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11 easy wild garlic recipes - blog

11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes

Spring has sprung and with it comes one of the edible plants for the forager, wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Most people who have dabbled in foraging will know wild garlic (or ramsons) as a great plant to start with as it’s simple to recognise and use in cooking. It’s one of our absolute favourite wild foods. Not only because it tastes great but because it’s so versatile. So, it’s a shame that the main recipe you see online again and again is wild garlic pesto. There’s so much more to it than that, as you’ll see. We’ve done the trial and error, so you don’t have to and in this blog we have made a list of our top 11 recipes for you to try at home. And yes, pesto is included below too.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, you should have a look at our video 11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes here, where we go into even more detail on ingredients, quantities and methods. We also put together a spicy Indian banquet bursting with wild garlic flavour. Check it out!

Every part of this plant is edible; leaves, stem, flower and bulb. So with that in mind there’s a bunch of ways we can use the plant. As a general rule, if you’re cooking wild garlic you want to treat it like spinach, don’t over cook it but throw it into a dish near the end so it doesn’t wilt too much and lose it’s flavour and goodness. Now, on with the recipes…

 

Recipe 1: Sandwich, Toastie or Wrap

Let’s start with something simple, if you haven’t got the time to make a whole meal why not incorporate the goodness of wild garlic into something as easy as a cheese sandwich, toastie or wrap. This way you get all of the benefits without any of the faff. Why not use it as a replacement for lettuce or spinach for a fresh garlicky addition. Don’t use too much – it’s pokey stuff!

wild garlic recipe - toastie

Recipe 2: Wild Green Mayonnaise

This is a super easy way to incorporate all your essential greens into your diet by adding them to a spread. Mayonnaise is a favourite, and I can then add it to sandwiches or use it as a healthy dip. Just shred the wild garlic and stir it into your dip of choice. If you want to push the boat out why not add a few more wild greens; garlic mustard, hairy bittercress, chickweed, nettle (blanch the leaves first) and cleavers are all in season now and are just as good for you! 

 

Recipe 3: Wild Spring Salad

This is another easy recipe to incorporate wild garlic into. If you’re a fan of salads and making them interesting and delicious, why not add some shredded wild garlic? I’ve found that all parts of the plant can be used in the salad to add some interesting flavours and textures. The stems have a real crunch to them and make a substitute for beansprouts. You could substitute lettuce with wild garlic leaves, but you might find you want to bulk it out a little with some shop-bought leaves, or later in the season why not use the wild garlic seeds (lightly toasted) to add a sharp pep of garlic to your salads. 

This is another great recipe to experiment with your wild greens, why not add some cleavers, nettle, ground elder or ground ivy. You could also add some fresh edible wildflowers like primrose, gorse or dog violet to give your salad a pop of colour. 

wild garlic recipe - mayonnaise & salad

 

Recipe 4: Wild Garlic Bread

This is a great way to get some wild food into your kids. Most children love garlic bread and this is a classic recipe that is just so moreish it could quickly become your favourite wild garlic recipe. It’s also unbelievably easy; chop up the leaves fine and mix with butter. Next, simply cut some horizontal slices into a bake-at-home baguette and add a dollop of the garlic butter to each gap. Stick it in the oven as per the pack instructions and you’re done. This of course goes great with Italian food.

wild garlic recipe - garlic bread

Recipe 5: Wild Garlic Pesto

This recipe needs the least description or introduction as you’ll find recipes for this all over the web. It’s such a classic and one of the easiest recipe there is. In a nutshell you replace the basil in your standard pesto recipe with wild garlic to make a subtle garlicky pesto that can be used in a range of ways. Mixed into pasta is the most obvious use but you could spread a little onto a cheese toastie, mix it into a rice dish or as a filling in a pastry. We’ve made our own pestos that bit more wild by replacing the pine nuts for chopped hazelnuts.

wild garlic recipe - pesto

 

Recipe 6: Wild Garlic Kimchi

We think this beats pesto hands down any day. This recipe is one of our favourites of the year, so much so that we even have a whole separate video on how to make this. You can check out that video below and also learn about the fantastic health benefits of eating kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean side dish, traditionally of fermented vegetables with ginger and chilli and is incredibly good for gut health. We’ve substituted the radish and cabbage for wild garlic leaves. 

Fermenting is a fantastic way of preserving and extending the season for wild foods into the whole year. Not only this but the process of preserving our foods is something our ancestors would have practised regularly in order to have the food they would’ve needed to survive winter, it’s an essential skill and connects us with our predecessors and their way of life. It’s often the case that we can put little thought into what we eat, but fermenting foods helps us foster a deeper connection with the earth and importantly, our food. I would highly recommend trying this if you want to enjoy wild garlic beyond spring. A jar of this stuff doesn’t last long in our household.

The reason kimchi is so good for us is that it creates live, healthy bacteria which goes into our gut and aids in digestion, boosting the immune system and overall health of the body. The bacteria encourages everything to function as it should. In order to ensure there is no harmful bacteria fermenting in the kimchi it’s important to sterilise your equipment before you start, this can be done in a hot wash in the dishwasher, but you’ll need a more thorough sterilisation of the jar you’ll be fermenting in.

For this dish you will need a generous helping of wild garlic as it will reduce down quite a lot. If you want the full recipe and step-by-step instructions on how to make this fantastic dish check out our video tutorial here.

 

Recipe 7: Pasta Sauce

This is another really easy way to incorporate healthy greens into your diet with minimal prep time. We’ve made a tomato based sauce, but you can incorporate wild garlic into any pasta dish you want, and with any combination of vegetables, there’s a lot of creative freedom with this recipe. We’ve also chosen to make a batch of this sauce and jar it for later use, which means we pre-cooked the vegetables we added, but you can make enough just for one portion of pasta and simply add it all to a pan. Once left in the fridge this sauce should last for a week or so.

We added fried onions, chopped basil and sun dried tomatoes alongside the garlic to a base of chopped tomatoes, stirred all together and jarred. Alternatively, you could make a pea pesto and stir in your garlic leaves, broccoli, peas and fennel for a vibrant green sauce, or mushroom and garlic leaves with a splash of cream for a warming mushroom sauce. Bear in mind that any dairy products used will mean the sauce won’t keep as long. 

If you pre-make your sauce and add it to the pasta once it has cooked, stir it in for only a couple of minutes, if the wild garlic leaves are cooked for too long they will lose all their structure and goodness. Similarly, if you’re cooking a sauce from scratch, add the garlic leaves last thing so they’ve just wilted.

Recipe 8: Baked Hummus

Just like regular shop bought hummus, this dip goes really well on toast or with some vegetable sticks, but this recipe adds the beautiful taste of wild garlic too. We bake this hummus to soften the sharpness of the raw wild garlic but if you don’t mind strong garlic flavours with your hummus why not give it a go without cooking it. Again, this recipe is very simple, just add some shredded wild garlic leaves into your favourite hummus recipe and bake. 

Baking it also gives the top layer a really lovely crust that adds some lovely texture. As well as adding wild garlic we’ve made this really unique by drizzling a little oil and adding some hazelnuts before baking to really make a showstopper of a dip. If you’re extremely organised you might have foraged and stored your own hazelnuts last autumn but if not (which is most of us) the shop bought ones will do instead. 

 

Recipe 9: Wild Garlic & Elf Cup Stuffed Pepper

These stuffed peppers can be eaten as a side but really they take centre stage, they’re visually very vibrant and beautiful. We use couscous as the main filling and as well as wild garlic we take advantage of another seasonal delight; the scarlet elf cap mushroom (Sarcoscypha austriaca). 

We pre-cooked the couscous and made a batch of the filling so we can make as many stuffed peppers as we want. Just remember when you’re cutting your pepper you want to remove a circle around the stalk and scrape out the seeds without damaging the structure, then simply add your filling and roast in a pan. 

