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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

are trees male and female?

Are Trees Male & Female?

We all know how it works with animals, but can trees be either male or female? Or do they have their male and female reproductive parts on the same tree? In this article I’ll break down for you the answer to the question whether trees can be male or female and also give you some common examples you can see for yourself, out in the countryside.

The short answer to the question is… sometimes.

It’s a question I had to ask myself when doing research for creating my FREE Tree Identification Online Course. Having scoured the books and spent extensive time in the field looking at the evidence, I’ve discovered that here in the UK we have a number of native species which have separate male and female trees, although they are in the minority.

 

WORD OF THE DAY: DIOECIOUS

Trees which do have separate male and female individuals are referred to as being dioecious (pronounced dye-e-schuss), which is defined in the dictionary as “having the male and female reproductive organs, especially flowers, on different individuals.”

On the flip side, trees and plants that include the organs or flowers or both sexes on the same individual are called monoecious. The majority of native trees fall into this category, including trees like oak, birch, beech and hazel.

birch and hazel male and female flowers

Left: Birch with both male & female parts on the same branch. Right: Hazel with female flowers above and male catkins below.

In the image above you can see that the birch (Betula spp.) has female flowers (small, green and upright catkins) as well as male flowers (long pendulous and speckled catkins) on the same branch. Meanwhile hazel (Corylus avellana) has very different female and male parts on the same tree.

An easy way to remember which parts you’d expect to see on a dioecious tree is that with male trees they produce the seed (in this case pollen) which then fertilises the female trees which then grow the fruit, seed, nut or berry – sound familiar?

 

LOOKING AT EXAMPLES

So, where might you have seen a dioecious tree whilst out on your Sunday walk? Let’s talk about some examples.

Have you ever wondered why you don’t always see red berries on a holly (Ilex aquifolium) in winter? This is because only the female trees bear the fruit. It’s worth noting that there are other factors at play as well, such as whether a holly tree is getting too much shade (making it sterile) or it has no male nearby to pollinate it, so not every holly you see without berries will be a male, but EVERY holly you see with berries is a female.

holly with female berries and male flowers

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) with the familiar female berries on the left and on the right a separate tree with male flowers.

Both male and female holly trees have flowers, appearing in May, but there are subtle differences for which you might need a hand lens, so the easiest way to tell is in berry season.

 

WILLOWS & POPLARS

Once the early spring comes around there’s another two families of native trees which announce their gender, loud and proud, for all the world to see. These are the willows and the poplars. Both families of trees are closely related.

In late February and through March the willows explode with fluffy, dangling catkins. Think of the ‘pussy willow’ (Salix caprea) named after its young male catkins which look and feel like fluffy cats paws.

goat willow - male & female

Goat Willow (Salix caprea) also known as pussy willow. On the left we have the male catkins on one tree. One the right we see the female catkins on a separate tree.

Look at the yellow pollen, clearly visible on the male flowers on the left picture. Remember, this pollen is needed to fertilise the female flowers on another tree.

Meanwhile the poplars, follow suit with their own catkins. Like willows these catkins are easy to spot in early Spring as they are out before the trees come into leaf, so they really stand out. Look at the example in the picture below, we have both White Poplar (Populus alba) and Black Poplar (Populus nigra) with their striking crimson male flowers. In both cases the female flowers (also catkins) are green rather than red, so easy to tell apart once you know this.

white & black poplar - male flowers

White Poplar (Populus alba) on the left, Black Poplar (Populus nigra) on the right. Showing off in spring with their male flowers.

 

A TREE THAT BREAKS THE RULE

The ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is our third most common tree and it’s the rebel of the pack. Bending the rules – there’s always one. Look closer and in spring you could see both male and female flowers on the same tree (though on different branches) but you can also find ash trees which are exclusively male or female.

In winter, once the leaves have fallen you can often spot an ash a mile off, distinctive by its seeds, called “keys” hanging in dense bunches all in the crown. They really stand out in the overall silhouette of the tree, so look out for it. You’ll have to wait until spring though to answer the question of whether it’s male or female… or both! If you want to see pictures of both the male and female flowers of the ash, you can find these in the photo galleries of my Tree ID Course, it’s free to sign up.

