The weekly facts to learn this week are –
a) Trees – Learn the name of one local tree, how to identify it in summer and winter, and its uses.
b) Bush-craft – Learn one bush-craft skill.
Before learning the Tree weekly fact, I want to explain exactly what information I’m going to try to find about the tree’s and how. Afterwards, I will also look at some basic tree vocabulary.
My plan is to primarily use the Woodland Trust Tree Guide for information. I will be trying to discover – English and Latin Names, whether or not the tree is native, whether its deciduous or evergreen, whether its a broad-leaf or conifer & where to find it in the UK. I will also describe the leaf, flowers, seed/ fruit/ cones, bark and twig, the soil type, human uses for it, and any tree lore. I will include pictures of the tree in both summer and winter, its leaves, seeds/ cones and twigs in each season so that it can be identified in both summer and winter.
So first some basic vocabulary. Trees are classified into two main types – Broad-leafs or Coniferous.
Broad-leaf trees tend to live in areas where soil is nutritious because they need it to create all their leaves. They have a wide variety of leaf types, from long to linear. Broad-leaf trees are deciduous which means they have leaves during the warmer months but lose them in the Autumn and winter. The leaves fall to the ground and replenish the soils nutrients, while the trees energy moves to the roots. Broad-leaf trees form flowers and fruits with seeds inside.
Coniferous trees will live in areas where soil is poorer. They tend to be evergreen, which means they are green all year round. They produce needles rather than leaves, which are small, watertight, resistant to bad weather or insects, and can photosynthesise all year round. They produce cones rather than seeds to reproduce.
The Oak Tree
The Oak, also known as the English Oak or Pedenculate Oak, is one of the most common native trees in Britain. It’s Latin name is Quercus Robur. It is a broad-leaf deciduous tree which grows to an average height of 15-25m, although it can reach as tall as 35m. It is found mainly in mixed woodlands, especially in southern and central Britain, but grows throughout the country. It is a large, round tree abundant in most soil conditions except marshy and chalky soils. Over 200 species of wildlife are supported by the typical Oak tree including, thousands of insects living under its bark and its acorns attracting squirrels and birds.
They are dark green in spring/ summer, turning orangey-brown in Autumn. The leaves have 3 to 6 rounded, deep lobes (deep indents but lobes not entirely separate from each other) on each side and a very short leaf stalk. The buds are orange-brown ovals that cluster at the tips. The leaves usually burst out around May and fall around October. In younger Oaks, the brown leaves stay on the tree throughout winter, and those that do tend to take longer than other types of leaves to decompose.
Flower, Seed and Fruit –
The flowers of the Oak are drooping, yellow catkins (thin, cylindrical, unisexual flower cluster with no petals) and can usually be seen from early May until late June. In the Autumn Oak seeds, called Acorns, can be seen ripening from green to brown at the end of long stalks (penduncules.)
Bark and Twig –
The bark of an Oak is grey with deep, knobbly ridges (smooth in young oaks) and it has a brown twig. To identify it by the twig in winter or early spring, look for a brown twig with lighter brown buds arranged spirally around outer twigs and clustered at the twig tips.
Tree Uses and Lore –
The Oak tree has had many use. Primarily it has been used for timber, e.g. for building ships, homes and furniture. The tree bark has been used for tanning leather and the acorns were fed to pigs. Other possible used include using it as firewood as it burns for a very long time or to make charcoal. The acorns, once tannins are removed first by leeching in a stream, can be dried, ground up and used as a coffee or flour substitute. The fallen leaves can be used in making a shelter or, when dry, as tinder. And tannin water can be made by boiling acorns in water and then applied to slow healing wounds.
It is often used in ceremonial and commemorative planting and was considered sacred to many European tribes, including the Druids, whose name literally means “Oak-Man.” It was often associated with the gods of Thunder.
Bushcraft is about learning ancient skills for surviving in the wilderness, for respecting nature and the land we use, for connecting with the world and the history of our ancestors. It is about learning about the plants and animals in nature and how to use the resources of nature in a sustainable manner. We’ve all seen Ray Mears and Bear Grylls on TV showing us various ways of doing this and, for this weekly fact, I will look at one key aspect of bush-craft each time, including building and starting fires, finding and purifying water, building natural shelters, looking after clothing, natural methods of navigation, tracking animals & finding food from plants. I will find this information either online or using the SAS Survival Handbook by Peter Darman.
Principles of Fire Building
Today’s topic will be the Principles of Fire Building. Fires are very important for many reasons – they boost our morale, keep us warm and dry our clothes. Fire can be used to boil and purify water, signal for help if needed, cook food and protect from animals. However, building fires is also dangerous – it can burn, it can start forest fires and if its inside a shelter it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are three ingredients needed for a fire and if one is removed, the fire will go out. These are – air, heat and fuel.
Before building a fire, it is important to choose a suitable site and prepare it. The site chosen should be dry, sheltered from the wind, have a good supply of wood or another fuel and not be at the base of a tree. Before building the fire, one should clear away debris on the ground to reduce the risk of it spreading. If the ground is wet, it is a good idea to build a platform using green logs that are then covered with earth and stones (but don’t use wet or porous stones e.g. slate as they can explode). It is also possible to build a wall to concentrate heat in the direction required.
Once an site is chosen, it is then time to collect the three materials needed to build a fire – tinder, kindling and fuel.
Tinder is any dry material that is easy to ignite with little heat. It is usually thin, dry fibres. You should keep it in a fireproof container when travelling. Examples of tinder include paper, charred cloth, steel wool, shredded bark, birch bark, dry wood shavings, dead grass or moss, straw and dead evergreen needles.
Kindling is added to the tinder because it has a higher combustible point and is used to raise the fire temperature to a level that can ignite less combustible materials. Examples include small dead twigs, dry leaves, dry pine cones and wood doused in flammable materials.
Finally, there is the Fuel. This is less combustible material that burns slowly and steadily when ignited. It should be dry as moist fuel produces lots of smoke. The best sources are dry dead wood, the inside of dead trees, dried moss or dried animal dung.