How To Find A Place To Practice Bushcraft Skills In The UK

by Paul Kirtley

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Bushcraft enthusiast with camp set up in the woods

The holy grail for many: A place to practice bushcraft skills. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

At some stage, we all want to find somewhere we can go to practice our bushcraft skills. Yet land ownership, laws, bylaws, regulations and access codes limit us in what can be done where.

So, first we have to understand the legal landscape…

Laws Relating To Bushcraft

In the UK, there are no laws relating to bushcraft as a whole. But there are a whole list of laws which are relevant to the activities which often fall under the term bushcraft – particularly with respect to fires, knives, foraging, fishing, trapping, not to mention access and camping.

While this may sound draconian, it is worth considering which aspects of bushcraft you want to practice. You may have more options open to you than you first think.

Access

Access is probably the biggest issue in the minds of those looking for somewhere to practice bushcraft skills. Most land in the UK is owned privately or by local authorities, even in National Parks. It’s therefore some people’s assumption that landowner’s permission is required to set foot on any land.

In many instances, particularly in England and Wales, this is correct. There are, however, also many exceptions.

For starters, there are a multitude of public footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing England and Wales that should not be ignored. They give access to wonderful landscapes and unique habitats. These public rights of way are marked clearly on Ordnance Survey maps. On the 1:50,000 Landranger series, footpaths and bridleways are marked in red; on the 1:25,000 Explorer series they are marked in green.

Further, the Countryside And Rights Of Way Act 2000 established areas of open access land where access by foot is permitted. These areas are clearly marked – shaded a light yellow – on recent OS 1:25,000 maps as well as a set of definitive maps being available online at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/

This land largely consists of upland and uncultivated areas. In such areas there is the “right to roam”, that is you do not have to stick to footpaths and bridleways.

Man overlooking Lakeland Fells

Many upland areas are now designated open access where you have the “right to roam”. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

For best practice, it’s also worth familiarising yourself with The Countryside Code, available at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk

In Scotland, access is governed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It also provides a framework for access to inland water. This legislation formalises the tradition in Scotland of unhindered access to open countryside. It gives the right to be on any land for recreational purposes (including cycling and horse riding but not hunting, shooting, fishing or with motorised vehicles) and to cross land if done responsibly. It does not provide blanket permission to access land under any circumstances, however, as you must not cause damage, particularly to crops, or interfere with economic activities such as stalking or impinge on people’s privacy.

This is reflected by The Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which is available at http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

On Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland, public rights of way are not distinguished from other tracks or footpaths. Further, Scottish local authorities have no obligation to signpost or mark a public right of way.

In Northern Ireland, the number of public rights of way is very limited. Much access is down to landowners having granted permission – known as permissive access. Long distance footpaths also have the required landowner’s permission as part of their establishment. Much public land is also accessible. Rights of way are marked on Ordnance Survey maps.

Camping

To camp in England and Wales, you need to have landowner’s permission. Wild camping is, however, tolerated in many upland areas – largely coinciding with open access land – but be prepared to move on if asked.

Wild camper overlooking Lake District landscape

Wild camping is tolerated in many upland areas of England and Wales. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In Scotland, access rights extend to camping and it is therefore legal to camp where there are no seasonal camping restrictions (such as on the shores of Loch Lomond). It’s recommended, however, that you stick to unenclosed land so to avoid interfering with farming activities.

The situation in Northern Ireland is similar to England and Wales in that strictly speaking you need landowner’s permission to camp but wild camping is tolerated in many upland areas such as the Mourne Mountains.

Fires

To have a campfire in England and Wales, you must have landowner’s permission.

Having a campfire in Scotland is allowed. It is recommended under the outdoor access code, though, that “Wherever possible, use a stove rather than light an open fire. If you do wish to light an open fire, keep it small, under control, and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland or on peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave.”

In Northern Ireland, landowner’s permission is required for a campfire.

Scottish wild landscape

For the UK’s most complete wild camping experiences, head to Scotland. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Foraging/Plant Use

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, covering the whole of the UK, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner.

Legally, to uproot means to dig up or remove the specimen from the land. This definition is also extended to lichen, algae and fungi.

Similar protection of plants in Northern Ireland is in place under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

There are also extra protections for plants in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) and National Nature Reserves. Even landowners can be prosecuted for removing or damaging species in these areas unless they have consulted the relevant statutory body.

Endangered plants are listed as “Schedule 8” plants under the legislation. These cannot be picked, uprooted or destroyed.

So we can pick flowers, leaves, berries, nuts, seeds and fungi in areas where we have legal access but we must obtain landowner’s permission to dig out roots and tubers or remove entire plants.

Burdock roots in the hands of a Frontier Bushcraft Intermediate Course student

You need landowner’s permission to uproot plants. Photo: Paul Kirtley

When foraging, you would be wise also to follow the Botanical Society of the British Isles’ Code of Conduct for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Wild Plants. Specific relevant parts include:

  • Take flowers and foliage only from large patches of the plant.
  • Always pick in moderation so that plenty is left for others to enjoy.
  • Be careful not to damage other vegetation.

In terms of non-foraging use of plants, including trees, you generally need landowners permission.

The trees and plants are the property of landowner and removal without their permission is technically theft under the Theft Act, 1968.

This extends to firewood and other materials lying on the ground.

There are some exceptions on Common Land.

Trapping

The only legal trapping you are likely to be doing in the UK under the banner of bushcraft and survival is snaring. The use of spring traps and cages (live catching) are restricted further. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 there are restrictions on the use of snares. There are also offences for snaring specific wild species under Schedule 6 of the Act. Further protection is afforded to deer under the Deer Act 1991. Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 it is an offence to fail to check a snare.