So, if you’re planning some tree planting yourself and you want to include any of the species mentioned here you do need both a male and a female in order to let nature work its magic. However, if you are planting trees simply for ornament and you don’t want to encourage a young forest sprouting up around you (although personally that sounds quite nice to me) then it doesn’t matter, the tree will be perfectly healthy on it’s own.

 

BOYS & GIRLS – THE DEFINITIVE LIST

Here’s a complete list of all the native tree species which are dioecious (male or female)

Ash (sometimes), Aspen, Black Poplar, Buckthorn, Grey Poplar, Holly, Juniper, Sea Buckthorn, White Poplar, Willows and Yew

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

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

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

winter tree identification course in north wales

Identifying Trees in Winter

When you’re out walking, have you ever wondered, “which tree is that?”

Once the leaves have fallen from the trees, many people can be stumped when asked what they’re seeing in the woods. But if we can understand the clues trees give us we can unlock their identity and so much more. On this one-day course, we’ll show you how to identify trees in winter by looking at buds, bark, the shape of the tree and other clues. We’ll also look at the different uses that trees have, their place in the ecosystem and dive into a bit of woodland folklore. You will also take away your very own FREE Tree Leaf Identification Swatch Book, which is perfect for continuing your learning and practicing tree ID after the course is done.

Join James, who will be your tutor for the day. He has worked for many years in and around trees from managing the largest community woodland in Wales to hosting his own program of bushcraft and woodland skills courses at National Trust venues.

The Chirk Castle estate is a fantastic site to learn about trees because there is such a wide range of species here which make up a range of varied habitats including broadleaf woodland, scrubby grasslands, and ancient hedgerows.

The course is suitable for anyone aged 16 or over. Tickets cost £35 per person.

Please bring a packed lunch on the day but hot drinks and biscuits will be provided. Please also bring suitable clothing and footwear for the outdoors as we’ll be exploring the estate parkland.

winter tree identification

Leaf ID Swatch Guide Included!

woodland trust leaf ID swatch book

Everyone attending this course also gets a FREE Leaf ID Swatch Book to use throughout the day and take away with you. Produced by the Woodland Trust, this pocket-sized and lightweight little guide features leaves, twigs, and buds from 32 common UK trees and shrubs which are cleverly presented and grouped according to similarities in leaf shape, in a format that also makes it ideal for bringing the natural world closer to everyone. On the reverse of each page, the tree or shrub is briefly described. There are also interesting facts and information about where that species tend to grow.

About the Tutor

bushcraft skills in north wales

James Kendall is Bushcraft Instructor and Forest School Leader. He has been working in environmental education & conservation for over 10 years now. He received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of real experience and practical study. He was also the Project Manager for Long Wood Community Woodland, the largest community-owned woodland in Wales, overseeing the management of 300 acres (120ha) of broadleaf and conifer forest. He is a former Director of Llais y Goedwig, the voice of community woodlands in Wales.

James has always had an affinity with woodland habitats, being at home amongst the trees, and he has made it his mission to study under some of the UK leaders in bushcraft, greenwood crafts and sustainable woodland management including; Dave Watson (Woodland Survival Crafts), Ben Law (woodsman, author, and eco-builder) Patrick Whitefield (permaculture teacher and author) and Mike Abbott (author and greenwood craftsman).

identifying winter trees in north wales

Booking

Get in touch if you’d like to know more email us. Advance booking is essential. Tickets are available just below on this page.

YOU CAN READ OUR EVENT TERMS & CONDITIONS HERE.

bushcraft and mindfulness tools

Mindfulness & Bushcraft: Perfect Partners

Want to be healthier and happier? I’d say you need more wildness in your life! 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. You may have seen plenty of stories doing the rounds about landowners who are letting wildlife do it’s 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 Body

The health benefits of being outdoors is one topic I find fascinating. As well as being the co-owner of a Forest School & 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 has 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?

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 on YouTube.

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

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

Our good friend Nick Hulley is a Bushcraft Instructor based in Staffordshire who brings Mindfulness into the very core of his life. 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. 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.”

Nick will be one of the four experienced tutors hosting our

Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft Weekend in North Wales this September. 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.”

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.

