The Difference Between Foraging and Living Off The Land: Bushcraft Show 2013 Presentation

The Difference Between Foraging and Living Off The Land: Bushcraft Show 2013 Presentation

Bushcraft Show 2013 Presentation

I was among the expert speakers on the main stage at the Bushcraft Show 2013.

I’ve had a lot of people asking me about the content of the talk and I’m delighted to be able to share it here on my blog.

The video above combines a recording of my talk with the slides I used for the presentation.

Foraging is fashionable, with many people are taking a greater interest in wild foods gathered from the countryside.

But there is a big difference between sampling some tasty wayside nibbles – or even taking a bag full of leaves home for a wild salad – and being able to live from the land.

In my talk, I examine key differences between casual foraging and the ability to sustain yourself from the land before providing an approach for the modern forager to collect the calories they need to stay alive.

Along the way I draw on ethnographic examples, anthropological and archaeological research as well as recorded history to illustrate key points.

I hope you find the video as interesting as the audience at the Bushcraft Show found the live presentation.

Please leave your comments below…


Cook, J. 2013. Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. British Museum Press.

Revedina, Arangurenb, Becattinia, Longoc, Marconid, Lippie, Skakunf, Sinitsynf, Spiridonovag, and Svobodah, 2010. Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing. 10.1073/pnas.1006993107

Wrangham, R., 2010. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Profile Books.

Improve Your Tree and Plant Identification Skills

Would you like to improve your ability to identify useful trees and plants? I offer an online tree and plant identification course, which flows through the seasons. Find out more about the next available course by clicking the following link: Paul Kirtley’s Tree and Plant Identification Masterclass

72 thoughts on “The Difference Between Foraging and Living Off The Land: Bushcraft Show 2013 Presentation

  1. Thanks for uploading Paul!

    It was really good to listen to and very very interesting.
    I liked hearing about your experiences with the Hadza 😀


    1. My pleasure Jake. Thanks for your feedback – I’m happy you enjoyed it and found the Hadza stories interesting.

      Warm regards,


  2. Glad you put this up Paul as I wasn’t able to come to it

  3. Hey Paul !
    Great Blog & Video, brilliant info.
    Cheers & have a great summer.


  4. Great talk Paul, I found most interesting the point you made about the difference of enviroment years and years ago when we would have foraged to live…

    It gets the brain ticking just trying to imagine how different it would have been.

    Do you think (in matter of opinion) we could survive now say we had the knowledge of the land, gave up modern life, would there be enough ”wild food” to go around say the whole U.K? (or have we damaged the enviroment so much over the years it would be impossible?)

    1. Hi Liam,

      Good to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed the talk and found it thought-provoking.

      In answer to your question –

      Could an individual or a small group live from the land? Probably.

      Could we in the UK, as a society of 50-odd million people, live from the land (without farming)? No.

      Warm regards,


  5. Hi Paul
    Excellent presentation, backed up by some great slides.
    I agree with the statement above in terms of our old environment.
    I have just read an excellent book on rewilding, which is an excellent treatise by George Monbiot on the
    Perils and achievements of farming over the past few centuries,
    And a great argument to reintroduce more species like Beaver and
    Possibly the wolf to the UK.
    It seems a shame as always that other nations are more in touch
    With “the nature” even if illegal! (Land ownership is also covered in the book)
    Nothing that cannot be corrected though in small steps, via very good
    Courses from a certain award winning establishment.

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Paul,

      It’s good to hear from you. And with an interesting message – I read your comment with interest.

      Looking forward to catching up again later in the summer 🙂

      Warm regards,


  6. Hi Paul
    Many thanks for uploading your presentation. I was so glad to see it as i was unable to get up to the Bushcraft Show.
    An excellent presentation with a great amount of interesting information which gave me a lot to think about.
    I for one will be on the look out for wild edibles on my trips to the woods and around the countryside.
    Many thanks for sharing all your knowledge it really is appreciated.
    Keep up the great work


  7. Paul,

    Excellent presentation and a very interesting subject. I too have recognised the difference between foraging and living off the land. I feel foraging is a little like taking cotton wool and a fire steel into the woods i.e. a little more basic than taking a match or lighter. Whereas I feel that living off the land is analogous to being able to make a fire without taking any equipment with you (not that I can do either, but I’m learning).