Under all circumstances, you should obtain landowner’s permission and follow the codes of practice set out by Defra at http://www.defra.gov.uk/

Setting a rabbit snare

When snaring you should obtain landowner’s permission and follow the codes of practice set out by Defra. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Landowner Permission vs Illegal
At this juncture, having just discussed the protection of plants, trees and animals, it’s worth pointing out explicitly – although it should be obvious – that landowner’s permission does not trump the law. Even if you have landowner’s permission to “do what you like” on a site, this does not put you outside of the relevant legislation. There are some things you cannot legally do even with landowner’s permission, for example removing protected plants or trapping animals with deadfalls.

Obtaining Landowner’s Permission

Having an area of private land which you are allowed access to is the holy grail for many people who want to practise their skills in a natural setting.

When I was a teenager, I was a keen air-rifle shooter. I read the air rifle magazines and a constant theme – in reader’s letters but also the advice given by the articles – was how to go about getting landowner permission.

When it comes to bushcraft, I see a parallel situation. Many people want access to land but not many know how to go about it.

One thing should be clear from the start, it’s not always easy. Many landowners or land agents will just say no.

First you need to understand a landowner’s typical concerns…

Privacy: Many landowners who live on their estate view it as their garden. If a complete stranger phoned you, emailed you or knocked on your door and asked if they could camp in your back garden or yard, how would you react? Approach any landowner with a request to use their land with sensitivity towards their privacy.

Private land in the UK

Many landowners view their land as you would your back garden. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Damage: At the heart of a landowner’s concern is the fact they don’t know you. They don’t know if you are a responsible individual whose interests are aligned with theirs. A fundamental concern is whether you will damage their land/property. Concerns over damage are generally even greater if there is one or more SSSIs present on the site.

Litter: You only need to look at your typical countryside layby to know there are a lot of irresponsible, anti-social idiots who think others will tidy up after them, or simply just don’t care. Understandably any self-respecting landowner wants to keep these type of people off their land.

Fire: Landowners see fire as a risk. Land in the UK costs a lot of money. Landowners have a lot of capital tied up in their land. Large landowners are often asset rich but cash poor. They need to try to generate an income from the land they own, ranging from farming to forestry to shooting. Out-of-control fires are a risk not only to their property but also their income (and the incomes of those who depend upon them for work).

Forestry operations are part of a landowner's income in many instances

Landowners typically need to generate an income from their land. You need to fit in with this. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Disruption of estate activities and safety concerns: There are many activities that can occur even on a modest piece of land. There is often woodland management, from coppicing to commercial forestry. In my experience, those engaged in these activities are keen to run a safe operation and do not want to be felling trees near to people. Nor do they want people wandering around amongst their operation.

Deer management often goes hand in hand with woodland management. There is much more stalking in the British countryside than many people realise. Stalking may be undertaken by the landowner, game keepers, paying clients, or a local stalking syndicate. Any access by you needs to be coordinated with any stalking activity – both so that you do not disturb animals and, more importantly, so you don’t get shot. Every single estate or piece of land in the UK – from Sussex to Scotland – I’ve ever taught bushcraft on has required coordination with stalkers.

If there are game birds put down in the woods, then the landowner, game keeper, or shooting syndicate will not want their birds disturbed, particularly when they are young. Again this requires understanding on your part and coordination with the individuals involved. There may also be some control of foxes in the area, which usually involves shooting at night with high-powered rifles. Again, for concerns purely regarding safety, having people walking around or sleeping in the woods, complicates the safety issues.

Then there are a whole host of other activities which may take place on the land from dog training, to field archery clubs, to equine activities to cross-country running races. The more there is going on during the year, the more difficult the landowner may perceive integrating you into the mix will be.

Man working with chainsaw amongst logs

Landowners and those who work on the land have multiple safety concerns. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Poaching: There is much more poaching in the UK than most people realise. From rabbits to pheasants to deer, all manner of animals are taken illegally, often by means that are inhumane, sometimes using illegal firearms. Any landowner with a significant population of game animals will be keen to understand that you have no interest in poaching. If you have a legitimate interest in snaring a few rabbits say, I would recommend not mentioning this at the beginning. Let them get to know you as a responsible caretaker of the land first. If there is a gamekeeper, get to know them first.

Dead deer at the edge of a pond

The final resting place of an illegally shot and wounded deer. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Crime: Most estates I have worked on have suffered some sort of crime, from stacks of firewood disappearing in the night to farm machinery being stolen to full scale burglaries of the estate house or office. Understandably, estates are usually security conscious. They do not give out keys to gates easily. This can even apply to smaller blocks of woodland that do not contain any equipment or buildings as they often have a responsibility to neighbouring landowners, whose property may be more easily, or stealthily, accessed via their own.

Sending out the wrong message: While the landowner may be convinced you are bona fide and responsible, they may still be reluctant to let you camp on their land if they think others will see you and think that camping is allowed. This concern is most likely to apply in areas with one or more public footpaths.

Easier To Say No

Most estate owners and managers are busy people. In asking for permission you are giving them something else to think about with a whole host of potential concerns (see above) if they say yes. It’s far, far easier for them to just say no and get on with their day.

That’s your starting point.

Make It Worth Their While: Offer Something In Return For Access

To maximise your chances of success, you need to demonstrate there is something in it for them. An offer of payment is an obvious option but there are other avenues too.

First off, can you turn any of the landowner’s concerns on their head?