You can switch the filling up as well, why not use rice instead of couscous, or add a little wild garlic pesto and mozzarella for a lovely cheesy filling. 

wild garlic recipe - stuffed pepper & saag aloo

 

Recipe 10: Wild Saag Aloo

This is one of our favourite additions to the Indian feast we prepared, its delicious and the wild garlic really enhances the flavour of all the spices. We swap out the spinach you would typically put in this dish for the wild garlic, so you do need quite a lot as it will reduce as it cooks. Equally this would work very well using nettle instead of spinach. You can get the full recipe and method by watching the video.

As a side dish this goes really well with our other Indian themed recipes; the chicken tikka parcels, stuffed peppers and pakoras. If you want this as more of a main attraction why not have this on some naan bread with mango chutney. Let us know how you get on with this dish.

 

Recipe 11: Chicken Tikka Parcels

This one is a little different, using the wild garlic in a new way. This is a really interesting way to incorporate wild garlic into a meal; wrap garlic leaves around strips of chicken to make a parcel that can be fried in a pan, cooked on a bbq or roasted directly on hot coals over an open fire.

Marinade diced chicken in tikka paste with a little oil. Next pick the largest wild garlic leaves you can find wrap several layers around a few chunks of chicken. The wrapped leaves can be pinned into place with cocktail sticks but if you want to be authentically wild you can whittle a pointed end onto foraged sticks as a makeshift skewer. Once cooked, any burnt outer leaves can be peeled away, leaving a succulent garlicky parcel which surrounds the juicy chicken. If you prefer you can substitute chicken breasts for a vegetarian alternative. 

The fantastic thing about this dish is that you can use any combination of spices to make it fit with a range of cuisines, the tikka curry powder we use in this recipe makes it a perfect addition to a foraged Indian feast. You could also try making a herb mix of rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil to make a side for an Italian dish or turmeric, cumin and nutmeg as part of a mezze platter.

For anyone who loves simple, outdoor cooking, using the leaves in this way eliminates the need for a pan or grill. The leaves and skewers used are all biodegradable of course and any waste can go back to the woods. This recipe really feels like a connection to our ancestors and how they would’ve cooked, it’s simple and connects us to our roots, so give it a go.

 

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of foraging has your mouth watering then you can find more inspiration from us with more good wild food stuff including; blogs, videos, outdoor courses and online courses too. If you haven’t checked out our YouTube channel already, be sure to do that here.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips, and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and pre-recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access to loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as the price of a cup of dandelion coffee, just £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

 

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

 

James & Lea 

free winter tree id guide to UK & Ireland

FREE Winter Tree ID Guide

Many of us might well be able to spot an oak in winter by looking for fallen acorns or the familiar leaves, but could you tell me the difference between blackthorn and hawthorn in winter just by looking at the buds? Or do you know which trees give themselves away in winter by their bark? We might be able to identify trees in summer when their leaves are on but winter is a whole different ball game.

For anyone looking to improve their tree identification skills winter provides us with many distinctive signs such as buds, bark, twigs and fallen leaf litter that we can use to recognise our native and common tree species. The clues are all there if you know how to look.

In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of clues to look out for in winter and break down the differences between common trees which often get confused. You can get outdoors and spot these clues for yourself with a free download I’ve created; Winter Trees Guide, which you can get your hands on just below.

free winter tree id guide to download

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enrol in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

Bud Arrangement: The BIG Giveaway

One of the first things you can ask a tree when you are trying to identify it in winter is this; “Are the buds arranged alternately or in opposite pairs?”

This is absolutely key to nailing the species of tree as once you’ve answered that question it allows you to eliminate a whole bunch of species from your enquiry.

The majority of native tree species in Britain have their buds arranged alternately along the branch.

One last thing to remember; it’s important to select a young healthy twig to answer this question because as a branch matures it will often self-select the healthiest of the twigs to grow on and will drop it’s near partner. So, you can be looking at an older branch and thinking that they definitely don’t grow in opposite pairs, but then on closer inspection you might well notice the old scar left over from where it’s opposite equivalent was self-selected to be dropped by the tree in favour of it’s partner.

When you become practised at this you will begin to start noticing the bud arrangement from a distance, as you look at the form of tree. This is when tree identification can become very satisfying and you can really start showing off.

In the Free Winter Tree ID Guide I’ve grouped alternate budding trees separate from opposite budding trees for easy reference.

 

Blackthorn vs. Hawthorn

Let’s take two very common trees which often get confused. Not only are their names similar, but they also are thorny, shrubby trees which populate our hedgerows, often growing side by side.

To help confuse matters both these species have alternate buds and the buds are very small and grow in cluster at the end of the twig. So, we need to look at other clues to help us out.

hawthorn and blackthorn winter tree identification

Above: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) on the left, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on the right. The difference is clear.

The first thing to look for is leaf litter below the tree. As you can see from the picture, the leaves shapes are very different. However, this method is unreliable when you’re looking at a dense hedgerow and the two species are intertwined. How can you tell which tree the leaf has fallen from? Luckily, there are other signs we can go to also.

identifying blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: Blackthorn on the left, Hawthorn on the right. Bark is a feature you can use year round to identify a tree.

Looking at the bark is going to be useful here as, like the leaf litter, they are very different. The bark of blackthorn, as its name suggests, is very dark and seems to soak up the light. It is also generally quite smooth. The bark of hawthorn is much more grey to brown and fissures readily, being much more craggy.

As well as the bark you can look at the thorns, which typically you will see a lot more of on blackthorn than you will compared to hawthorn. The last sign to help us here is the autumn fruits, which can often be found still hanging on in winter.

comparing blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: On the left, Blackthorn can hang on to a few withered & dried sloes in winter. On the right, hawthorns often has smaller, deep red berries on show in winter.

The autumn fruit of blackthorn is the sloe. A good size fruit, around 1.5cm diameter and purple to black in colour. In winter though they are shrivelled and looking much worse for wear, with most of them having fallen already. Hawthorn in comparison holds onto it’s berries better in winter. Look for smaller, dark red berries, with an ovoid shape, growing in sparse clusters. As they dry out they darken in colour.

 

Looking Under The Tree

Have a good kick about in the leaf litter under a tree and you might find another big hint to what species you’re looking at. The old saying goes “the apple never falls far from the tree” and that’s good news for us in this case. I’m talking about fallen fruits and nut cases, many of which can still be found in the depths of winter, if not in the best condition.

winter tree identification: fallen fruits and nuts

Top Left: Crab Apples. Mid Top: Sweet Chestnut. Top Right: Hazelnuts, nibbled by wildlife. Bottom Left: Conkers from Horse Chestnut. Mid Bottom: Beech mast and leaf litter. Bottom Right: A bract from a Lime tree.

Some trees, like the Crab Apple, have a dead giveaway with the fallen, rotting fruits. Look under an established hazelnut and you’ll most likely find empty nut shells, nibbled away by rodents and birds. Then there’s tree like out three native Limes which have special leaves called bracts, which look like nothing else you’ll find on the woodland floor and can only belong to a Lime tree. Beech mast is very reliable under mature trees and you’ll find yourself crunching in underfoot as it carpets the woodland floor. There’s much to be gained by looking down.

Now this only works if there’s something to find and also you should be wary of relying on this too heavily where the tree is crowded with others as  what you’re looking at may have fallen from it’s neighbour.

By the far the most reliable method of winter tree identification is to begin with a branch and study a healthy twig and it’s buds. That way we can be sure we’re investigating the right tree and the knowledge of bud and twig is transferable no matter whether the ground below is humous or concrete.

 

Get Your FREE Winter Tree Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during winter. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have buds, twigs and leaf litter that you might already be familiar with but also there’s other signs here that you’ve probably never noticed before. I’ve laid out similar looking species side by side so that you can easily distinguish between them.