    Thanks again.


  8. Hi Paul
    Very interesting and informative video, a few more wild edibles added to the list. I found the Hadza and how they survive very interesting. I often wonder what our beautiful country would have looked like before man spoiled so much of it.
    Interesting comments made too, going back to what Liam said, i think the UK would struggle to feed its population using using intensive farming methods if we had to rely purely on home grown food. So much land has been lost to building houses and industrial estates I doubt we could manage without importing food. I wonder what the sqare mile per person ratio would have been in the days of our ancestors when they truly lived off he land. If people had to survive by foraging now as you say small groups could probably manage it during the summer when food is abundant, but even for small groups collecting and storing enough to get through a hard winter would be very difficult.

    Thanks for sharing Paul, again very interesting subject.
    Take care Mate

    1. Yes exactly, it is very thought provoking… If only we could see how it was back then. I find this subject very interesting

  9. Hi Paul, I’ve been trying to watch this over the last couple of days, problematic internet connection being the reason! Anyway finally watched it in full tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it; very interesting and thought provoking! Particularly liked when you said that you witnessed council workers strimming through areas of edible greens, this struck a cord as only the other day I saw a fella strimming back a patch of wild garlic, there may have been others in there which I couldn’t see!

    A great subject and thanks for sharing it with us.
    All the best

    P.S. I will get to next years show if one way or another! 🙂

  10. I really enjoyed the video and the points raised.
    Very interesting and informative, food for thought so to speak.
    Thanks Paul, Keep up the good worl


  11. I really enjoyed the video and the points raised.
    Very interesting and informative, food for thought so to speak.
    Thanks Paul, Keep up the good work


  12. I was there at the bushcraft show. I hadnt heard of Paul before. I randomly picked the talk and was drawn to this maestro in action as he spoke . Filled with facts and true understanding of wilderness, I was fascinated by his insights. Few people inspire you with their experience as well as communicate it well as well as train you…The only draw back is I have to wait till my little one is 18 before I can join these courses 🙂

    1. Leena,

      Why wait till then? My son and daughter had birthday party courses when they were aged 10,11 & 12 for a few friends. They’ve also joined Cubs & Scouts so they do lots of Bushcraft stuff, I’d contact Paul or others in the industry check out Bushcraft UK (usual caveats apply with forum opinions) see who is rated/local and have a chat. I’ve not met a bad Bushcrafter yet, though some are better than others though, you’re right Paul is one of the better than many others. Paul’s just announced a teen age course (I think) and one other school I know does too. Go for it! It wouldn’t be fair to Paul to say who I’ve been on courses with but lots of the leaders/owners know each other and know who is good/bad/indifferent.

      Also if they’re really small children papoose them up and they’ll be an expert via teaching by osmosis by the time they’re 4! Good luck.


      1. Thanks Julian,

        Im doing just that. My daughter and I have already attended bushcraft courses , and aware of basics…I try to make it an annual event now…with us both learning new things every year….:) . Paul is better…like a postgraduate professor:)…. …and right again…the little ones are sponges…they soak the info up…daughter campaigned for her eco-council and eco- school ambassador based on what she learnt from these courses…And her application was adjudged among the best….a great investment for the future….and ripple effect on other kids:). Thanks again.

        1. Leena,

          Thats brilliant – it has really engaged my kids too, not quite to the same extent bit more along the lines of “I get to use a knife, fantastic”! Actually that’s not fair but your daughter sounds like a budding activist my two like nothing more than sitting by a fire and watching the flames and playing with it.