Can you offer to help tidy areas where there is litter?

In camping in little-used corners of woods or an estate, could your presence deter poachers?

More broadly, could your presence deter other activities such as stealing firewood or kids camping and littering?

There are other offers of physical help you could also make – from collecting up old tree protectors in a wood to helping the game keeper at his busiest times. Start to think laterally about what else you could help with. For example, is there a programme of rhododendron removal you could help with?

Case Studies: Success In Gaining Access To Land For Bushcraft

Sometimes it can take a long while to gain access. One friend of mine, Paul Nicholls, took two years to get access to a local farmer’s woodland.

Sometimes, however, it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Mo Saleh is someone I know through Facebook and who has gained access to an area of woodland for his personal use.

I asked him how he gained landowner’s permission to light fires and undertake other bushcraft activities.

“Well I was with Gill, picking holly for Christmas decorations and a woman walked up to us and started talking. I mentioned bushcraft and had been looking for somewhere to go.”

The lady turned out to be the owner of the land through which the footpath passed and was familiar with the concept of bushcraft, having watched Ray Mears programmes.

Mo went on to say, “It was a dream come true. I was in the right place at the right time.”

I asked if he had to abide by any rules, “I always have to let her know when I am going, not take a lot of people, not take advantage and respect it. As long as I don’t do any damage it’s OK”.

It might seem like Mo just got lucky. He was certainly fortunate to meet the owner and for her to have an understanding of bushcraft. But he had the right attitude. Mo was humble and respectful. As a result he was fortunate to receive a kind offer. He doesn’t take it for granted and respects the rules. Being respectful of a landowner’s concerns and wishes goes a long way not only to gaining access but also keeping it.

Mark Hotson is someone I have known for ten years. When I first knew him he was completely new to bushcraft, having being given a course, which was won in a competition by his wife.

Mark describes the week as “a major turning point in my life”.

He took further bushcraft courses and researched more bushcraft knowledge in his spare time.

“Unfortunately I felt with so many time restraints in my personal and business life I was becoming an armchair bushcrafter. However the drive to understand both the theoretical and practical sides of bushcraft spurred me on to a mission to source an area of ‘wilderness’ in which I could pursue my passion.”

I know that Mark was indeed successful in gaining access to an area he could practice his skills. I quizzed Mark how he went about this.

In particular I asked him to elaborate on the letter he had written. Mark had been thorough. He had listed referees including farmer friends and his bushcraft instructors, listed his intended activities, the policies and procedures he would adhere to, in particular a leave-no-trace policy, his safeguards around fires as well as general health and safety points. He also made clear his intent to insure the woodland and third parties by including a letter from his insurance company, which was not easy to obtain. He also offered to pay rent in advance.

“I wrote to over ten different parties and heard back from one after six weeks. The land agent in question was ex military and understood what I required. He was very much a Ray Mears fan and empathised with me. He was also responsible for one of the largest estates in the area. After a few phone calls and emails we decided upon a site.”

On meeting the agent and looking at the site, Mark went a step further to demonstrate his responsible approach.

“I used a fire flash on to birch bark to start the fire. I prepped the fire site first, gathered various materials, in various sizes. I built a small fire near both the raw materials and a little stream. I extinguished the fire and made good by hand to show the fire dogs and embers were of no threat. I went on to explain the fire was another tool, it would never be lit and left. During the whole process we chatted about our personal experiences in respect to spending time outdoors.”

Mark was successful, “Within the month I had signed my licence to use the woodlands for bushcraft activities, I had insurance cover in place and the annual rent was paid. I had my own little bit of wilderness!”

Mark continues, “I can see how some readers might think the process very simple. But from initially deciding to rent some woodland to actually setting up my first camp was nearly a nine-month period. I had informally chatted to friendly farmers and friends in the very first instances and it was very clear the initial misconception was that a bushcrafter was negative force in the local environment. A camouflage-clad figure who cut and burnt everything in their path – in short a liability! I quickly realised I had to be viewed as something quite different from that.”

Make An Effort

Mark’s case is a clear example that to give yourself the best chance of success, you have to make an effort.

Even at my bushcraft school, Frontier Bushcraft we have to make an effort to secure access to land.

We have to present ourselves well and make our case (which usually involves the offer of payment).

As an individual you need to be prepared to do the same. You may need to offer payment but more importantly you have to present yourself well and make a case.

Even then it’s not always successful (even with the best references). For some landowners, it just does not fit or is just too much hassle for too little return.

Mark, who now offers bushcraft experiences via his Countrylore operation, regularly receives enquiries about using the woods he leases (and is prohibited from sub-leasing by the terms of his agreement), sums it up perfectly – “Every enquiry is vague and unpersuasive…with no detail or an inkling that the sender has any idea of what might lead me [or a landowner] to think I could possibly trust them. I think the logic follows that the best bushcrafters are probably people who think through their actions and are naturally thorough and well-prepared. In turn, a badly worded, non-descript, three-line email is never going to convey the right message.”

Many Opportunities For Bushcraft In The UK

There is lots of scope for practicing various elements of bushcraft skills in the UK. There’s nothing to stop you going out today, walking some little used public footpaths, spotting animal tracks and sign, foraging for wild foods, honing your tree identification and working on your navigation skills along the way. Head to some open access land where you can roam freely and work on your navigation skills or even camp. Look to Scotland for a more complete wild camping experience. Spend some time and effort romancing landowners and before you know it, you could have a little haven where you can practice your camping and woodcraft skills in more depth.

