an inch beyond the Y (Fig. 5). Continue twisting as before. You should also add in if one ply becomes thinner than the other, or if both plies become thinner than they started. In these cases add just enough fibre to bring them back to correct size. Ideally, your cord should stay the same size throughout, although aboriginal cordage did vary about fifty percent in nets. Bow strings and fish lines under heavy pull should be very even. It is also possible to add to both sides at the same time by bending a bundle of fibre in half and placing the Y of the bundle into the V of the Y, but it is harder to keep from making a lump at this point. After your string is finished, you can cut or burn (carefully) off the overlap ends to make your string less fuzzy.

NOTE: dry surfaces tend to slip, so you should keep your hands and the fibre damp while you are working. Squeeze out excess water though or your string will be loose when it dries.

Finger-twisting methods are best used when a relatively small amount of string is being made and/or has to be very tight and even, and when very stiff or coarse materials are being used, such as cattail or tule. When making mass quantities of cordage, it is much faster and easier on the hands to use the leg (thigh) rolling method. The principle is the same, S-twist, Z-ply, but the twist is applied by rolling on the leg, rather than twisting between the thumb and finger. You can continue to work without getting cramps in your hand muscles, and you can (with practice) work faster (about ten feet per hour). The critical element in making this method work is having the right surface on which to roll. Traditionally the bare left thigh is used. If you do not want to expose your skin, or if your legs are hairy, you can use pants, but these should be tight around your leg, so they won't bunch up as you roll, and they should have a rough enough surface to give traction. Keeping them damp is also critical. I keep a bucket of water next to me while work. This method is illustrated in Figure 6a-c

Before you begin, prepare as much fibre as you will be using during that session. Once you get into the rhythm of the work, you won't want to stop and clean material.

Roll both plies away from you with the palm of your right hand (pre-roll each separately). Your left hand holds the Y and follows the movement.

Bring the two plies together by moving the left hand forward and back. If the two plies did not get tightly rolled the first time, carefully pick up both plies and repeat step one first.

When the plies are tight and touching, bring the right palm back towards you, counter-rotating the two plies into two-ply cordage.

Before repeating step one, it is necessary to untangle the loose ends of fibre, separate into two plies, and move the left hand up to the new Y.