  13. Hi Julian

    My idea was to give my little one a day away from the stresses of modern life…and get in more in touch with nature and just be relaxed…. watch the stars , have a holiday ……I was blown away by her need to lobby for something she believed in vigorously…. She is passionate about nature… and it struck me ironically that at just below ages7/8/9; she has captured what all the bushcraft teachers were trying to teach….increasing awareness amongst people, raising the awareness through education…. the go green message at schools seem to coincide with this….your little ones…just enjoying the flames and messing around sounds just right to me:)

  14. Very Good Paul,

    Just like a fresh’ fill up’ on Inspiration !

    Thank you



  15. Hi Paul
    Thought provoking words indeed.
    Will you be at the Gathering ?
    Great talk, really enjoyed the video.
    Would be great to see you do another video in the future, on the medicinal values of our native plants in the UK.

    Keep up the good work and look forward to meeting you one day.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my presentation interesting.

      I’m afraid I won’t be at the Wilderness Gathering but I hope we bump into each other at some stage.

      Warm regards,


  16. Very good presentation ….the comparison of foraging and really living of the land was very interesting and particularly the emphasis on how understanding your habitat and what it can realistically support and the need for variation in the diet.
    Thanks for posting

  17. Very interesting presentation,especially the thoughts on acquiring the necessary calories to sustain yourself long term.
    Regards marc

    1. Hi Marc, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my presentation interesting.

      Warm regards,


  18. Hi Paul , brilliant as usual , your explanation about rabbit starvation was very interesting , once again I’ve learned something from you , cheers Paul
    Thanks a lot Martin ….

  19. Excellent presentation Paul. I hope to be able to travel to your side of the pond and take some classes one day but for now I am stuck in the US.

    Great info on the calories that are able to be utilized by the body despite the intake with the high protein diet. I had not heard those numbers before and it makes a lot of sense. It’s like having

    We have a lot of the raw foodie and vegetarian yuppies here in the US and they do not look healthy at all, rather pasty and sickly looking. My question is what came first their small brains which led them to eat only raw foods due to the inability to make or utilize fire; or did their raw food diet shrink their brains to make their IQ’s drop while their guts got bigger? Ha ha.

    Have a good one,

    1. 🙂 Thanks for your comment John.

      If you have not read Richard Wrangham’s excellent book “Catching Fire“, then I recommend you do. I suspect you’ll enjoy it greatly.

      Warm regards,


      1. Paul,

        Thanks for the info on this book. I have not read it but it just made my shopping cart on Amazon. I am sure I will like it. I love information like this.

        Have a good one,

  20. Very informative presentation! I enjoyed it a lot.
    As a side note, I recently listened to a story on NPR (public radio) here in the states where the paleo diet of our ancestors was discussed. It seems that some anthropologists now believe that a much larger percentage of protein and caloric intake than was previously thought came from eating insects. Have you heard this theory and by the way, would you pass me another helping of fried grasshoppers?
    All the best.

    1. Great point to bring up about the insects as that is a much more viable way of “Living off the land by foraging”. I imagine that insects were the mainstay of any Paleo diet and the main source of nutrition all around. Maybe these Paleo diet people should try some.


    2. Thanks Rob, I’m glad you found this interesting.

      I have heard this theory regarding insects.

      There is a lot we don’t know and maybe will never know. The paleolithic period is defined as covering over 2.5 million years. Over this period, humans are known to have inhabited many different environments. I suspect our ability to do so depended upon adaptability and on a significant flexibility in terms of dietary intake. It would not surprise me at all if insects (particularly if you include grubs/pupae) formed a significant part of diets of some groups over this time period.

      Warm regards,


  21. Thanks for a very informative and well thought out presentation . It’s patently obvious that not only can you ” talk the talk”, but you can also “walk the walk”, as they say. Well done , and thanks again.
    Stan Rylance.

    1. Hi Stan,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad my presentation was interesting and useful to you.

      Warm regards,


  22. Hi Paul, great video, thoroughly enjoyed it. Edible wild plants is a passion of mine, not my strongest area of bushcraft, but I’m improving every season. Particularly enjoyed the references to the indiginous people and their way of oportunistic food gathering. Very well done presentation.

  23. veramente interessante paul complimenti bushcraft is life!

