The term Bushcraft is a recently adopted and more socially acceptable name for the practice of survival techniques and primitive living skills. What was once the exclusive preserve of a relatively small group of slightly odd people wearing camouflaged Jackets, wielding Axes, and building bivouacs in the woods, has now become the fastest growing Outdoor Pursuit in the UK.
Much of this increase in popularity has been due to the BBC television programmes featuring Ray Mears. However; It is also apparent that the appeal of Bushcraft is growing in response to a deep seated desire felt by many people to take a step away from the hectic and over complicated world of the 21st century, and to get back in tune with a more civilised pace, the pace of nature. Even if it is only for a short time.
Because Bushcraft is such a diverse activity it would be impossible to learn everything there is to know in one lifetime, but it is this search for the impossible that makes the practice of Bushcraft so rewarding. Many people choose to specialise in mastering a specific discipline, such as Tracking, or Foraging for wild foods. While others, like myself, prefer to develop a broad understanding of as many aspects as possible. For the beginner, taking the first steps towards becoming at home in the wilderness can seem like a daunting prospect, simply because there is so much to take in at once. But for those who persevere the learning curve can be steep, and the sense of satisfaction overwhelming.
Typical Bushcraft activities include learning how to safely use Knives and other tools, how to light fires using friction as well as other methods, identifying edible and useful plants (otherwise known as foraging), building shelters, wilderness cooking , navigation, signalling and even preparing wild game. Other aspects of woodland craft can also be included, such as green wood working, and willow weaving. All of these activities fit in very well with other outdoor pursuits such as Rock Climbing, Canoeing, Archery and Hiking, and for this reason we often combine our courses with providers of these activities.
One of our more popular courses is called the Castaway experience. This is a simulated shipwreck survival scenario, where participants are taken by high speed boat to a remote location, where they will learn how to survive by working together as a team. The experience has been designed to be safe as well as educational, and above all fun. Other courses we have put together include the 24 hour survival adventure, where participants are put into a hypothetical survival situation for a full day and night. For those who require a more relaxing experience of nature, the Wilderness Gourmet course is all about learning how to forage for wild ingredients, and how to cook over a fire.
From and educational perspective Bushcraft can be viewed as a natural progression from the Forest Schools experience. Forest schools started in Denmark where it was noticed that Children who had attended Forest schools classes in their early years, displayed significantly improved social skills, and increased self confidence when they started school. The same principle can be applied to people who do not respond well to a conventional educational environment, particularly kinaesthetic learners who learn by doing. As well as helping to develop self confidence and social interaction, activities such as friction fire-lighting, and the use of knives and other tools help them to develop skills and dexterity. There are also considerable health benefits to be gained from spending time outdoors. Fresh air and exercise are proven methods of improving physical and mental health.
Another valuable benefit of outdoor education is that of improving an individuals ability to assess risk, and to learn how to manage risk effectively. There is a mindset that would encourage us to keep children and young people well away from all potentially hazardous environments or activities, and in the short term this approach makes a certain amount of sense. However; by preventing a young person from gaining experience of the World we are denying them the opportunity to develop their own ability to rationalise danger, and to make decisions for themselves. Something that used to be known as common sense.
Many of the problems young people these days have to contend with are significantly affected by their environment. Issues such as substance abuse, crime and violence are often patterns of behaviour that thrive within an urban environment, and if a young persons experiences of the world are composed solely of their experiences in a synthetic concrete environment then these cycles of behaviour can be hard to break away from. Experiences of the outdoor environment can often be the catalyst for changes in behaviour, and can even influence an individuals opinion of the world in a positive way.