The guide puts the focus firmly on the winter buds but you’ll also see smaller images featuring other clues you can look for in each species such as old fruits, leaf litter, nut cases, bark and catkins. Where I’ve included these they act as dead giveaways to which tree species you’re looking at.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

bushcraft skills course in north wales

My Weekend in the Woods

Have you ever wanted to learn skills that would help you thrive in the wild, from how to read the landscape to lighting a fire with natural materials? My name is Emily Fox and I was asked to write about my experience attending a Bushcraft Skills Weekend with Woodland Classroom.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses that cover everything from tree identification, foraging and outdoor survival skills, but in reality those lines often blur as there is so much cross-over in these subjects, so I was looking forward to a little of everything. In this blog I’ll be taking you along with me as I tell you what I got up to in my weekend in the woods. To check out what other outdoor courses we have coming up click here. 

I’m already a pretty outdoorsy person, I’m really into my climbing and love hiking, especially around Snowdonia and the Lake District.

I spend a lot of time hiking and running around in the woods wherever possible and have even managed a little wild camping, so I’m used to being outdoors. I saw the bushcraft weekend as an opportunity to really step up my skill level and become better at understanding the land around me and how to survive if I found myself short on anything on a wild camp or out in the woods. It was something I’d not really done before so I was excited to see what skills I could learn. Having arrived late on the Friday evening though I didn’t know it would be straight into the deep end!

I was offered the option to sleep out in what looked like the ultimate den of sticks… my answer was, of course, yes. My tent, stayed in the backpack.

natural lean-to survival shelter

Above: My home from home for the weekend. Notice the bed of fresh brush which kept me off the cold floor.

Waking Up In A House Made of Sticks

Waking up on Saturday morning after a full, busy week of fast-paced work and modern living to the sun filtering through the pine trees as I lay on a bed of bracken under the canopy of the lean-to shelter was the most relaxing start to the weekend I’ve ever had. It put me right in the zone. I’d jumped at the chance to come and help at a bushcraft weekend in Wales as it sounded like the perfect getaway, and I was even more excited when I was offered an outdoor shelter to sleep in for the night. My lean-to was made of just sticks, leaves and branches, not a plastic tarp in sight, but despite it having rained the whole day before this natural shelter was bone dry and I slept like a baby the whole night!

After introducing ourselves to the group James, our Head Instructor, took us into the woods and asked us to look at our surroundings and share what we could tell about the landscape around us. I was asked to read the landscape; what did I notice about the age of the trees, did I recognise any plant species, how might the land-use have changed over time and where could water possibly be found? This was all about waking up our inner-ancestor and looking at the land through ancient eyes, those people that relied on the land for their survival. We were then tasked with going and having a look to see what natural materials we could gather that could be useful to us. Spruce resin for fire building, blackberries for eating, flexible willow branches for weaving and spruce needles for natural medicine were all things students brought back.

making survival shelters

Above: Constructing a kennel shelter. The whole thing is held up by just 3 poles. No rope is used.

Sharp Tools & Shelters

The first activity was to whittle a tent peg from greenwood, something that would come in handy later. James showed us safe ways to use a knife, cutting techniques and knife grips to use in making the peg. I was pleased with my finished peg and tucked it into my backpack for tomorrow. Having shown we were safe with the knives we were allowed to keep them on us for the weekend. Next we were onto natural shelter building, similar to the one I’d slept in last night.

The group was split into two and each team was guided through making a different style of lean-to we split into two groups and got to work building different types of lean-to shelters. James showed us how to use bundles of bracken, like thatching, to make a layered waterproof covering to keep the shelters dry. Working in smaller groups let us be super involved in each activity and allowed us to get to know the people we were working with a lot better. Using these materials was time-consuming, compared to putting up a tent, but they were also surprisingly effective and I got a real sense of achievement from creating this structure. It’s an empowering experience and I can see why bushcraft skills can be addictive – the idea of being able to fend for yourself, accessing “secret” knowledge.

whittling skills on a bushcraft course

Above: Other folks on the course very happy with their brand new tent pegs.

Playing with Fire

After lunch at basecamp we went back into the woods to start on fire making. We began by looking at all the components we needed to actually light and sustain a fire. The three essential aspects of a fire are heat, fuel and oxygen. I would need all of these things in abundance to keep my fire healthy. I experimented with lighting fires using modern fire-steel and traditional flint & steel. I was given cotton wall and char-cloth (made my baking natural fabrics) and I soon saw that without any substantial fuel the flame only lasted for a few seconds before dying off.

I learned that by adding an accelerant, either something I could bring with me like vaseline or something gathered from the woods, such as spruce resin. My little fire lasted a lot longer, around thirty seconds instead. We then used this principle to find natural tinder, kindling and accelerants before building our own fires, gradually building our firewood thickness until we got from a small flame to our own roaring campfire that could sustain us through the night if needed.

It really is true that once you have a simple roof over your head and a fire going, you can feel at home anywhere. The cup of tea helped.

 

Identifying Trees in the Dark?!

Just as the sun was setting James ran a night-time tree identification walk. Now this sounds intriguing; how can we possible identify trees in the dark? We took a stroll in the darkening woods to see if we could hone our skills, with James teaching us how to recognise trees based on just the leaf shapes, texture of the bark and shape of the tree against the sky. There were some really interesting conversations about how we each recognised certain trees. For example, someone commented on the fact that the oak tree was easy to identify by its outline because it was often used on pub signs. James encouraged us to closely examine the trees we came across; see what the leaves felt like, how the branches were structured, all whilst encouraging us to draw on what knowledge we already had. I was also encouraged to engage my other senses. I discovered that I could recognise a mature beech with my eyes shut as I could hear the crunch of the thick layer of beech mast beneath my feet – result! James was giving out ‘bushcraft points’ to anyone with correct answers. I earned 5 bushcraft points for remembering that holly leaves further up the tree aren’t spiky because animals don’t graze on them, then lost another two for excessive gloating, oops!

 

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Another comfortable night in my stick home, with the tawny owls hoots for company. James had explained that by crafting a raised bed from, logs brash and bracken layered up that it raised my body off the cold ground and so added a lot of insulation. It’s said that layers below you are much more valuable than a layer on top when sleeping on the earth.

I started Sunday with a nature-awareness exercise, called the Sit Spot. James talked to us about connecting with nature by taking a moment to sit outside and quietly observe what was happening around us, without expectation or agenda. With that we each slunk off into the woods to find a quiet comfortable spot. I sat for 20 minutes to take in everything going on around me before coming back and reporting what we had seen, heard or felt. It was lovely to start the day by connecting deeply with our environment. Tis is a real contrast to the attitude I adopt when hiking where the purpose of being outdoors is to get from one place to another, rather than simply allowing myself and nature to be.

water filtering and billy can cooking

Above: Hanging out billy can above the fire using campcraft skills. Filtering dirty water using natural materials.

Making My Ultimate Woodland Getaway

The majority of today was all about putting together the skills we had learnt so far. The goal was to be able to set up our own shelters, start a fire and make a cup of tea in our camps. I would need to use my knife for cutting, shelter building skills, I’d need a way to hang my billy can over the fire and I’d need plenty of firewood. Lots to be getting on with.

The first activity was to filter water using natural materials we could find in the woods as well as artificial ones to. We would not be drinking the water we filtered aa this should only be done in a real situation, but it was good to see the principles at work. We then worked on making natural cordage using nettles and bramble. This cordage could be used for our shelters or for hanging our billy can. James showed us how to identify the most suitable bits of plant to use and how to dry and braid the strands to make a strong cord which could be used for years.

Since yesterday we all made a natural shelter, today we were given a one-person tarp (called a basha) to rig over our makeshift camps. James introduced me to a couple of knots for getting it all taught. Our group decided to combine the tarp alongside the lean-to I slept out in so we had a covered area for our outdoor fire – very cosy indeed. Our whittled tent pegs and natural cordage came in handy here and we saw how strong this natural fibre really was when put to the test of holding up our shelter.