  24. Land management via efforts by conservation groups in the past150 years has been a magnificent undertaking that has produced worldwide fruit in restoration of the planet. Look at old photos of the surrounding areas of a developed community (in America) and it is very sterile and stripped to the bone, so to speak. Not so today, vegetation galore everywhere. That being said, if man all the sudden had to live off the land we would be dropping like flies, not only for lack of knowledge but primarily for the mindset of man—survival of the fittest.
    Looking forward to future thought provoking articles. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Let me know what you think of future articles.

      Warm regards,


  25. at last ive acheived enough speed to watch this. i dont know what i am ,but i grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s and we suplemented our diet with many plants both wild and gleaned and rabbits and pidgeon the farmer was only to glad to see the back of . we also went to the shore for winkles ,welks and barnacles as well as samphire on the marshes and one or two other birds that fell into our pockets. i have to limit my scope to my own property nowadays because of the law but still eat stingers dandlions and many herbs most days of the year.great talk i hope more people will do this as it must be better than supermarket salad leaves .

  26. Interesting and informative talk.
    Hard lifestyle being hadza though.
    cheers Paul .

    1. Thanks Lee. Yes, the Hadza life would be tough for many, even if they took you under their wing. We are not used to getting by with so few material possessions…

      Warm regards,


      1. Hi Paul that was an amazing talk i learned a lot about plants to eat,i have a stepson an he is a vegan and he goes one step further by juicing the raw veg (can not be very good for you),what do you think.also i live very near to epping forest and the wardens are catching more and more people taking fungi from the forest, one woman had three carrier bags of mushrooms and when the boot of her car was opened it was stuffed full of fungi,it just goes to show you the damage these people can do to the flora in this great forest,thanks very much Paul keep up the good work.Baz(aka Whitewolf).

  27. Paul
    This was a very well presented video,it actually puts in prospects what living for survival
    And foraging for fun is.This was very informative and made me think about what I would have to do in
    A real life survival situation
    All your videos have been a real asset in my introduction to bushcraft

    1. Thanks for your comment Andy. I’m very glad you found this interesting and useful.

      Warm regards,


  28. Dear Paul, EXCELLENT PRESENTATION! I particularly enjoyed your explanation of rabbit starvation. Your remarks, here and previously, regarding the need for carbohydrates in a survival situation along with your detailed coverage of cattails is why I signed up for your tree identification course. Doing that course online, I have really having an enjoyable time. Your teaching methods and pace are top notch. I am looking forward to applying what I can to the northern temperate and boreal forest areas of Minnesota, where I live, and Northern Ontario, where I canoe.
    Your ever-present superb organization and your enthusiasm for what you share makes for a supremely enjoyable experience.

    1. Hi Alfred,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m very glad all of the information you cite is proving useful to you.

      I look forward to chatting more during the Tree and Plant Identification course too.

      Warm regards,


  29. Great presentation , as a novice this gives a me some real clarity and realality to bushcraft , there apears to be so much information but not always wisdom out there ,so thanks again

    Regards Alan

  30. I learned a lot from your presentation. I would like to learn more about preparing Cat Tail if possible, as it is found in many parts of the US.

    1. Thanks Norman. I’m happy you found this informative.

      I will add a note to my video/articles list to produce something covering how to prepare Typha.

      Cat tails are widespread and common, particularly in the northern hemisphere, which combined with it’s ease of recognition, ease of collection and relatively high calorific value make it such a valuable survival food to know about.

      Warm regards,


  31. Watched and listened with great interest Paul, extremely interesting and informative.
    Thank you for the heads up and look forward to future posts.
    All the best

  32. Thanks for the lecture.

    I always found it a bit odd people, especially vegetarians, say they are going to try to live off the land in Canada, especially in places where foraging mushrooms and berries are still possible without running into others as far north as Yukon, without realizing the importance of using bear-fats as substitute for oils and butter for spreads on bread or making bannocks; or making pemmican from caribou or moose meats. But again, that’s probably the difference between having a grandfather who lived that lifestyle between 1940s and 1970s versus being descended from a family who lived in a big city like Calgary for four-plus generations.

