Sunday, 19 June 2011

Up the Amazon

I'm busily creating an Amazon store to house the top books, DVDs and equipment found on this fine site. I'm adding bit by bit, so please do make suggestions, but don't be disappointed if they don't make it in as I'm generally only adding in things I've had a hand on at some point.

Here's what I have so far:

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Birch Bite

You know what pisses me off? People who don't know how to get hold of birch bark properly.


The Birch naturally sheds its bark and there is a simple rule you can use to harvest birch bark:


I was working in some woodlands recently which was open to use by a number of groups. I hadn't been there for over a six months. I arrived with a party of clients and was absolutely speechless when faced with what is basically Birch Rape.

Just to put things into context, this mixed woodland spans some 30 acres and there are more birch trees than you can count. I stood in the middle of an open area and lost count of the number of trees which had been stripped this way. Then I started to count the dead ones.

That's what happens to trees if you strip the bark off of them, they die.

The bark not only protects the tree from disease, but the inner bark, or phloem, is responsible for transporting nutrients around the tree, and particularly to the roots. Without this transport mechanism, the tree simply dies.

This process in agriculture is known as girdling and is used to force nutrients to fruit at the expense of a branch, but not a whole tree. It would be false ecomony to grow a tree for years, just to kill it for one season of fruits.

In nature, trees can die this way when deer, say, strip bark. This is why you see those protective plastic strips around new trees. Sometimes, entire fences are erected.

This is an issue that really gets on my nerves because it's senseless. You don't need an A4 sheet of bark to light a fire, the outer stuff that is being shed lights easier than the tough layers which need preparation and there is always plenty of bark on a single tree, let alone multiple trees. So there is no need to get the knife out and gouge off chunks of bark, save that for the Birch which has already fallen. You'll find, however, that it's far easier collect a little that's been shed from a live tree. So easy, in fact, that a child can manage it.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Been away for a while

Got a few posts half done and started on the book ... The Art and Science of Survival.

Normal service will resume soon.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Into the Wild

Off to South Africa in the morning for some serious Bush survival.

No Internet out that way, so I'll report on the course and the solar charging gear I'm taking when I get back in ten days or so.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Caveat Comestor

Martin Dorey, a chap who lives a few villages down, is currently on the telly in his series One Man and His Campervan. It's a fab early evening series with Martin touring around the country having excellent countryside and culinary adventures. It's presently in iPlayer is you can access it:

One Man and His Campervan - BBC iPlayer

In the first episode he came to my fishing village for the mackerel and then to one of my favourite farm shops for some other supplies. It's always odd recognising places and people I know on TV.

The second was of great interest to me as he headed off to the New Forest some foraging. There were some absolute classics, such as Chick Weed and Wild Thyme and I imagine a few Dandelions and Jack by the Hedge.

Martin and his wild food guide raised the point of ensuring that what you're picking is what you think you're picking. There are so many plant and fungi species that look like each other and some of the confusion species are super deadly. We might like to think that the fungi are the major problem, but there are a good number of plants which are in real "game over" territory; Water Dropwort and Deadly Nightshade (clue's in the name) are particularly nasty. Water Dropwort, and others like it, are the reason I don't teach most white flowered wild plants on courses, because they look too much like many of the edibles and there is far too much paperwork associated with people dying.

The Orachs, which were mentioned on the programme, are a prime example. With around 200 species in the Atriplex genus, there is a massive variety across most habitats. Many of them can be found on the coast and are very succulent compared to their field relatives. The edible orachs are very tasty and I imagine the others are too, but they can be very bad for you with effects ranging from an upset stomach to a trip to hospital, or worse. 

I must admit that I was super jealous of the Chanterelle on toast. I'm compelled to find somewhere local where they grow, but I will be making sure I don't get myself any of the bad ones that look alike. To ensure this is the case, I will be taking a book with me, as I advise you do for any foraging trip.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

First Aid again

I'm presently renewing my first aid course; yes, it's that time already? It's all very exciting stuff and always fun to see which protocols have changed, what we have to remember to forget and which way we're supposed to CPR this time. Is it one to fifteen, two to thirty, one hundred compressions per minute and do we sing Nelly the Elephant? It changes every time and this time is no exception. For us it's the rate, but something interesting has also changed with basic courses.

It would appear that in basic first aid courses, mouth to mouth is specifically no longer being taught. This is due to analysis showing a significant number of trained first aiders had stood by during medical emergencies because they did not want to perform mouth to mouth. With this in mind, it was deemed better to not teach it at all, because people would at least get on with the chest compressions and give the casualty a better than zero chance.

There are a couple of facts to remember about first aid. The first is that in the UK, there has never been a single piece of successful litigation against a first aider. Even when people mucked up and even if the casualty died, people tried their best and there was no case to be made. If you crack on with CPR and crack some ribs, and the person ends up breathing again, then do you really think they are going to sue you?

The second thing is that if you are a trained first aider, there is nothing that says you must perform first aid. If you come across a road traffic accident, there's blood and brains everywhere and it just makes you feel sick, then you don't have to dive in, gloveless and give mouth to mouth to people who might cough up their lungs over you. If all you can do is call the ambulance and give a decent account of what's going on, then you have helped every person there.