Next we worked we turned to campcraft skills with the challenge of creating something that could be used to hang our billy can for boiling our brew over the fire. I worked with a couple of others, each of us made a different part of the frame from hazel wood before moving the various components over to our camp. Each group came up with a totally different way of solving the problem which was good to see. My trusty tent peg came in handy to anchor the pot pole. I used my wild cord to make the billy can adjustable so we could lower it down or back up depending on how intense we wanted the boil.

natural cordage and survival shelter

Above: We combined paracord with our bramble cord to tie off our shelter. Matt looking very content in his woodland home.

Making Fire… in Heavy Rain!

It was time for the big finish, practising ancient fire by friction skills. Something I had read about and seen on YouTube but not done myself yet. Now it’s very important that certain components of this traditional fire-starting kit be kept bone dry. We were all set, feeling somewhat confident… and then the heavens opened! We were to make our fires using bow drills and due to the rain coming down we decided to work in teams to increase our chances of success rather than everyone struggling individually in unideal conditions. I get the feeling this is how our ancestors would have pulled together in a real situation… so it’s not cheating.

Once James showed us the technique I was surprised how quickly we achieved smoke and the beginnings of an ember. James tressed how success comes not from powering through to eventual success but using good technique and communication with each other to ensure the best chance of making fire. Unfortunately, for a beginner like me, these were not ideal conditions. The rain was getting heavier and this made it hard for us to create any sparks or for a flame to catch in our tinder nest, but with a little help, we eventually managed to get a roaring fire going and enjoyed a well-earned hot cup of tea from our billy can. Job done! 

fire by friction skills course

Above: Me working with my group on fire-by-friction to get a good ember for our fire.

Home & Dry

At the end of the day, we had practiced the skills to go out into the woods and thrive on what we could find around us in a sustainable and nature-focused way.

There was something very rewarding about managing to make the bow drilling a success despite the elements being against us. We were shouting when we finally got it going it was an amazing feeling and even though we were all pretty tired at the end of the weekend I definitely felt like I had learnt so much. It was more than just learning skills to use outdoors, it was changing the way I thought about nature and being creative with how I solved any problems I might face if I was in the woods without certain tools. I’ve definitely caught the bushcraft bug.

 

Ready For Your Own Adventure?

I can highly recommend this course and I’m looking forward to attending more in the future, especially the Wild Food and Foraging Day. If you’re looking for a quality and fun experience like this then do check out our upcoming courses.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses on bushcraft skills, wild food & foraging, nature connection and tree identification all surrounded by the beautiful National Trust estate woodland of Erddig and Chirk Castle in North-East Wales. Courses are available for adult learners, families and private bookings. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

SEE OUR UPCOMING COURSES HERE

Hope to see you in the woods,

Emily

Emily Fox is our Outdoor Activities Assistant, on placement to Woodland Classroom for 12 months. She hopes one day to run her own outdoor activity business where she can share her passion with others.

free autumn tree guide

FREE Autumn Tree Guide

We all know that tree leaves change colour in autumn, that acorns grow on oak and conkers grow on horse chestnut, but can you tell me what the autumn fruit of the hornbeam looks like? For anyone looking to improve their tree identification skills autumn provides us with many distinctive signs such as fruits, nuts, berries and leaf colour that we can use to recognise our native and common tree species. In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of clues to look out for in autumn and break down the differences between common trees which often get confused. You can get outdoors and spot these clues for yourself with a free download I’ve created; Autumn Trees Guide, which you can get your hands on just below.

autumn tree guide - free download

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enroll in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

3 Common Maple Trees

Maple leaves are quite a distinctive shape, just think of the Canadian flag. But we have several maple species commonly growing in our countryside and when it comes to including formal planting and gardens that numbers goes sky high. We shall steer clear of those for now. Let’s just look at the differences between our 3 most common maple trees which you’re most likely to see on a country walk. We will look at the difference in their leaves in autumn and also their fruits.

comparing autumn maple leaves

Left: Field Maple (Acer campestre), Middle: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Right: Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

So, we have 3 different maples each with their characteristic 5-lobed leaf shape. But they are also clearly quite different, especially as autumn reveals it’s colours. Let’s break that down…

Field Maple (Acer campestre) – our only native maple in the UK. Firstly, the leaves are much smaller than the other two species here and the tree itself is smaller when mature also. The lobes are more rounded than the others. But a key difference to look out for is the leaf colour in autumn, which across the whole tree will be a bright yellow. The best example is the leaf seen in the extreme left. Once they fall, they will turn brown.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – a commonly planted non-native maple. We’ve got a much larger leaf here than the field maple, but also the presence of Tar Spot Fungus – have you noticed those black spots? You don’t get these spots on our other two maples here, so it’s a dead giveaway. There’s something interesting about the autumn leaf colour too, in that there isn’t much to shout about. Typically you won’t see a great display of colour from our sycamores, they generally just turn a dirty/patchy brown. This is in contrast to our other two species here. Take caution though; sometimes we do get yellow leaves across the tree, but this is less common. Natures loves not conforming to simple rules 🙂

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) – next to sycamore this is probably the most commonly planted non-native maple in the UK, particularly in urban areas and roadsides. We have a larger leaf, like sycamore, but the lobes are much more jagged and dramatic in their form. We also can’t ignore the amazing display of colours we get from norway maple, which is a world away from sycamore at this time of year. Just look at those reds, oranges and yellows.

In summer, all these leaves are green, of course. But come the autumn you can clearly see the differences. Let’s not forget the fruits of the maples either, what many people call “helicopters.” These winged seed cases are a favourite of children who love throwing them in the air and watching them spin to the earth. Let’s take a look at the differences between our 3 maples when it comes to these “helicopters.”

comparing maple seeds

Left: Field Maple (Acer campestre), Middle: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Right: Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Inset: Sycamore seeds in autumn

You can see the clear difference in not only the typical size of the winged seeds but also their shape. Field maple seeds typically have their wings at 180 degrees to each other, whereas sycamore wings are generally at a more down-swept 45 degrees. The norway maple wings are larger again. By the way, this picture is of the seeds in summer, when they are not fully mature so be aware that in autumn the mature wings will all be brown in colour, as seen in the inset picture.

I hope that’s cleared up any confusion between these 3 common maples. Now, let’s look at some autumn berries which can be the cause of confusion.

 

Red Berries Everywhere

To someone starting out in tree identification, it can be easy to get confused between tree species which have similar berries, especially when they’re the same colour. Just take a look at these below…

uk native trees in autumn: red berries

Top Left: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Top Right: Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Bottom Left: Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Bottom Right: Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

Here we have four different native trees, each with red berries. So, how can we easily tell between them? Well although this may seem confusing at first glance there are differences to see once we slow down and look closer. Here’s my handy hints for telling these trees apart in autumn:

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – this is the 3rd display of colour we’ve had from this tree over the year. The first being the flush of spring green leaves which fill our hedgerows and roadsides. The second comes in May with the white blossom, smelling of sweet almonds. This third display are the berries themselves, known as haws. They are round to oval in shape, with a matt finish. Inside you’ll find the flesh is a yellow/green colour which surrounds a large stone. You will see less fruits per bunch than you will with the other species here. Also, look out for the thorns on the branch, which these other species don’t have.

Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) – a common shrub of hedgerows. Firstly these striking red berries grow in umbels (a cluster of stalks), unlike the hawthorn. Also, these berries are really glossy. They have a real shine to them. The flesh inside is red, with the whole berry being much less firm than the others here. Lastly, their shape is important, which is more difficult to see from the above picture, but they are partially flattened, as if their round shape has been squashed.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) – you may know this tree as the mountain ash. These berries grow from an umbel, with many berries per cluster. The seed inside is much smaller than that of hawthorn. The month you’re seeing these berries is also important too because they can appear on the tree as early as July and can persist after the leaves have fallen in autumn. So, they have a long season on the branch. Beware that there are many cultivars of rowan which are planted in urban spaces. You can even get orange or yellow berry varieties. But in the countryside, you’re unlikely to see these.