    1. Hi Dave, you clearly “get it”. I wish more people did.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Warm regards,


  33. Hi Paul!
    Interesting, beautiful and educational presentations.
    I hope you’ll visit at once Croatia, and get to know
    our beautiful and wonderful diversity of nature.
    I thank the new teaching sessions!


  34. Thank’s for all the great information Paul, I have studied these area’s quite in depth, and the idea of sustainable food to the AVG first World person is way over indulgence compared to real in the bush sustainable caloric intake. Also should be mentioned in an economic crash etc. there just is not enough of even that life style in the First World as i have a background in Conservation, and an example is 315 million live in the US, with only a population of 30 million deer, the Buffalo was wiped out by far fewer mouth’s to feed, without mass produce mega farm’s the population as we know it today is simply unsustainable.

  35. Just wanted to thank you for your gracious attitude in sharing your knowledge and experience free of charge through your blogs. Such an attitude is so rare to come across in our current society. It’s inspirational and greatly appreciated. It is obvious you go out of your way and give up much of your time to do so. Coming across your blog has turned out to be a great find. Thank you.

    1. Hi Dean,

      You are very welcome but feedback like yours makes it worthwhile for me. It’s good to know that it is being appreciated and that I’m helping people by sharing information and experiences here on my blog.

      I’m glad you found this blog too. Welcome again and please do keep in touch.

      Warm regards,


  36. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for posting your presentation, very informative.

    Interesting question at the end there on damage to the environment. You mentioned the damage to fungi populations from over harvesting. Unfortunately we have a major problem with Eastern Europeans taking coarse fish from many of our waterways, ignorant maybe of the culture difference over here and legal differences too ! Not strictly foraging I know, but an issue none the less. I winced a little when you showed photos of fish netted in Canada was it but accept that this is fine when the culture and habitat allows, but it shows that all types of foraging are not transferable across countries or continents. I worry sometimes that this point may be lost to some people.

    Would be interested in your thoughts.

    Kind Regards

  37. Thanks for sharing this helpful and informative video Paul.

    I am still starting out for my interest, desire & lifestyle to be Bushcrafter; but one of the things that I have to master & familiarize are the more than a thousand kinds of edible & inedible plants for foraging, cures & nourishment. Made even more challenging & complicated by the fact that I am living in Asia – The Tropics, wherein Cat-Tails, Spice-Bush, Chick-Weeds, etc. are still an enigma to me even if I am A Biology Graduate, it is still a valuable knowledge that I need to relearn & research. But I really enjoyed my new added knowledge & wisdom from this video.

    Enjoyed this video & Cheers! Gary – Biologist Adventurer

  38. Very interesting indeed, it is good to hear some of the science behind basic nutritional needs in a survival situation.
    On the subject of eastern European fungal foraging – several years ago I had a holiday in Estonia (in April). On a train trip from Tallinn to Paldisky. I was mystified when half the travellers detrained at a halt in the middle of a forest, in the middle of nowhere. On the way back to Tallinn, they all re-embarked with baskets full of forest fungi. Clearly, a large number of city folk in Estonia still possess well developed foraging skills. But there again, they are not as affluent as the average Brit!
    Thanks for another excellent video and also the related blog on the difference between foraging and living off the land.

  39. Living here in the usa, midwest, missouri, we have slightly different plants that are edible to choose from. Also perennial grains to use too. I’ve always, since I was a kid, foraged and often times spent long periods literally living off of the land. And yes, there is a huge difference!! Now that I live in the rural missouri (northern), and we own our house with a small amount of land, I’ve come to let much wild edible grow right in and among the garden and also have planted various plants that literally attract in certain wild animals that we can harvest. But I do appreciate your video as many really do not have a clue and yes, have heard of rabbit starvation. You are the first to mention it in many, many years. I spoke of it and most think that I am crazy. But then, of the poo hits the fan, they will see me as crazy like a fox!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.