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

adults learn fire lighting skills in north walesWoodland Classroom are hosting a whole weekend of Woodland Mindfulness & Bushcraft at the National Trust’s Chirk Castle estate in North Wales this September. 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

forest school and outdoor education in wrexham, north wales

WOODLAND CLASSROOM LANDS IN WREXHAM!

We have some VERY exciting news! We are finally able to announce that we’ve gone into partnership with the National Trust at Erddig Hall & Gardens and Chirk Castle, both in the county of Wrexham. What this means is that James and Lea are moving Woodland Classroom up to Wrexham and from September we will be able to bring all our existing popular outdoor clubs, as well as some new ones, to children in the area and offer our outdoor education services to audiences in North Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire, Merseyside and beyond.

James explained his connection with the area; “I’m originally from this neck of the woods where I worked a lot with environmental organisations in Cheshire and North East Wales, so this feels like coming home and I’m really excited about this opportunity we have with the National Trust who have made us very welcome and have been totally onboard with all the ideas we have to offer our activities in the area.”

Our new base of operations will be Felin Puleston Outdoor Centre, which lies on the edge of the Erddig estate on the doorstep of Wrexham town. It’s a great location for locals to be able to access it easily and is currently also the home of the National Trust’s GAP (Green Academies Project) funded by the Lottery which has seen lots of new energy and restoration work go into Felin Puleston with a host of improvements to the venue which makes it perfect for visiting groups who want to learn more about nature.

felin puleston outdoor centre

Our new home at Felin Puleston, Wrexham. Kids building dens with us. The vegetable garden where kids can learn how to grow their own.

We feel incredibly lucky to have full access to this tailor-made venue. The Outdoor Centre includes an allotment for growing vegetables, a wildlife garden, orchard, den building area, indoor function room and kitchen for craft workshops and classroom sessions, and of course the beautiful 1,200 acre Erddig estate which lies on the other side of the gate for the children and groups to explore.

forest school in wrexham

Our Little rangers parent & toddler group. The entrance to Forest Wood at Erddig. Boys learning fire-lighting skills at our sessions.

We also have the River Clywedog on our doorstep along with a wildlife pond both home to a wealth of water life which means that activities like pond and river dipping are going to be very much on the menu.

Susan Jones is the Volunteer & Community Involvement Manager at Erddig;

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with Woodland Classroom.  Providing enjoyable and meaningful experiences in the outdoors helps us to connect with nature, improve our mental and physical wellbeing and value the world around us so we can continue to care for special places like Chirk Castle and Erddig, forever for everyone.”

outdoor activities for children erddig wrexham

Erddig Hall & Gardens. This stunning National Trust property sits at the doorstep of Wrexham town.

In addition to making the most of the Outdoor Centre, we’re going to be able to welcome groups of all ages to Forest Wood, a beautiful forest school site based in the heart of Erddig’s ancient woodland. Think tall trees, wild garlic and woodland wildflowers. It’s a fantastic spot for woodland learning.

About Woodland Classroom

wildcraft adventureSo, who are we? Well… James and Lea have been running Woodland Classroom in Lampeter, Ceredigion since 2014 where they have hosted schools, organisations, adult learners, after-school clubs and kids birthday parties with a range of outdoor activities including; bushcraft, forest school, traditional woodland crafts, mindfulness and CPD training. All of this and more will now be offered at our new home.

They are also the creative minds behind the hugely popular Wildcraft Adventure™ which takes kids’ favourite video games like Minecraft and transforms them into outdoor adventures that engage children in a host of physical challenges and bushcraft skills which score them point along the way, just like a real video game. There’s even a monster to run away from! It’s been so popular that outdoor activity leaders across the world are nor running the game; from California to Scotland, from New Zealand to Canada. James and lea are planning many more Wildcraft Adventures at their new Wrexham home for the near future.

Woodland Classroom are members of the Institute for Outdoor Learning and Forest School Wales.

james kendall - profile picJames Kendall

James is a qualified Forest School Leader, Social Forester and experienced Woodland Skills Tutor. He has worked widely with children, young people and adults, leading on a variety of outdoor education and environmental projects. He has worked for several well-known environmental organisations and was also Project Manager for Long Wood Community Woodland, the largest community owned woodland in Wales, overseeing management of 300 acres of forest. He enjoys working with schools and communities to raise awareness of the environment, where his enthusiasm for spreading the message of learning through nature comes through. Lastly, but not least, he is currently undertaking a 2 year long course to become a bushcraft skills activity leader with the Bushcraft Competency Certificate scheme run through the Institute for Outdoor Learning.