Then, of course, there are many overseas options. But they’ll have to wait for another article…

If you already have a place to practice bushcraft skills – in the UK or elsewhere – please let me and other readers know your story or any useful tips you could share. Conversely, if you’ve had real problems in finding somewhere to practice your bushcraft skills, please also let us know in the comments below…

Information Resources:


http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/access/openaccess/default.aspx


http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/enjoying/countrysidecode/default.aspx

http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/Practical-guide/public/camping

http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/Practical-guide/public/Lighting-fires

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/waca1981_schedule8.pdf

http://www.bsbi.org.uk/Code_of_Conduct.pdf


http://archive.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/wildlife/management/documents/snares-cop.pdf

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Integrating Bushcraft With Modern Outdoor Life

Boost Your Bushcraft With Urban Botany

Way Out North: A Boreal Forest Foray

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

ardion achmad

Thank paul…

Reply

Paul Kirtley

You’re welcome.

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Roy Henshall

Hello mate, how are you.

Great read, come at the right time for me as I am looking to rent / buy woods in Scotland. It is good to know what I need to know.

THANKS Paul
KEEP THE FAITH
HEDGEY.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Hedgey,

It’s good to hear from you – it’s been a little while. I hope you are keeping yourself busy?

I’m glad you found this useful. Interesting that you are looking to buy/rent woods in Scotland. Are you based up there now?

Keep in touch.

Cheers,

Paul

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Roy Henshall

No Paul, just looking to run some coastal bushcraft/survival courses with a twist up there.

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Jon Silver

Thank you once again, Paul, for a very comprehensive roundup of all the options open to bushcrafters and wild campers, as well as disseminating the knowledge of how to be responsible exponent of the bushcraft skills. I would add that there are a few camp sites dotted about where there’s nice large areas of woodland with no caravans or vehicles, very little development and generally an owner you can talk to about bushcraft and how you might use their site to practise some skills. One such owner has now engaged me to provide a biannual ecological survey including fixed point photography, as well as providing me with a couple of sites with rich woodland habitats, semi-permanent fire pits and plenty of places to sling my hammock & tarp and make camp without treading on any toes.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you have some nice woodland areas to visit as a result of thinking laterally about what’s available as well as offering something back in the case of ecological surveys. Thanks for sharing your experiences – others may well find them a useful model.

All the best,

Paul

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Reini - bushcraft.net

Very nice Post.
I´m form Austria and it is a similar Challange to find a nice Bushcraft Spot to train Skills.
A big Problem is Making Fire cause its forbitten 🙂

Thanks and Greetings,
Reini

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Reini,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, it seems to be an international problem for those of us interested in bushcraft and survival skills, particularly in Europe.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Mark G

The only area missing is the sea shore as this comes under different rules and laws again. Also the snaring law has recently changed in scotland

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Nathan

It’s articles like these that make your blog stand out from the crowd. Everything’s so relevant, rather than just being another gear blog. Great stuff.

I had this problem when I lived in the UK. Despite living in a rather rural area (Cornwall) and being acquainted with a fair few local hunters and farmers, very few were willing to let a twenty-something guy with knives and axes sleep on their land lighting fires, despite being very mature, careful and non-gung-ho about it. Definitely feels like a “who you know and not what you know” situation. I admit I took to “stealth camping” after a while in frustration (camping illegally without consent, doing your best to be unseen/undetected).

Now I’m living in Sweden and being a “crazy person who would rather sleep outside in the wet and cold rather than his bed” (typical British person’s thoughts) is the norm and I can freely do so thanks to Allemansrätten. Private land, fires, picking berries/mushrooms, camping, roaming, you name it. It makes the UK feel rather backwards. As you said, Draconian.

It’s a shame because the UK has so many bushcraft enthusiasts thanks to people like Ray Mears and they live in what’s in my opinion possibly one of the worst countries to practice their skills in. My thoughts are with you guys. (I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m saying “ner ner I’m in outdoor mecca and you’re not” I genuinely feel for people who have this trouble as I was one of them)

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Jon Silver

You’re going to be making a whole new load of “friends” from the UK who’ll want to come and hang out with you, Nathan 🙂

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dOm

Was that really the reason you relocated to Sweden or was it for those Swedish hotties.?!? ;0D

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dOm

Hi Paul, thanks for another gr8 article, I’m sure it will help many. I have been practising survival & bushcraft for well over 30yrs. Grew up & lived in rural Gloucestershire & Herefordshire and learned a lot of skills hidden amongst the hedgerows as a child ;0) Practised most of my skills in quiet areas of the Malvern Hills & The Forest of Dean, never even thinking to ask ‘permission’ but I always kept my head down and stealth camped, practised responsibly and tried not to leave an obvious trace. As a result I aquired these necessary skills and they’ve served me well in this country and overseas. This country is limited to ‘legal access’ but there are areas we can get away, dartmoor, lots of scope in wales, Scotland, peaks, lakes. Just need to be quiet and respectful… Best places to practise overseas are New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and Pyrinees. This type of bushcraft/adventure travel is more of a lifestyle choice rather than a weekend hobbie or pastime and is simply not an option for most ‘bushcrafters’. I don’t think it easy to find a place in the uk to be able to practise all elements of bushcraft at once but think we can all practise individual elements at different times and places. For example you can practice friction fire lighting in your back garden. This way you can obtain skills in around about sort of way.
I don’t own woodland but as a landowner(20acre) I can appreciate not wanting to let some strangers dressed in camo, ‘coppicing’ what few trees I have and potentially burning everything to the ground.! ;0D And even with this land, I still look for other local ‘woodland’ areas to practise skills. Guess I prefer sleeping in a hammock than on the floor.! ;0)
If you don’t use it you loose it. Keep glowing and never give up :0)
All the best, dOm