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) – These are the largest berry of the four seen here. A feature which is difficult t pick up from this image is that the berries are peppered with white/grey spots called lenticels. Notice the latin family name ‘Sorbus’, this species is related to our rowan. So, it’s no surprise there are some similarities in how the berries look. Like the rowan, there are several cultivars of whitebeam which you might well see in urban areas and gardens, so we’re just talking about the wild native here.

 

We’re missing a key piece of the puzzle here though, the leaves. We need to widen our view of these trees because if we just look at the berries we’re not using all of the information available to us. Take a look at the images below and you’ll see that we have four very different leaf shapes with their respective autumn colours.

autumn leaf collage

Top Left: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Top Right: Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Bottom Left: Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Bottom Right: Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

So, as we can now see, with the full picture things become a little easier. This is one of the big things I ask my students to practise when they’re out identifying trees. I ask them to “Tune In” so they look at the bigger picture before concentrating on the details. Clues like leaf shape, bark, or even the place where the tree is growing can tell us a lot about what we’re looking at.

 

Get Your FREE Autumn Tree Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during autumn. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have fruits, berries or nuts that you might already be familiar with but also there’s other signs here that you’ve probably never noticed before. I’ve laid out similar looking berries side by side so that you can easily distinguish between them.

You’ll also see smaller images featuring typical autumn leaf colour for each species. Notice which ones turn a distinct colour and also which ones, like alder and sycamore, don’t tend to have a display of colour at all. This too can be a useful identifying feature, once you get your eye in.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

bushcraft and mindfulness tools

Mindfulness & Bushcraft: Perfect Partners

Want to be healthier and happier? I’d say you need more wildness in your life!

by Lea Kendall (Counsellor, Mindfulness in the Woods Practitioner and Outdoor Activity Leader)

We, as a species, need to rewild ourselves. Practising bushcraft and taking time out for ourselves in nature can be our vehicle to honouring our ancient, wild selves. It’s an approach that we teach during our Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft Weekend which is one of our favourite events of the year. You may have seen plenty of stories doing the rounds about landowners who are letting wildlife do its thing as farms, forestry plantations and gardens are allowed to go back to nature. Whether it’s called rewilding, natural regeneration or non-intervention, the aim is usually the same; to benefit wildlife by increasing biodiversity. The results in many of these projects have seen a huge increase in the variety of animal and plant life, as well as the joy and happiness that comes to those who get to watch wildlife thriving around them. Species of insects and wildflowers have exploded and following them, all the birds and mammals that come with them. All because humans have withdrawn their input. Let’s take a step back and understand just what rewilding is…

“Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.” Rewidling Europe

So, can we also apply this approach to how we live our own lives? Absolutely!

Rewilding Your Soul

The health benefits of being outdoors is one topic I find fascinating. As well as being the co-owner of an Outdoor Education & Bushcraft company, I also work in mental health as a counsellor. In my work I have always been interested in the idea of our inner hunter-gatherer. Studies have shown that our brains are still wired up to a live in the world of our ancestors where our priorities were to hunt and gather for food, build shelter, connect with our families and communities and use plants to heal ourselves. Occasionally we’d experience the stress response to run away from danger or fight to protect ourselves from harm. In the world of the hunter-gatherer these stressful instances would have normally been short lived and with the immediate danger passed we’d soon return to the safety of our tribe, an ongoing cycle of relaxation to stress to relaxation, completed and no harm done. Fast forward to today however, and our modern, fast-paced lifestyles mean we spend much of our lives in this stress state. Cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) is racing through our systems steadily and rarely do we get much of a break from this to reconnect with our tribe and loved ones and complete the cycle, allowing the brain to get it’s much needed rest.

Society has changed in the blink of an evolutionary eye, and our brain wiring is nowhere near caught up yet. It’s still happier picking berries, whittling spoons and bonding with each other whilst sat round the campfire under the canopy of the trees and stars.

Research by Mark Berman at the University of Chicago says that if you add 10 trees to any given urban block, residents report a 1% increase in wellness, if you wanted to give the same effect using money for increasing happiness you’d have to pay each household $10,000 or make the residents 7 years younger. Trees, nature, wildness, they all increase our happiness and well-being. So, why don’t we choose to spend more time immersed in nature if it’s so good for us?

I believe that positive mental and physical health can be achieved through the art of bushcraft and being mindful in nature. Here we are doing two very simple things; we are honouring our inner hunter-gatherer and living in the present moment. We are also surrounding ourselves amongst trees in a beautiful forest. Those trees have been scientifically proven to have their own natural healing powers, but that’s a story for another time.

bushcraft and mindfulness in north wales

Bushcraft – Just What the Doctor Ordered

So, how do we start to rewild our spirit? We need to make time to nurture our emotional, cognitive and social selves.

Our good friend Nick Hulley at in2thewildwood is a fellow Bushcraft Instructor based in Staffordshire and a previous tutor on our Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales. He brings mindfulness into the very core of his life. Let’s let Nick explain in his own words…

“After my ‘safety-rounds’ along the rides, the trails and the woodland fringes; I ease into the fire circle glade. I lower my rucksack, remove the kindling from home along with the tinder, heft my axe into a couple of logs, light the fire and boil the kettle – wood smoke, tea, crackling billets, fresh cut logs, the fire light flicker, the outer focus stillness and yet the inner calmness continues to enrich my wellbeing. I ground myself, cross-legged and centred. The following fifteen minutes of the breath, the inner sight, the acknowledgement and the continued return to the breath sets me up for the day: this marriage works, forest environments, Bushcraft and Mindfulness: even if it is just a short centre and pause whilst doing.”

When hosting a woodland skills session, mindfulness informs how he moves about the woods, how he uses all his senses to feel the forest, how the trees nourish him, how he pauses and calmly absorbs all about him: likewise for his learners on the courses he delivers for them. Nick continues…

“It is wonderful to now be aware that for all these years, working as I do in a forest setting, that research has been going on with the intent to establish positive links between woodlands & improved health. Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing in Japan) and its beneficial outcomes is one of the many researched avenues involving forested settings; which provide a life enhancing backdrop to the union of Bushcraft activities and primitive skills learning complimented by Mindfulness, with its slowed, peaceful and thoughtful considerations of the natural world and our impact on it.”

Rewilding Your Body

Many of us already know how to rewild our back gardens, letting nature take over or by planting native plants and bee-friendly flowers. But we can also increase the ‘wildness’ of our gut by eating healthy, fermented and ‘dirty’ wild food.

fermented wild greens kimchiI’ve recently discovered the process of fermenting wild greens. This is an ancient technique to preserve foods and to increase the nutritional value which greatly benefits the overall health of the body. This further led me to develop my understanding of how the gut plays a major role in our mental health too. It was fascinating to discover that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, it’s like the body’s second brain. Eating fermented food is incredibly good for us and up until very recently in western history we have been preserving food in this way.

The average body contains around 39 trillion microbes & bacteria in the intestines. Our lack of exposure to dirt and animals along with the cleaning and disinfecting of our crops and environment with chemicals, has reduced the biodiversity in our guts, and like the health of the earth, our own overall health has declined as a result. We are our own ecosystems, and some scientists are suggesting we even need to rewild our intestines with bacteria from indigenous people – its sounds crazy but it’s already happening. Want to know more about this subject? Check out Mary Beth Nawor’s Ted Talk.

We can also take positive action when out in nature by getting into the right mindset. I’ve put together a bunch of simple nature-based exercises that you can try for yourself to rewild your body and soul. Take a look at my video which demonstrates 9 techniques you can use.