“As a child, my Mum would bring me and my sister to Erddig and Chirk Castle where our imaginations could run wild with all sorts of play. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to actually work here and it seems fitting that I’ll now be able to offer outdoor adventures and learning for kids coming to these National Trust properties.”

lea kendall - counsellor and life coachLea Kendall

Lea has years of experience working with children and young people, including 4 years working in a primary school as a Learning Mentor focusing on the social and emotional aspects of learning and working one to one with vulnerable children and challenging behaviour. She shares her time leading activities for Woodland Classroom with my work as a qualified integrative Counsellor. Lea is also a qualified practitioner of Mindfulness in woodland settings.

“I am a firm believer in the power of nature to be therapeutic for everyone. I believe that play for all ages should be a large part of our lives. My training as a Counsellor worked toward my long-term goal to incorporate nature and play therapy into our future services. I am passionate about finding ways to increase the self-esteem of people and encouraging motivation through positive experience, shared enthusiasm and a nurturing environment.”

Lea is now offering the first of her planned nature therapy courses with two Mindfulness events for adult learners scheduled for this autumn. See our events page to find out more.

We Can Also Travel To You

Not every group who wants our services has been able to travel to us though, and for some schools such travel can be a costly or complicated business, so we’ve always offered the option for us to come to your school or venue and we have hosted many Forest School and bushcraft sessiosn on school grounds, at events, or anywhere that wants us really. Want to know more? Just get in touch.

outdoor kids club in wrexham, north wales, forest school

About our Outdoor Kids Clubs

Little Rangers is a weekly woodland parent and toddler group for children aged up to 5 years which follows the Forest School approach of child-led play and outdoor activities in a welcoming natural space. Activities are based around our central campfire and tots can get stuck into the mud kitchen, build a den, explore the wood or do some campfire cooking. Sessions are also a chance for like-minded parents to meet and share time together whilst their children are at play.

Young Rangers is our weekly after-school club for primary school aged children from 6 – 11 years. Parents drop their kids off with James and Lea where children will get the chance to play off steam after a day in school and take part in guided activities including bushcraft, outdoor games, crafts and campfire cooking.

Pathfinders is brand new to Woodland Classroom, a regular group for Home Educated children and their families. It’s something we’ve been wanting to offer for a long time, and we’ve been asked my Home Ed parents time and again if we could do this. Our move to Wrexham has offered the perfect opportunity for it to start. Sessions will be fortnightly and children from 0-16 will be able to join either our Forest School group where they can engage in child-led play and outdoor activities, or they can join our structured learning sessions where they will get quality tuition from James or Lea in environmental education, bushcraft and traditional woodland craft skills.

We’re hosting a taster session for Pathfinders on Tuesday 22nd August which is half-price for children and adults to come and see for themselves how this new club will work. If you’d like to find out more about the taster session, just CLICK HERE.

To find out more about our new kids clubs based at Erddig, and to take advantage of ‘early bird’ booking discounts just follow THIS LINK.

family fun day in the woods

Even More Opportunities at Chirk Castle

forest school circle at chirk castle

The ‘woodland classroom’ amongst the ancient trees of the Chirk Castle estate.

Wrexham county is quite unique in that it hosts two major National Trust venues just within 15 minutes drive of each other. Not only will be offering our services to groups at Erddig but just down the road is the equally amazing Chirk Castle with it’s 480 acres of gardens and estate including deer parkland and ancient woodland. It’s a perfect venue for outdoor learning and we’re looking forward to getting stuck in and welcoming groups to our sessions.