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Steve Colsell

Hi Paul,
Great article, thanks. I was granted access to a small woodland for the purposes of wildlife photography nearly two year ago. I was very lucky because having found out who owned it (not easy) I just called at the farm and asked, making sure I was presentable and taking some of my photographs with me to back up my intentions – I was given permission just like that! He did not permit any shooting on the site which I think helped big-time (this had proved the biggest obstacle with other landowners I’d asked). The original farmer I’d asked has since died leaving his son in charge and he was far more reluctant, but I was able to win him over, and I send him photos occasionally too. I suspect it was more about not overturning the permission his father had granted that saved me though. I have not plucked up the courage to ask about practicing bushcraft yet for fear of blowing the deal. I don’t want to pay for access, but would willingly offer my labour . I do the occasional litter pick anyway, just because I hate to see the rubbish, but I haven’t made a point of letting the land owner know this – perhaps I should. Someone suggested I ask to camp initially, just as a way to be on site at dawn for photography reasons again and take a gradual approach to the subject of bushcraft. I think that’s probably the way to go in this instance.

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Richard

Great Article Paul! – You are rare in that you truly put thought and research into your blogs rather than just blasting them out like many others on social media.

However I have to agree with Nathan, that regardless of all the ways of working around this issue and asking for permission it remains the case in the UK that the people are very much separated from large swathes of our own countryside.
Sadly this goes all the way back to 1066 after the Norman invasion, when the whole idea of private land ownership and trespass began to take grip under the new norman rule of law. Nothing much has changed really.

The catch-22 is that if landowners are too negative and simply say no 9 times out of 10, then it will actually encourage desperate people to break the law even further. People will still follow their hobby at the end of the day.
I have the same problem with metal detecting, a peaceful hobby and one which suffers a lot from the same negative landowner attitudes of saying no almost be default.

I currently do not camp illegally and don’t advocate that people do, however it is growing increasingly frustrating that the access to my own country is so controlled and limited.

Sweden seems to be well ahead of the UK on this issue, although I admit they have a larger land mass and probably less people looking to camp outside?

Anyway I hope some more wild camping and bushcrafting becomes allowed in the future. Maybe some sort of licence for qualified bushcrafters? – You could become an awarding body Paul!

Thanks again for the great article.

Rich

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Zed Outdoors

What a fantastic and detailed article Paul, given me lots of insights and food for thought. Being very new to Bushcraft I kind of got lucky yet very switched on as to getting permission on using private land. I started attending woodcrafting meet ups in Kent (an hour from me) and quickly realised that at least half the people there either owned or managed private woodland. It was only because of a chance discussion with someone I had talking about me being on the lookout for somewhere to do my solo wildcamps they said “hey I manage a woodland why dont you use that…” …bingo it was all history from there

Subsequently i’ve met more and more people like that, one tip I would give is to go to natural crafts style meet ups in counties where woodlands are abundant, so for me it’s Kent and Sussex. And like you’ve rightly pointed I am always respectful with them when using it, the one i’m using at the moment asked I dont cut down live standing green wood so I dont. And I always offer a small payment as a gesture and phone them to let them know i’m either on site or off it, etc …basically showing them you are respectful of them and their property. Sorry for the ramble but just wanted to share my experience 🙂

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andy

Sadly i find it’s getting harder to get permission these days, We use an old Quarry That’s been turned into a Nature reserve, Even thats being discouraged because of people building fires and leaving rubbish strewn everywhere.

Great Blog , Very Informative Articles Thank You

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Jon Hosford

Hi Paul,

It’s interesting reading about land use laws in other countries. I live in Vermont (USA) which has open range laws. If a property is not “posted” (kind of an official no trespassing law), you are free to use the land for most things, even hunting. Obviously that’s not a blanket rule since there are limits about how close you can come to buildings and such. But, it does relieve people from needing to ask permission in most cases. While it’s good to ask, you are not legally required to do so. I already live on 19 acres of woodland and even have a fire pit in my back yard. I have no trouble practicing.

It looks to me like most of your hints on gaining access goes back to relationships. A relationship based on respect and trust is the basis for most human interactions. Friends, family, spouses, and in our case, land owners. It takes time and positive interaction to reach that point. I would think anything you can do to help a relationship grow would bring you a step closer to your goal.

My wife says I’ve never met a stranger. I can talk to anyone about most anything. I always learn something interesting! I like to think that has opened doors over the years. I do that by being respectful and being interested in the other person. Often just asking intelligent questions (often unrelated to the purpose) and letting the other person talk will show you what their real worries are, making it easier to address those concerns. Showing real concern and interest in helping with pain points will get you a very long way.

Love your blog and read it faithfully. Thanks for taking the time.

Jon

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Graham

Hi Paul,thank you for putting this together as I remember all the problems of trying to do outdoor activities in the UK.I now live in Ontario,Canada and things as you are aware are a lot different here .From parks that let you do many of the bush craft activities to crown land that lets you do more things in the way of planet gathering and shelter marking.That being said both areas are under land management that would like people to camp with the Leave No Trace principles.The hunting and trapping is under Canadian law with is different session for different animals.But again with the numbers of deer in the wilds of Ontario ,like rabbits over here we should have an open session on them.
I would recommend all to think about coming over here to camp and explore the area .Paul even does a trip .

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Rory

Another great and well researched article Paul.