So, if you find me, unconscious, bleeding like mad and you can't remember how to put a dressing on, and if all you do is call an ambulance, maintain my airway and put direct pressure on my wound through the barrier of a crisp packet, I promise I won't sue you and I won't think any less of you for forgetting to check my capillary refill rate.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

At the Helm

I've just passed my final assessment for becoming a full inshore helmsman for the RNLI. I'm well chuffed.

It's a difficult balance between wanting to lead a service on the sea and hoping that nobody gets into enough trouble to need us. Thankfully, most of the shouts we get are people cut off by the tide or boats needing a tow and are generally not life threatening.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the tide when walking on the coast. Tide timetables are available locally and also online. They are different by region, so one for Brighton is no good for Blackpool. Google will provide you with a relevant link. Note also that times for high and low tide change daily and tide height, and hence speed of change, also changes, so the tide profile from one week will be significantly different to the next. Weather can have a significant effect too.

If you should get cut off by the tide, phone 999 immediately and ask for the Coastguard. These guys manage the cliff teams, lifeboats and choppers. We'd much rather come out early than late. Don't try to climb dangerous cliffs and don't try to swim out of trouble, you may get caught in a rip tide and taken out to sea.

Keep calm, get as high as you can safely and make yourself obvious to anyone who comes. They may be arriving from the sea, the air or from the land, so you need to be visible from all of these if you can do so safely.

Be as specific as you can when describing your emergency. Include your position, number of people, clothing and ages, if significant. Include any medical issues, including such things as dehydration, hypothermia, sprained ankles or specific medical conditions such as diabetes, heart condition or pregnancy. If you intend to move from your present position, be as specific as you can describing your intentions.

Remember, rescue starts when they know you are in trouble and starts looking where they think you are. The earlier you call and the more accurate you can be with your location, the more quickly you can be found.

If you don't know where you are, any information is good information. An example might go along the lines of:
"We're looking out to sea and the sun is directly in front of us. There is a lighthouse on a rock to my right. There is a big red tanker going from left to right a long way away. We left Bucks Mills an hour ago heading for Westward Ho! We passed some red cliffs half an hour ago and we're in a cove with a rocky beach. The cliffs are very steep. The tide is about 20 metres away and we intend to climb the rocks to a safe ledge which is about eight feet off the beach".
This will give the coastguard and lifeboat crew a significant chance of pinpointing your position, even though it doesn't contain any accurate distances, bearings or times.

On a final note, if you should manage self rescue, do let the coastguard know. Don't be embarrassed that you may have wasted their time, they would much rather you have call and they not be needed than the opposite.

I remember a particular shout where a man had been cut off by the tide. We searched for two hours before finding out that he had long since made it off the coast and to the pub where he was enjoying a pint.

Mutter mutter!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Disengage, Parry, Lunge

I've just managed to find the time to watch the first episode of Bruce Parry's new series Arctic with Bruce Parry which is being shown on BBC 2 and likely, unless you're reading this much later than I wrote it, to be on BBC iPlayer (tm). I first got into Bruce Parry with the TV Series Tribe which is absolutely excellent. I have the DVD box set and it regularly comes out for a rewatch. I found his next series Amazon quite hard going, but this new one seems to be getting back to his old style.

I'm constantly astounded by his apparent innocence and naivety, which seems odd for an ex-marine, but let's face it, if he went into a tribe of potential cannibals acting like Bear Grylls, he'd have probably been in a stew long ago. Can you imagine Bear's poor cameraman in the next pot? Bruce seems to have a knack for getting involved and is not scared to try anything, be it labour, a pint of blood, the local brew of fermented misc or the shaman's lotions & potions, some of which look quite harrowing.

Bruce is a friend of a friend of mine who met him near to where he lives in Ibiza. Apparently he's quite a party animal. He's also hung like a horse, I hear, and if you've watched his first documentary he did, First Contact - Cannibals and Crampons, which Bruce and his mate shot, you'll find a funny bit in there about that. C&C is a real eye opener in terms of the sorts of things that can go wrong if you're unprepared, which they both were. It's worth a watch and is part of the bonus features of the Tribe box set.

It's nice to watch a series dedicated to the Arctic which is not, at least initially, plastered in snow. It's quite normal for southerly regions within the Arctic Circle (66° 33' N) to have summer temperatures up to 10 °C (50 °F). Certainly, where I was in Finland, the land was lush in the summer. It was shocking for growing veg, but excellent walking. There was a pretty nasty midge issue during the thaw which caused such a problem with the huskies that they were transported to Helsinki until it all froze up again.

In a prolonged Arctic survival situation, the seasonal changes in temperature can be extreme and change can come quickly, so ensure you are prepared to move if you need to. Remember also that the temperature on the coast can be vastly different to that of inland regions. In the summer, inland regions may be warmer, but as winter comes, the coast is the place to be. Don't head in a northerly direction to get to the sea though, because as we know, it gets colder the further north we go (in this part of the world) and that would be counter productive. Watch out for those insects too, they can really spoil your day.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series which is likely to get a lot chillier and I hope, one day, to meet the man himself. I think I'll have a look and see if he's doing a tour soon. Oh, his website is buggered. Ho hum.