Jon Hignett is the Visitor Experience Manager at Chirk Castle for the National Trust;

“We first started working with Woodland Classroom in April 2015 when our estate was used as the venue for their very popular Wildcraft Adventure sessions, using the clever template of explorer/builder type video games to engage with children in the outdoors. We could see from the first meeting that it would be a popular activity, and it has been a very effective partnership allowing experienced professionals to use Chirk Castle’s estate to help to move, teach and inspire young visitors and connect them with the outdoors at a young age. We’ve collaborated on a few projects since then, and throughout James and Lea have been wonderful to work with, positive, engaging, and committed. We’re eagerly looking forward to what future collaborations might bring!”

outdoor activities at chirk castle

Chirk Castle & Gardens, hosts over 480 acres of parkland estate within which we will be running our outdoor events.

What the Future Holds

Not only will we be offering our tried and tested activities for children, our the plan is to expand our work with adult learners also, making Felin Puleston Outdoor Centre a real hub for environmental education for all ages. We plan to offer training to adult learners in the following subjects:

Bushcraft, Tree Identification, Greenwood Crafts, Woodland Management, Mindfulness, Eco Therapy, Nature Awareness, Foraging and Leathercraft.

outdoors home ed group in wrexham

So, it’s exciting times for Woodland Classroom and we can’t wait to meet all the new people we will be working with.

Right, that’s enough typing for now… we’ve got a whole house full of stuff to move.

If you’d like to find out what we could offer you or your group at Woodland Classroom, then please get in touch. You can email us at hey@woodlandclassroom.com or phone James and Lea on 07876 794098.

free download - nature scavenger hunt

Get a FREE Nature Scavenger Hunt

We’re giving you our Nature Scavenger Hunt that we’ve had loads of success with at our outdoor kids sessions. It’s a FREE download which works great whether you’re a teacher or activity leader running an outdoor education session, or you’re a parent who wants to spice up a walk in the woods with their kids.

 kids on nature scavenger huntWith some children, a walk in nature can be a hard sell if they prefer to stay indoors, watch videos or play video games. Many children might think twice before grabbing their coat and hat to head out into the woods for a day’s exploring. But could they resist the lure of a treasure hunt?

At Woodland Classroom we run lots of Forest School and outdoor education activities and one thing we’ve discovered is that kids love treasure hunts. So, we came up with a hunt of our own, which we use regularly at our sessions. Now you can use it to entice your kids outdoors during the colder months as they go looking for treasures from nature. You could even come up with a prize if the kids find everything on the list.

GET THE SCAVENGER HUNT

A couple of reasons why this particular Nature Scavenger Hunt works so well is that it is not season specific, so all the treasures can be found year round. Also many of the items are open to the child’s own interpretation, so it makes their experience a personal one. This activity also stimulates children’s natural curiosity. It’s the unexpected things that kids discover whilst looking for the items on their list that make each walk special.

You will notice one of the items to find involves a bit of litter-picking. This is our way of having an opportunity to talk with the kids we work with about litter and it’s impact on the land. We would, of course, advise that you check that the chosen litter is safe to be handled before adding it to the basket.

And for any parents thinking twice about heading out on a windy day, remember this; you can’t change the weather but you can change your attitude to it. An old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing.” So, download your Nature Scavenger Hunt, get yourself and the kids wrapped up, grab a basket, a flask of hot chocolate and get exploring.

kids nature scavenger hunt mushrooms

free download - nature scavenger hunt

GET THIS NATURE SCAVENGER HUNT

bushcraft jungle trek adventure

My Bushcraft Journal: Part #3 Into The Jungle

Cobras, rattlesnakes, giant spiders, termites, exploring caves, tasting strange foods – all part of my two day jungle adventure in Northern Thailand. Whilst on holiday with Lea (actually, our honeymoon) I wanted to get out into the wild and see the jungle up close…. so we discovered Pooh Eco Trekking who have a great range of trips that worked alongside the local Karen hill tribe, including them as guides and hosts, so providing an income for them from eco-tourism. Our trek would take us close to the border with Myanmar (formerly Burma) through rivers, caves, villages, steep slopes and winding pathways. I wanted to go on the trek, not only to prove to myself that I could do it but also to experience a taste of the jungle and also see how the local hill tribe peoples lived in this environment and hopefully some of their traditional (though still very relevant) bushcraft skills for myself.