I am saddened to here that it is so bad in the UK, at least the Scots have a better system up there (more natural/wild areas as well thankfully). It is just as bad in the Republic of Ireland where I am originally from but the fact is we have next to no forests left ( I believe the lowest percentage of any country in Europe at only 10%). The forests that do exist there are under the management of a government organisation called Coillte, they are not a very obliging crowd when it comes to activities but are good with access in the form of trails through, unlike the UK though they don’t have much of a presence in their own forests, so as long as they are not cutting trees down in the area and you are not burning the place down you are pretty-much free to be….illegal no doubt, but undisturbed for the most part. I have never seen any one from their organisation “police” or patrolling one fo their forests in all my years of camping out in them. This is in fact a very Irish trait, make a law against “it” and then not nothing to enforce that law….slackness has an up-side.

Currently I live in Belgium though and “wild area” space is a real issue here. The country is tiny but has plenty of forest cover, 21%, as opposed to the UK’s 11%. The problem is that it is usually in small parcels dotted throughout the country (the Ardennes beginning the exception), they normally have many walking:cycling tracks through them, are very near or between a bunch of villages or towns and are well used by cyclists, walkers, runners etc. Fires are also strictly forbidden everywhere. I am still working on looking into this in Belgium at this time but for the moment I have gone with the “set-up camp late, raise camp early and leave no trace” motto. It is a highly enjoyable way to camp though not very relaxing.

I have also lived for many years abroad, places like New Zealand where the outdoors is well managed and open to all kinds of activities, no worries there. Australia, where things are much harder because of the ever present danger of fires and the ever present danger of irresponsible people. Lastly, Sweden, the greatest outdoor country on Earth (maybe…truth is I have not experienced them all…yet), where even the drunk teenagers from Stockholm are able to responsibly light a fire in the woods of the local park and are then smart enough to not throw non-combustable rubbush in it and then take their tins and bottles home with them after they are finished. I am under the impression that this respect for nature is nurtured in the Swedes from early childhood through school, family and friends. Of course “every mans right” is just about the most far-sighted and humane laws in the European Union.

Anyway, thanks again for the great article and take care.

Rory

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Brian Bastable

Hi Paul,
Just sold my fishing boat and down sized to a 16′ Old Town canoe. Thinkin of doin a 3day trip on the river Wye with my Daughter. Can you possibly tell me of any rules and regulations regarding camping on river banks and having a small open fire and putting up a tarp/tent etc ?
Regards
Brian.
Ps Awsum work you do

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dOm

Hi Brian, I used to live nr Hereford and have kayak/canoed the wye many times. Sorry to say but the banks/land are very strictly controlled by the landowners and river bailiffs due to the number of people/kayakers who have previously used/abbused them, plus due to illegal fishing/poaching.(Wye is well known for salmon.!) I have ‘stealth camped’ a few times with a hammock&bivi bag but using a small stove & no fire. But this was literally stealth camping.! There are lots of good little organised pay camp sites along the way, but not sure if they all currently allow fires… Even though, it is a beautiful river to paddle and one of the nicest trips you’ll find in the UK, definitely worth doing :0)
All the best, dOm

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Steve

Another wonderful article Paul.

Living in Canada, I am spoiled, but I have camped in Belgium and the UK too. Getting around campfire concerns can be done with hexamine tablet stove or my current favourite Biolite wood stove which is a bit heavy for backpacking but excellent in an auto or canoe. Traveling light with just a bivvie bag instead of a tent means little set up and easy to stay out of sight. Even urban camping becomes a reality.

Steve

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James Harris

Hi Paul
Great article and an issue I’m facing at the moment. I used to have permission to use a small piece of woodland in Kent and was lucky enough to be able to do pretty much what I liked as long as I wasn’t damaging the land. Unfortunately a few years ago the land was sold and the new owners have it set in their mind that bushcraft is about running around the woods dressed like rambo and hacking up and burning the trees. So I’m now left without land to use, it doesn’t help that there are a lot of morons that think its ok to leave half burned fires and rubbish wherever they go, it’s something that disgusts me as I’m a big believer in leave no trace. Hopefully one day the laws in England will change and we’ll become a bit more like Scotland.

James this

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Whittler Kev

I have permission from a land owner I know to deter poachers.
For other areas out and about I joined BushcraftUK and go to their regional meets. Most are free and tips and tricks are shared from fire lays to snaring, tree id, etc

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Laurie

Ah, I do love living in Scotland! Its still amazing though how much is frowned upon to do… We do seem to be regarded as madmen who run about the woods with axes, fire, knives, you name it!

Its fantastic however the amount of understanding that folk seem to have been given by ray and the like. Long may it last!

And @Nathan, I think that to a degree all bushcraft activities should be treated as wild camping, as quite apart from the no trace philosophy, we should not advertise the fact we’re here. you never know who could see your camp and start having a fiddle… but don’t call wild camping illegal, it makes me feel guilty!

Another great article Paul.