Immerse Yourself in Nature

So, what have we learned? Practising bushcraft doesn’t have to mean taking on extreme survival skills, pushing yourself to the edge of your endurance or eating up a dish of witchetty grubs, ala Bear Grylls. For me, bushcraft skills are about slowing down, tuning into nature, connecting with our ancient past and being present in our natural environment. Through bushcraft skills such as tracking, carving, nature awareness and plant identification we can become extremely mindful and train our brain to leave the fast-paced, modern world behind even if just for a few hours. bushcraft and mindfulness are the perfect partners to leading a healthier, happier lifestyle, enriched by nature, sharing time with like minds and learning some very old, new skills.

adults learn fire lighting skills in north walesWoodland Classroom are hosting a whole weekend of Woodland Wellbeing & Bushcraft at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales this summer. You can give some time to your inner hunter-gatherer for a weekend of mindfulness in the woods accompanied by a range of bushcraft activities aimed at focusing the mind and increasing awareness & appreciation of the natural world.  If you’d like to know more about this event, just follow THIS LINK.

“In wildness is the salvation of the world” Henry David Thorough

spring tree flowers guide

FREE Spring Tree Flower Guide

Ask someone “what grows on oak trees” and most people will say “acorns” but have you ever noticed the beautiful pink flowers growing on oak? There’s a hidden world of wonderful tree flowers that many of us walk right by without giving them a glance. In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of the best tree flowers to look out for in spring. You can find them yourself with a free download I’ve created Spring Trees: Flower Guide UK, which you can get your hands on just below.

spring tree flower guide - free download

Get a FREE Spring Trees Flower Guide. Print it out or download it to your phone.

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enroll in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

Which Trees Have Flowers?

The simple answer to this is that all our native and common broadleaf trees have flowers. When you get to conifers (evergreens) things get a little more tricky so let’s set those aside for now.

Most of our trees show their flowers in spring but some, like the elder, wait until early summer. Knowing what order the flowers emerge in spring can be a good skill to help you identify which tree species you’re looking at. Male flowers will become laden with yellow pollen whilst the (usually) more colourful female flowers will eventually mature into the seed, fruit, nut or berry.

The majority of our trees have both their male and female flowers on the same branch, sometimes right next to each other, but others have separate male and female trees, relying on their being a member of the opposite sex in the near vicinity for pollination to occur. I wrote a whole article about which trees are male and female, if you want to know more just follow this link.

Trees like willow and poplar don’t have flowers as we usually know them, with petals, but rather they have catkins, which fill the early spring canopy with whites and yellows. As spring comes to a close the female catkins have gone to seed and you can have sunny May days with masses of fluffy willow and poplar seeds gently floating through the breeze. If you want to find out more about catkins, I’ve written a whole article about them. You can check that out here.

 

3 Tiny, But Beautiful Tree Flowers To Look Out For

3 amazing but tiny tree flowers

3 Beautiful Native Tree Flowers To Hunt Down; English Oak (Quercus robur), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Alder (Alnus glutinosa).

They may be small but that doesn’t mean these tree flowers don’t pack a visual punch when you do spot them. Earlier in the season (late winter) we have the tiny flowers of the hazel (Corylus avellana) looking like red tentacled sea-anemones. They are one of the first signs that spring is on its way.

But there’s three more crimson beauties I want to draw your attention to. First we have the female flowers of our native oaks. The green male catkins are also found growing on the same branch. You will find these tiny pink flowers appearing with the young leaves in late April to early May. Look out for them as they won’t be there for long.

Hornbeam, often mistaken for beech (Fagus sylvatica), is another native which produces two very different male and female flowers, the males being catkins. The females resemble the flowers of hazel, with pink tendrils spread out to catch pollen. You will find these on the tree in April.

Lastly, the alder, a tree which favours wet ground and riverbanks. It has not only vividly purple buds and male catkins, but in early spring you might well spot the young female flowers before they turn green and begin their journey to maturing into cones. When young they resemble bright pink cotton buds, a real splash of colour in February and March. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

Know Your Tree Flowers

To someone starting out in tree identification, it can be easy to get confused between tree species which have similar flowers, especially when they’re the same colour. Just take a look at these below…

how to identify spring tree flowers

Top Left: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Top Right: Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris), Bottom Left: Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), Bottom Right: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Here we have four different native trees, each with white flowers, with 5 petals each. So how can we easily tell between them? Well although this may seem confusing at first glance and each of these species could be found growing next door to one another, what we don’t have here is context. What I mean here is specifically the time of year we would find these flowers. The other thing we need to consider is other identifying signs away from the flowers themselves. Here’s my handy hints for telling these trees apart in spring:

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – this is the first tree to come into flower en masse in our hedgerows. We see this in March when everything else still has closed buds.  Also, look out for the wicked thorns on the twig and trunk.

Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) – this is the largest of the four flowers shown here. Notice how the petals are really opened out. They resemble an apple core when it’s sliced crossways, looking like a 5 pointed star. These flowers are typically out in May. Also, you will probably find rotten apples on the ground below the tree, so look out for those.

Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) – these flowers can closely resemble the hawthorn, however the flowers of wild cherry emerge before the leaves in April whereas with hawthorn the flowers come out after the leaves. Also, you will not find any thorns on a wild cherry.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – one of the key features for these flowers is their smell. The have a sickly-sweet (though I think it’s pleasant) aroma of almond or marzipan. You will find these flower in late-April to May. An old country name for this tree is the maythorn because it traditionally flowers at this time of the year. Remember, the tree has thorns, so look for those too.

 

Get Your FREE Spring Tree Flower Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during spring. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have flowers that you might already be familiar with and flowers that you’ve probably never noticed before. The trees are laid out in the order which they come into flower so you know not only what to look for but when to look for it.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

trees versus shrubs what's the difference

Is It A Tree Or A Shrub?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a tree and a shrub? The answer does not always seem clear. Is an ancient oak, growing small and stunted on a mountainside classed as a shrub or a tree? In this article you’re going to learn the difference between trees and shrubs. It’s a question that many of the students on my FREE Tree Identification Course have asked me, so I thought I’d tackle it here.

When we think of a tree, usually the image of a majestic oak comes to mind. Standing tall, proud and ancient with a wide crown of leaves. But a low-growing mountain-side juniper with it’s spreading habit is just as much a tree as the mighty oak. Let’s find out why…

are these trees or shrubs?

Left: a stunted hawthorn growing on a mountainside. Right: Juniper, low-growing & spreading. Are they both trees?

 

WHAT MAKES IT A TREE?

Firstly, what differentiates trees from other plants? Well, a tree puts on woody growth which is permanent, where as with annual or perennial plants the shoots or whole plant dies back each year. Many of our wildflowers have to start from scratch, reproducing from seed each Spring. Whereas our trees will sit out the winter waiting for the warm weather to return.

It is the cambium layer, which lies under the bark of a tree which produces new permanent cells. As well as performing a bunch of important jobs for the tree these cells also form the woody trunk and structure of the tree. With all trees the thickness of their stems increases year on year (when healthy) which means that the diameter of the trunk and branches gradually increases. It is this annual growth which gives a tree its rings by which we can count its age.

 

WHAT IS A SHRUB?

The word “shrub” isn’t a botanical classification, but rather catch-all term for a plant which has more than one main stem, is generally less than 5 metres tall, and grows with a spreading habit.

So, the term “shrub” can refer just as much to a perennial garden bush like a hydrangea as it can to a woodland tree such as a hazel.

One of the most common examples of trees in shrub form is the hedgerow. Here hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly and others are clipped back annually to form the dense, linear hedges we’re so familiar with. Hidden amongst all this there can often be species which we think of as trees such as oak, ash and sycamore, which too have been clipped back. So, does this make them shrubs or trees? I’ll let you ponder that one.

common native shrubs of the UK

3 Common Trees in Shrub Form; hazel as a coppice stool with 1 year regrowth, blackthorn with it’s early spring white blossom and elder with it’s summer flowers.

