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Bushcraft and survival skills at the Ultimate Activity Company, near Hereford

Bushcraft and survival skills at the Ultimate Activity Company, near Hereford

by Angus ~ 28 March, 2019 ~ one comment

I’ve never opened a tampon before, so my newfound friend Tamsin showed me how. Then I started unpeeling it to find it’s really just compacted cotton wool. Tampons turn out to be ideal for lighting a fire if you don’t have matches because they are really compressed cotton wool and can be lit with a small spark. I did have a fire steel in my survival kit box and just like our friendships, we were soon creating sparks and warming up.  We were at the Ultimate Activity Company’s short course on what to do in the wild when things go awry.

Andy, our trainer, with his background as a marine, explained the imaginary position we were in: on a sailing trip eight of us had moored our boat in a sheltered sea loch on the west coast of Scotland and during the night the wind riled up causing the boat to hit a rock. It sank, leaving us just enough time to get off with little more than what we stood up in (along with my survival kit in a watertight tin).   Two of the crew had gone off to get help - leaving six of us to survive outdoors, perhaps for several days. Read more...

Wood, wood burning and wood burning stoves.

Wood, wood burning and wood burning stoves.

by Lewis ~ 4 March, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Wood is made up of three main chemicals - cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin.  Cellulose is a long chain-like molecule made up of glucose residues; it is the main component of both hard and soft woods.  Hemi-cellulose is chemically more diverse than cellulose - with a variety of sugars present such as xylose, mannose, galactose & arabinose.  Lignin is a very complex chemical, again a polymer with much cross linking.  The lignin binds to and holds all the components of wood together.

When wood is burnt completely about half the mass of the wood is converted to carbon dioxide, and about half to water.  This process releases large amounts of energy - approximately 20MJ per kg.  This represents light energy that the tree trapped through photosynthesis.   What is termed the primary combustion of wood is the burning of the solid material - the embers, the charcoal, whereas secondary combustion is the burning of the gases /fuels producing the flames of a fire. Read more...

Shellfish, fires and forest productivity

Shellfish, fires and forest productivity

by Chris ~ 30 December, 2018 ~ comments welcome


The loss of woodlands and forest across the world is but another example of human interference with natural ecosystems.    Tropical forests are raided for their exotic hardwoods or subject to wholesale clearing for ‘cash crops’ e.g. oil palms.  However, it would seem that this destruction is nothing new.    

Professors Kaplan and Kolen have analysed soils for ash and suggested that the early (hunter-gatherer) settlers in Europe lit fires to clear the ‘wildwood’ so that grassland or more open woodland / steppe-like areas would develop.    Read more...

Fires and climate change

Fires and climate change

by Chris ~ 17 July, 2018 ~ one comment

The recent hot spell has seen a number of fires, not only in the UK but across the world (Arizona , Victoria Australia, Indonesia).  Spells of extreme heat (and drought) have been known throughout history but it would seem that with climate change / global warming extreme events have become more common.   Data show that the years of the 21st century are among the warmest on record - global air temperatures have risen by 1oC since the industrial revolution.

Extreme temperatures have been recorded in many places across the globe.   Ouargla in Algeria soared to 124.3o F (51.3oC), Denver recorded at temperature of 105o F, Montreal recorded 97.9o F, Glasgow hit 89.4o F, Shannon in Ireland reached 89.6o F, Tbilisi (Georgia) soared to 104.9o F and parts of Pakistan are reported to have reached 50oC.   No record by itself can be ascribed to global warming but these and many other records across the globe are consistent with the extremes that can now be expected (more often) in a world that is warming - as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels increase due to human activity (we have entered the anthropocene).

Hot and dry conditions mean that plant material can dry out quickly, so that a thicker layer of pant material / litter is formed - which provides significant fuel for fires.   Studies of some areas suggest that the increased Winter and Spring rainfall (again associated with climate change) encourages plant growth, creating more material for fires (when dry conditions obtain later in the year). Read more...

Woodlands, climate and robustness.

Woodlands, climate and robustness.

by Lewis ~ 13 January, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Climate change is a fact, though not one always accepted by certain politicians.   Greenhouse gas emissions have been growing since the C18th, and particularly in the period 1970 - 2004.   The warming of the world climate system is certain; air and ocean temperatures have increased.  

Though we cannot say how climate will change in any specific area with certainty, we can be sure that extreme weather events will become more common - droughts, heat waves, heavy rainfall, high winds and cyclones. Read more...

The mediterranean cypress and forest fires.

The mediterranean cypress and forest fires.

by Chris ~ 7 October, 2016 ~ one comment

According the United Nations FAO, some two million hectares of forest were burnt in the Mediterranean region, between 2006 and 2010.  Most of these fires were 'human induced'; they (the fires) are the most frequent cause of degradation / loss of forest / woodland in this region.  In 2012, a fire swept through some 20,000 hectares of forest near Andilla (Valencia).   After the fire, it was found that though oaks, holm oaks, pines and junipers had been completely burnt, the vast majority (98% +) of the Mediterranean Cypresses were still standing, tall and green.   There followed a three year study of the fire resilience of the Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens var horizontalis) to see if stands of these trees might function as buffer zones to hinder or prevent the spread of forest fires. Read more...

Why camping in your own wood is special

Why camping in your own wood is special

by Angus ~ 11 July, 2014 ~ 6 comments

Camping in your own wood (or a friend's wood) is totally different than staying at a conventional campsite.  There is more freedom, more choice and more solitude - you can do lots of things that would not normally be allowed.  Recently, I was invited to a woodland to camp with some friends where we experienced free-range camping first-hand.

For any camping expedition, it is important to locate a camping area - we found a grassy glade surrounded by beech trees.  Next, you need to find a good spot on which to pitch your tent - ground that initially seems flat is, by the end of the first night, clearly very 'slopy'!   Read more...

Native dominants or botanical 'thugs’ in woodland.

Native dominants or botanical ‘thugs’ in woodland.

by Lewis ~ 28 March, 2014 ~ 2 comments

Much has been written  recent in recent years about the ‘dangers’ posed to our native flora & ecosystems by ‘alien’ invasive species.  Introduced species such Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) have been cited as ‘drivers’ of ecosystem change – alongside habitat loss, pollution and over-exploitation.

However, voices have been raised to express concern over certain native species that can grow rapidly producing large amount of biomass (or indeed necromass – think bracken dying down in late autumn) and how they may be impacting on our flora, particularly plants of the woodland herb or field layer.  Read more...

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