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Rob Lanham

An excellent article Paul and really useful in providing a solid foundation on the legalities related to bush crafting in the UK. I’m really impressed with this and other articles on your site which provide logical, thorough and well-structured information (with links to primary sources – even better!). I’d like to congratulate you on the professionalism and attention to detail – your site is definitely a ‘go to’ destination for practical information on UK bush crafting.
All the best,
Rob

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cherry

Forgive me if this info is already in this thread;
During August only, on most (NOT all) of Dartmoor it is legal and free to wild camp.
Please do check the Dartmoor National Park site first for correct details.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Cherry,

That’s useful info for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Jon Lavender

Paul,
Thank you for this well written and inciteful information.
It makes me even more grateful that things are way easier on this side of the pond.
We have access to state parks wildlife areas and a host of private lands that we can play on.
The most important thing, to me at least, is to use a good dose of common sense when approaching a land owner.
You have covered all the basics so life should be easier.
I am fortunate in that where I live a short drive or a 10 minute walk can put me into the woods, owned by people that I grew up with and own the land. Yhey have no problems with me being there as long as I treat the land with respect and use it as if I were the owner. If I owned the land I would want it to be used and enjoyed with the proper respect dur to these wonderful resources.
As always I like the way you present things in a logical order with information to back up your thoughts.
Thanks,
Jon

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Junas

Hi Paul,

very good post indeed and I liked your initial free video series, thanks!

Finding a good place for buschrafting is also a big issue here in Germany. I mean, if you want to do a quick fire or do some woodwork without hiking dozens of miles with all your tools…

If you live in an urban area, it’s very difficult, but even when you have some great landside nearby, most often you find private properties, which are often run-down but fenced with ‘keep out’ signs. A friend of mine even suggested to occupy such properties, but I don’t want to get into politics and newspapers, I just want to do some bushcrafting.

So the best answer is probably to research the owners and tell them your story and ask for permission. I think, you will be surprised, how many will agree if you sound like a reasonably responsible person.

See you soon,

JC

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Junas and welcome. Thanks for your comment.

I look forward to hearing from you again.

Warm regards,

Paul

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nik

Hi, excellent blog, really enjoyed reading it, i am opening up my small-holding for bushcrafters and others and really appreciate the briefing on legal issues. Planning to open in March so fingers crossed we may appeal to some groups, and I really hope to learn some skills too.

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Ian moss

Hi Paul, I’ve just been re-reading this article after watching one of your ‘ask Paul’ sessions and nearly dropped my phone when I saw Niks comment, due to English law and the prohibitive cost of organised courses I was wondering if Nik could contact me with regard to swapping some manual labour for a little access permission. As I have looked into purchasing a woodland of my own any woodland forestry work that’s required would by me be classed as practice and experience gained for when my dream eventually happens. I have written my email in the main body of the comment so Nik can comment directly.
ianinstockport@gmail.com awaits a reply with eager anticipation !! As always Paul great informative stuff

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Andrew

Paul, thanks for a useful article which includes many tips and links to further references. One point not covered is the use of knives, which I’ve mentioned before (http://paulkirtley.co.uk/2013/how-to-pack-a-bushcraft-camping-outfit/) and which is one of the items listed in the beginning of the article. Please could you help with this as I am aware that there are strict laws regarding carrying knives in public places, and I think it is important that would-be bushcrafters have some guidance on this subject.

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Tom Norman

Thanks for this, Paul. It’s a brilliant article and – being brand new to bushcraft – it’s really educated me on the labyrinthian trappings of relevant British law. Frankly it’s rather more inhibiting than I knew, but at least now I’m far less likely to step on anyone’s toes in my first bumbling steps.

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Paul Kirtley

Hey Tom,

Thanks for your feedback on this article. I’m very glad it has proved useful to you.

I hope you find other information on this site useful in your exploration of bushcraft skills.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Jeff

Some great advice and useful tips, thanks for sharing.

In a lot of ways it does remind me of my youth when I spent a lot of time controlling the local rabbit population on a local farm with an air rifle. I got permission for that after helping out with hay bailing during the summer. Getting to know the farmer, letting him get to know me and letting him see I wasn’t, basically an idiot! Then after getting permission I always made sure he had a little something dropped off at the farmhouse after a successful shoot, and a little something extra for Christmas.

Any advice on how to find out who actually owns the land or woods though?

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craig benno

Great article Paul.

I have a number of properties I can freely access to practice bush-craft and go hunting. Sadly, both are 8 hours plus drive away. I also have a small reserve 6 minutes away, where I can go camping and practice bush crafting skills. I have spoken a number of times with the council ranger – who oversees the bush regeneration, and he is more than happy to allow me to discretely camp there. Though I have not stayed overnight – I often take the dogs for a walk. I also have taken my son and together have practiced a number of bush craft skills, and identified native local edible species. Here in Australia snaring is illegal – though we are allowed to use soft hold traps; I can’t use them in the reserve.

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Catherine Hutchinson

Hi Paul,
I am new to your blog but found your piece really helpful. Five years ago I entered an agreement with a land owner to use a small copse for forest school activities and we are still there, continuing to work with the family in question in a positive way. Initially we were just very lucky I think, as the owner was interested in the forest school concept and allowed us to go ahead. We must stick to our arranged times, take all kit away with us and only work with fire in one agreed spot. We also close occasionally for the local hunt and shooting. As we have got to know each other better and we’ve proved ourselves responsible over time the owner has introduced us to the groundsman, the local farm workers (who have let the children climb in the tractor) and now we even pop in to collect eggs from their hens to add to our meal. The children are building a deep sense of connection with nature and learning about how their local community works – hopefully this will never leave them and they will be responsible land users in turn. So as you say, it’s about being respectful and building relationships. If this happens it can be really beneficial for everyone.
Catherine

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Jim

Hi Paul
Excellent article-I am not surprised the UK and other countries have limited or restricted bushcraft
camping opportunity. Population pressure and respect for private property remains an issue and as
in many things it only takes a few irresponsible incidents to hurt all. I am glad to hear of the opportunity
you do have. In the American West there are vast national forest areas and declared wilderness areas
that allow outdoors exploration and education; however, we have the same responsibility for a light
footprint as you folks do.
Kind Regards
Jim Watkins-Pacific Northwest

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Ron

Landowner objection/rejection is understandable. Government however –local, State, and national – will over-regulate, just to be on the ‘safe’ side (all in our best interests, of course). Given cultural changes in the West, traditional woodland skills are more the province of the military, and to a lesser degree, the various scouting orgs. Then there is the scourge of Lyme Disease, fouled water, and arson. In addition, there are problems with homelessness, mental illness, crime, and terrorism; instances of these troubled individuals practicing their various specialties skulking about the woods presents a security problem for would-be campers of any age.
Thus the importance of professionals found in the Appalachian Mountain Club, Frontier Bushcraft, the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, Willow Haven Outdoor, et alia who will teach those interested how to stay out of trouble.