Here’s a great quote from the Reader’s Digest Field Guide to Tree & Shrubs of Britain which sums it all up;

“The difference between trees and shrubs is simple. Trees have a single woody stem, from which branches grow to form a crown. The branches of shrubs arise at ground level, forming a crown without a stem.”

But what’s truly going on here? To understand this we need to look deeper at the natural and human forces affecting whether a woody plant grows as a tree or shrub.

 

HOW SHRUBS THRIVE IN THE WOODS

In the woodland, the smaller trees which live happily in the shadow of their taller brothers (the oaks and ash of the forest) occupy the understorey. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘shrub layer’ of the woodland. These trees typically won’t grow taller than 5 metres, having found their niche in the habitat here.

Think of a woodland understorey made up of holly. Being an evergreen it sits very happily in the shade of taller trees through the summer. This is because once the leaves of oak and beech have fallen the holly can photosynthesise to its hearts content and take advantage of all that available light.

Meanwhile many shrubby trees come into flower or leaf earlier than the trees species in the high canopy. Blackthorn puts out its blossom before any other tree, ensuring that the pollinating insects give it their full attention before there’s too much competition. Meanwhile, the tiny red flowers of hazel can appear as early as December. The elder is our first native tree to come into leaf, as early as January, catching that winter sun. It’s amazing how our woods have evolved so that everyone gets their moment in the sun. There’s a beautiful interconnected poetry to it.

WHEN A SHRUB BECOMES A TREE & VICE-VERSA

So, can a shrub become a tree? Well, usually if a tree has been continually cut back then the result is a whole lot of stems. These will continue to grow in this shrubby form, though there will be some stems which die back naturally as the healthiest ones grow on, but it will always be a shrub.

In a woodland setting a hawthorn will often be in shrub form as part of the understorey. However, out in a field, where it has seeded with sufficient light and space it can grow with just one or two main stems and be very much a tree.

There are only a couple of ways a shrub can become a tree. First, when it is either deliberately pruned by us to take back its tree form, though it will always want to put out new shoots from the stool. The other route to true tree-dom is if you have a tall tree species such as oak, sycamore or beech which have been cut back in the past but then neglected for many years. These will usually form into trees, however they often still have more than one main stem. We see this in neglected coppice woodland and in over-stood hedgerows.

On the flip side through traditional woodland management like coppicing, some tree species are encouraged to grow multiple stems growing from their base (known as the stool). The regrowth of rods put out by the tree can then be harvested on an ongoing cycle. These can be made into coppice products such as charcoal, wooden furniture, firewood and turnery.

Even normally tall-growing trees like oak, ash and sweet chestnut respond well to coppicing. They can be encouraged into this shrub-like form so their multiple stems can be harvested on a 15-30 year cycle.

coppice trees and shrubs

Trees can be coppiced to produce multiple stems. Left: hazel, a common coppice tree. Right: despite having multiple stems the height & girth of this large coppiced tree is way past the point being a shrub.

SHRUBS: A DEFINITIVE LIST

Here’s a list of our common native trees that can often be seen growing in shrub form, many of which are found in hedgerows and waysides across the UK;

hazel, elder, juniper, sea buckthorn, crab apple, hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, alder buckthorn, box, dogwood, guelder-rose, field maple, spindle, holly, rowan, wayfaring tree, wild privet and any of the willows.

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download to your device and take outdoors with you.

 

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

GET TO KNOW YOUR TREES

I’ve also created some videos on how to recognise one of our most common shrubby trees, the hazel. You can follow me in either winter or summer and learn the key features you should be looking out for so that you can recognise this species whatever the time of year. Check out the videos below.

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

which trees have catkins

Which Trees Have Catkins?

When out and about wandering the wilds have you noticed catkins on the trees? Depending on what time of year you’re looking they can be small and closed up or they could be large, mature, pendulous flowers, dangling like lambs tails in the breeze. They can be a very useful sign to help us identify what species of tree we are looking at.

In this blog I’ll explain what catkins are, when you can see them on different tree species and which trees have catkins. If you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enroll in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

You can also get your hands on a free download; Spring Trees Catkin Guide which you can find below.

 

What Are Catkins?

Catkins are made up of a hanging spike of tiny flowers, which begin their lives all closed up but will mature and open as spring approaches. Catkins release pollen which is reliant on the wind to blow it over to a waiting flower. As a general rule, the catkins open up and mature before the leaves appear on the tree. The reason for this is so that the leaves don’t get in the way of the pollen travelling on the wind, so the chances of pollination are increased – nature’s pretty clever like that. Typically there are a lot more of the male catkins on the tree than the female flowers, again giving the tree the best chance at reproduction.

In the majority of tree species, catkins are usually male, but this is not always the case. With willow trees there are separate male and female catkins which only grow on separate trees. So they are reliant on there being the opposite sex tree within reach of the wind.

goat willow - male & female

Goat Willow (Salix caprea) has striking catkins in early Spring. The males (left) and the females (right) appear on separate trees.

When Do Catkins Appear?

On some native trees the new catkins can appear as early as the autumn, when they will be short, closed up and firm to the touch. These will hang around on the branch through winter as they slowly swell and mature. If you’re seeing these young catkins on a tree in winter then it’s most likely one of the following; alder (Alnus glutinosa), birch (Betula spp.) or hazel (Corylus avellana), these are the most common.

alder and birch catkins

Alder (Alnus glutinosa) on the left and birch (Betula spp.) on the right. Young catkins appearing in autumn.

In late winter the hazel tree’s catkins undergo a transformation as they swell in size, open up and release their pollen to the striking but tiny scarlet flowers. They are a beautiful but often overlooked splash of colour at this time of year, if you can find them. The catkins themselves are notable in late winter because they are maturing well ahead of any other native tree. Give the mature catkins a little tap and you might  well be rewarded with a cloud of pollen puffing from the flowers.

hazel catkins and flowers

Hazel (Corylus avellana) is the first native tree to give us a striking splash of colour in late winter, even if it is tiny. A country nickname for the catkins is “lambs tails”

In early spring it’s the turn of the willows and poplars to open up their catkins and this makes these species much easier to recognise than at any other time of the year. As we get to late spring, the female willow flowers have been pollinated and we get those distinctive white fluffy catkins of seeds which float on the wind and litter the pavement and curb-side, the bane of street-sweepers everywhere. I think they look quite nice though.

mature willow catkins in late spring

The fluffy pollinated seeds of the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) these are the mature female catkins. Seeds then spread by wind-dispersal.

Here’s a list of all our native tree species which have catkins, at one time of the year or another:

Alder, Aspen, Black Poplar, Birch, English Oak, Grey Poplar, Hazel, Hornbeam, Sessile Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Willows and White Poplar

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

free spring tree catkin guide

FREE Spring Trees Catkins Guide

I’ve created a quick reference pictures guide to 9 of our native and common trees which produce catkins from late winter to early summer. I’ve arranged them in order of when their catkins appear too so you know not only what to look for but when to look for it. I hope you find it useful.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

top 3 easy ways to identify trees

3 TOP TRICKS TO IDENTIFY ANY TREE

Ever get frustrated that you don’t know what tree it is you’re looking at? Don’t sweat it, I’m going to share with you my top 3 techniques for identifying any tree out in the countryside.

I call these techniques, my 3 Key Principles of Tree Identification. Have a look at the video below and I’ll explain what they are and how you can use them yourself.


When practising tree identification (and this goes for wildflowers too) I like to play a game of elimination, whittling down what the tree isn’t to help me work out what it is. Using these techniques helps me do that. So, let’s elaborate some more on these 3 Key Principles…

 

TECHNIQUE 1:   TUNE IN

Think about your surroundings. Ask yourself, “where am I?” Are you in farmland, a town park, an old country estate or a retail centre car park?

This is important because the setting of where you’re looking at a tree can tell you a lot about which species you might expect or not expect to see.