thailand jungleIt was 2 hour drive from Chang Mai to get to our dropping off point and if the craziness of the driver was anything to go by, the next couple of days would be filled with unpredictability. I’m not sure whether he thought his minivan was in fact a race car but he certainly drove like it was, weaving in and out of traffic and over-taking on blind corners. Our guide (Ting) seemed to take it all in his stride, so I assumed this driving was business as usual. As we climbed through the mountains to ever higher ground I noticed the broadleaf jungle gave way to scatterings of pine trees as our altitude increased. Then as we came down into valleys again, the number of pines would decrease again. I hadn’t expected to see such trees here at all. Despite our unpredictable driver, we got there in one piece, if a little shaken.

karen hill tribe weavingWe hopped into a pick up truck to take us down a bumpy track to a village which would mark the start of our jungle trek proper. Here we saw timeless Karen hill tribe crafts in action as a lady demonstrated the weaving of traditional Karen dress for women. The skirt she was weaving would take 2 weeks of constant work to complete. The colours in the cloth were almost garishly bright, reds, blues and yellows, which in Britain would look well out of place, but here they were beautiful.

Pulling my backpack on, we began what would be 3½ hours of trekking to our hill tribe homestay. We started down well worn paths which passed fields which had been cleared for the jungle using controlled fires. These areas were being made ready for the coming wet season when crops such as rice and corn could be planted up, growing in just 3 months, ready for harvest. It was the dry season now so there was less plant life on the jungle floor. We passed the occasional group of cows, bells clanking to give their location away to the farmers. I bet it would be easy to lose something as big as a cow in the jungle. Overhead we passed a few giant spiders (as big as your hand) sitting, suspended in their large webs between trees. I gave them a wide berth… I’m not the biggest fan of our eight legged friends.

bushcraft jungle trek

Beautiful, clear waters running through the jungle, friendly local wildlife and our intrepid explorer.

I also noticed something that was very familiar to me from back home. I spotted trees that had been cut down at their base and allowed to regrow again as multi stems, with rods reaching straight up to the sky. I hadn’t expected to see coppicing here. Coppicing is the traditional woodland management practise in which a sustainable crop of underwood can be produced for a variety of uses (from greenwood crafts to charcoal production). Our guide told us that the locals were harvesting the wood here for firewood on a regular rotation. In addition bamboo was being coppiced to produce straight rods of a useful diameter for building projects. The bamboo was allowed to grow on to a manageable size. All this cutting work was done by hand tools, much with the machete, which here is called simply “mid” the Thai word for knife. It was great to see this sustainable harvesting process in action in a place where it was truly relevant and thriving.

bushcraft jungle trek in thailand

Amazing, huge trees which keep growing all year round. Sustainable woodland management, jungle style, with coppicing for firewood and building material.

It was about this time that our guide spotted something we’d all missed, a cobra, hunting in and out of holes in the ground which had been burrowed by some small mammal. This was no small snake and I admit I felt a little sorry for the furry victim that would no doubt soon be on the receiving end of the hunt. But, that’s nature for you.

Another traditional woodland practise I saw was ring-barking, where a standing tree is stripped of it’s bark right around the trunk at chest level. With the life giving sap travelling through the outer layers of a tree this kills the tree and leaves a standing dead skeleton. This can be a useful practise (if done correctly) in Britain for creating standing dead wood to increase wildlife biodiversity. here though it had a more practical purpose… to create seasoned firewood that would stand and dry in the woodland, ready to be felled when needed. I imagine that this is something that was done in our country also back in medieval times and earlier.

The whole jungle seems browner and drier than I expected, even considering the season, but as we approached the valley floor everything became more lush and as I’d expect a jungle to look, you can blame Hollywood for that fixed vision in my head. As we turned a corner we came across a huge termite mound! Standing higher than me and feeling very solid, it’s amazing to think that such vast structures can be built by something so small. I’m very glad we don’t have termites in the UK as the damage they do to wood is impressive, if a little worrying. You’ve got to wonder at the awesome power of nature though.

jungle machete bushcraft

In the words of Crocodile Dundee… “now that’s a knife.”

Our guide had stopped ahead of us again, but this time I knew this meant there was something interesting to see. He’d heard a rattlesnake and seen it slither off away from the path as we approached. I imagine it would be so easy to be inches away from any animal (dangerous or not) and not know it was there, as the jungle is so dense away from the well trodden paths and many creatures are well camouflaged. I tried to remember the advice of Ray Mears in a programme of his I’d watched years ago… did he say “don’t step on a log incase you disturb the snake underneath it” or was it “step on the log so that you disturb any snake before you step on it” I honestly couldn’t remember… typical!