For instance, if we’re out in farmland or a natural woodland then it’s most likely we shall see a range of our common native tree species; oak, hawthorn, ash, willow and so on. The trees that make up the majority of our countryside.

countryside

However, if we’re somewhere like a National Trust property, an old country estate, the likelihood of exotic tree species having been planted here becomes much greater. You could be seeing rhododendron, eucalyptus or even giant sequoia.

The same goes for looking at trees in somebody’s garden – they could have planted anything! There are hundreds of Acers (from the maple family) and a whole host of ornamental birches for a start, many of which are common place in gardens up and down the country.

This principle also applies to the wider environment. For instance you’re going to see a different variety of species down in Devon than you will up in the Highlands of Scotland. Certain tree species prefer certain soil types, or micro-climates, and some species will tolerate more extreme conditions, such as a mountain-side, more than others will.

So, a good habit to get into when you start practising tree identification, is when you arrive at a location to start tree hunting, take a moment to stop and ask yourself:

“Where am I?”

“What is the history of this environment?”

“Which species do I expect to see here?”

The more you practise tree identification, the more experience you will build up and the better you’ll be able to predict the range of species you could see when visiting a new place.

 

TECHNIQUE 2:  BEGIN WITH THE BRANCH

Study a young, healthy branch first.

With most tree species, you can find everything you need to know to identify it in any season simply by looking at a healthy, young branch from the tree.

Depending on the season, a young healthy twig is going to include one or more of the following distinctive features:

Buds, leaves, flowers, fruit, nuts and of course the young bark itself.

Think of a young healthy branch as the tree in microcosm. Often, everything you need to know is right here.

tree identification in winter

Everything you need to know to identify the tree can usually be found at the tip of a branch.

One word of warning, make sure that the branch you’re looking at is actually attached to the trunk of the tree you’re investigating. When you’re in a woodland or looking at a hedgerow branches tend to cross over from other trees in their race to reach sunlight and it can be easy to grab hold of a branch from the neighbouring tree.

This may sound obvious but I’ve seen it plenty of times on courses and even done it myself and it can cause a lot of confusion.

So, once you’ve selected your branch to study. Just take a moment to follow it back with your eye and check it’s attached to the right tree.

 

TECHNIQUE 3: IS IT ALTERNATE OR OPPOSITE?

Study the bud or leaf arrangement.

Depending on the time of year, the twig is either going to include buds or leaves. These features are going to be laid out in one of two forms:

1.   Alternately along the branch.

2.   Growing in opposite pairs.

This is absolutely key to nailing the species of tree as once you’ve answered that question it allows you to eliminate a whole bunch of species from your enquiry.

So I like to ask the tree this question when I first approach it. “Are your buds arranged alternately or in opposite pairs?”

The majority of native tree species in Britain have their buds or leaves arranged alternately along the branch.

One last thing to remember; it’s important to select a young healthy twig to answer this question because as a branch matures it will often self-select the healthiest of the twigs to grow on and will drop it’s near partner. So, you can be looking at an older branch and thinking that they definitely don’t grow in opposite pairs, but then on closer inspection you might well notice the old scar left over from where it’s opposite equivalent was self-selected to be dropped by the tree in favour of it’s partner.

When you become practised at this you will begin to start noticing the bud arrangement from a distance, as you look at the form of tree. This is when tree identification can become very satisfying and you can really start showing off.

 

IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion, keep these three principles in mind when you’re out and about looking at trees. They will give you a solid grounding from which to build your skills up from.

If you found this interesting and want to know more, you can start building your tree ID skills right now by signing up to my FREE introductory course Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

how to identify trees in autumn

Identify Autumn Trees Like a Pro

Autumn is a beautiful time to be out in the woods, with all the fantastic colours our trees give us. But many people struggle to really know what they’re looking at. Can you tell your beech from your birch, or your alder from your elder? I’ve been on a mission over the past few years to build my tree ID skills and I’ve brought all that experience together in an online training course, which will take you from clueless to confident in your own tree knowledge. In this blog I want to share with you some of my top tips for really getting to know your trees in autumn.

Autumn is a season where many of the leaves we could be familiar with are changing, so we need to look closely at what’s going on and also start relying on some other features to make a positive ID.

I’ve made a video showing you how to recognise our native field maple (Acer campestre) in the season of autumn. Its a tree that many folks get confused with sycamore or the many other non-native maples which can be found across the UK.

If you liked this video and would like more good stuff then you can sign up to my new online training programme, The Complete Tree ID Course. It’s totally FREE to enroll on the introductory course Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills

ENROLL ON THE COURSE NOW

When you join the free course you will also get tree ID videos for ash and hazel in autumn.

tree id cheat sheets: ash in autumn

Join the online course and get seasonal Tree ID Cheat Sheets for many British tree species. Download them to your mobile device or print them off.

So, let’s talk about a few things to look out for at this time of year with my top tips for identifying trees in autumn…

 

Look for consistent colour when the leaves change.

Although many trees show a range of golds, yellows and reds at this time of year, some tree species give an even display of a dominant colour in autumn. Once you’re familiar with that, it can be recognised from a distance before you even get anywhere near the tree. In the video on field maple here you will have seen how that tree produces an even display of bright yellow across all the leaves. This is in contrast to sycamore which typically doesn’t give a show like this.

hornbeam in autumn

Let’s play ‘Spot the Hornbeam.’ The tree gives a reliably even display of yellow at this time of year.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is another native tree which gives an even display of yellow across the whole tree. This can be really useful when differentiating it from beech (Fagus sylvatica), which is a tree is shares a lot of similarities with. Lucky for us, beech leaves don’t turn a bright yellow anywhere as evenly. Look out for consistently yellow leaves on Birch trees also.

Red is a colour associated with leaves in autumn but in reality there are very few native tree species out in our countryside that give us a good show of red. So if you’re seeing this colour strongly across a tree or shrub it can only be one of a few species; Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) and Spindle (Euonymus europaeus).

guelder rose in autumn

There are few native trees in the UK which give a show of red, Guelder-rose is one of them.

Look at WHEN Leaves Fall

Certain tree species drop their leaves much earlier than others. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a great example of this. Strangely, it’s also one of the last trees to come into leaf in late Spring, so they don’t hang about long. Once you look, you might notice ash looking pretty bare as early as late September. So, if we take that feature and use it when we’re looking at a bunch of trees from a distance in autumn, if you’re seeing a tree with bare branches when others around it are still well leaved then you could well be looking at an ash.

ash tree in autumn

The ash tree here clearly stands out from the crowd as most of its leaves have already fallen.

Also, it’s worth knowing that young beech and oak (Quercus spp.) trees often hold onto their brown leaves right through winter. So at the back end of autumn, if a broadleaf tree still has its leaves, it’s probably one of those two.

 

Know Your Fruits, Nuts , Seeds & Berries

Autumn is, of course, the time for an abundance of fruit and nuts in our hedgerows. For many of our natives this can be the season where they really shine and become visible to us, standing out from the crowd. A great show of berries or fruit can take centre stage, such as with the crab apple (Malus sylvestris) with it’s branches heavy with small, green/yellow apples.

When it comes to the hazel (Corylus avellana) you might think that the familiar hazelnut would be the thing to look out for in autumn, however these nuts can be pretty unreliable and by mid-autumn they’ve usually already all been snaffled by the squirrels, birds and mice. The good news is that there is another key feature you can look for on the hazel at this time of year which is much more reliable. But rather than tell you here, I’ll show you….

I’ve made a video all about Identifying Hazel in Autumn as part of the free course Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills, so if you want to check that out just follow the links in this blog. You’ll also see my top hazelnut foraging tips in that video too.

If you found this interesting and want to know more, you can learn my 3 Key Principles of Tree ID which you can apply to any tree, and lots more top tips and techniques by signing up to my FREE introductory course Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

Happy tree hunting folks.

 

The Complete Tree ID Course

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