We came to the river at the base of the valley and I was able to cool my feet off in the water, which was very welcome. As I took a rest, I spotted a plant that looked very familiar growing near the riverbank. It looked like an oversized four leaf clover and I though it might be Wood Sorrel, which is edible and tastes like sour-apple – I love it. Asking our guide it turned out not to be Wood Sorrel but was also edible. It tasted like a salad leaf, and he said that’s how they used it.

jungle hill tribe river workshop

The remains of a riverside workshop where a machete has been hard at work. The beautiful river wound through the bottom of the steep sided valley.

Walking along the cool riverbed, with steep sided jungle walls climbing either side of us gave me the feeling of being nestled in the womb of the Earth, life was everywhere. This seemed more like the wild jungle and wilderness I had in my mind when I booked this trek. But looking around there was also plenty of signs of how the local people were living with the land. Remnants of a make-shift riverside workshop for crafting on-the-spot tools. Bamboo rods grew either side of the riverbank and there were plenty of splintered canes which were leftovers from previous activity. We also came across the remains of old campfires, with only the charred embers as sign. There was no modern litter though, as you might find in a similar situation back home, and that was heartening to see.

Eventually we arrived at our hill tribe homestay, a small village sitting on the hillside – to be honest I couldn’t tell you where it was. We met a few of the older villagers and one man proudly showed off his traditional tattoos across his upper legs. Our Guide also told us that they have these intricate designs all around their groin also, but the old man didn’t show us that… thankfully. These tattoos are done using a bamboo needle. I was starting to see how important the bamboo was to the local people here, it had so many uses.

I watched a local girl with her mother picking seed pods from high up in a tree using a very long hook. They were harvesting tamarind which has a few uses including the flesh as a flavouring in food, added to curry pastes. The shell is used to add to tobacco in hand-made cigarettes and the flesh can also be made into a glue. Having tried the raw tamarind I can tell you it tastes like sour-apple sweets, and is very strong. I actually quite liked it. Once harvested from the tree the flesh would be separated from the shells where they would all be laid out to dry on racks in the sun before being processed.

bushcraft jungle trek hill tribe village

A typical house in our host’s village. Drying tamarind out in the sun. Familiar shaped plants aren’t always what they appear to be.

Our host for the evening was Djoe and his family. The company that organise the treks have a close relationship with the local Karen hill tribe and have an arrangement that families will take it in turns to host trekkers and so payment for the service gets spread evenly through the village. Also, it turned out that Djoe would be joining us as an additional guide for day two of the trek.

hill tribe homestayTheir simple house had a central fireplace, the hub of the home. I noticed hanging on the wall a fine collection of machetes, which any bushcrafter would be envious of. Smoke drifted out of smoke-holes in the roof and as we rested before being served dinner I enjoyed how quiet everything was. No traffic noise here.

Our well-earned dinner included a delicious spicy minced fish, a very spicy soup, steamed rice, cabbage in soy and pumpkin. The food was simple and excellent. After being well-fed and watered all that was left was to watch the sun go do
wn behind the neighbouring mountain as the sounds of the millions of jungle insects rose around us. I think we’d definitely use the mosquito net tonight.

In the second part of my account of the jungle trek we would have a whole host of new adventures and experiences including exploring a river cave with flaming torches crafted from bamboo – which was pretty special. You can read all about those adventures very soon.

Thanks for reading.

James

jungle sunset

Sunset looking from the house of my hill tribe homestay. The end of a great day.

James is currently studying a 2 year programme to become a recognised Bushcraft Instructor. He is aiming to gain a Bushcraft Competency Certificate through the Institute for Outdoor Learning. As part of his training he must keep a portfolio of his own learning and experience, successes and failures. This online Bushcraft Journal is a part of that record. His goal is to not only to have a great time learning a host of new outdoor skills but also to then apply these skills to his work so that he can offer better bushcraft experiences with Woodland Classroom to both adults and children, which he hopes will inspire them too.

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