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Bozidar

Hi Paul!
I want to thank you once again very informative and interesting
lecture, from which we can learn a lot.
Thanks again!
Bozidar
Croatia

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Lesley

Your article is necessary because folk in general have no common sense. Man and nature ought to go hand in hand folk abuse nature. I believe the more people learn the more adventurous they become and the more they disregard natural commonsense. Self comes first, nature a low second. Self fulfilment/showoffs abound. Moderation non-existent. Truely mad at folk I see stripping nature.

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Paul Kirtley

Well, Lesley let’s hope we can make a difference and help people understand a little better.

All the best,

Paul

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dOm

Hi Paul, thanks for another gr8 article, I’m sure it will help many. I have been practising survival & bushcraft for well over 30yrs. Grew up & lived in rural Gloucestershire & Herefordshire and learned a lot of skills hidden amongst the hedgerows as a child ;0) Practised most of my skills in quiet areas of the Malvern Hills & The Forest of Dean, never even thinking to ask ‘permission’ but I always kept my head down and stealth camped, practised responsibly and tried not to leave an obvious trace. As a result I aquired these necessary skills and they’ve served me well in this country and overseas. This country is limited to ‘legal access’ but there are areas we can get away, dartmoor, lots of scope in wales, Scotland, peaks, lakes. Just need to be quiet and respectful… Best places to practise overseas are New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and Pyrinees. This type of bushcraft/adventure travel is more of a lifestyle choice rather than a weekend hobbie or pastime and is simply not an option for most ‘bushcrafters’. I don’t think it easy to find a place in the uk to be able to practise all elements of bushcraft at once but think we can all practise individual elements at different times and places. For example you can practice friction fire lighting your back garden. This way you can obtain skills in around about sort of way.
I don’t own woodland but as a landowner(20acre) I can appreciate not wanting to let some strangers dressed in camo, ‘coppicing’ what few trees I have and potentially burning everything to the ground.! ;0D And even with this land, I still look for other local ‘woodland’ areas to practise skills. Guess I prefer sleeping in a hammock than on the floor.! ;0)
If you don’t use it you loose it. Keep glowing and never give up :0)
All the best, dOm

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Gary

Thanks for this new-found wisdom and knowledge re Bushcraft Rules & Ethics Paul… Really Appreciated it for you sharing this article…

In my country in The Philippines, Asia – most of the wilderness are not owned by people but mostly farmlands by these so-called “hacienderos” – Spanish for farm-land owners… That’s why it would be okay to camp on these places where there are no farm-lands…

Not needing any permission or going through stressful and time-consuming legal steps, paper-works & persuasion from talk is a good advantage in my country on bushcrafting for the outdoors; however, the big drawback & risk here is that if I would camp alone in a place where no one owns the land that I explore – I might be a victim by a dangerous person or stranger that might steal, jump on me or even worse – harm me with a knife or a gun with more than one assailants & accomplices…

That is why if one would plan on going on a Bushcraft Adventure in an Asian Third-World Country like where I live – “One must always carry a Licensed Fire-Arm (with papers, training & the right & civilized attitude re fire-arm ethics) and should ‘Never Go Alone’ – and your companions should carry fire-arms for protection as well – especially if you would camp at night, this would save you from any possible threat…” Hope this helps add more info in Asian Bushcrafting…

Cheers Paul!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Gary, thanks for your comments regarding your experiences in Asia. How long have you been in the Philippines?

Warm regards,

Paul

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Gary

Your Most Welcome Paul!

I have been there all my life… 42 years of it… I am open for more questions if you have plans to go bushcrafting in my Philippine Country – It would be an honor to join you someday…

Here is my email: kier.gary@gmail.com

Please send me a message whenever you have time Paul…

Cheers!

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stephanie rivas

Timely suggestions . Just to add my thoughts , if your company requires a CT Private Land Consent Form , We filled out and esigned a template version here https://goo.gl/CRS9Ca.

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Charles Mandrell

Good wholesome research Paul, I would love some day to travel and bushcraft in the UK. I only wish we had info like this in the US, it has become ridiculously hard to go anywhere for our hobby without permits, no open fires, etc.. Although right now wild and forest fires have had a huge effect on our sport here in the western country. States and municipalities have even restricted any camping and recreational backpacking to such small areas, it’s not worth the time to get out right now.
Anyway, loved your article immensely, and great info that I will use as a reference for using in researching here.
Stay in the dirt, and love the earth.
Charles Mandrell, Coldorado, USA

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Ian

We’ve just handed over the cash for a small piece of woodland near Builth Wells, really looking forward to practicing bushcraft and permaculture skills, hoping to make it a place that we can use as our reatreat and to take the grandchildren to study nature and learn along with us.

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Vlad

Depressing. Didn’t find any tip in here. How can you be enjoying outdoors with such restrictions. So who to contact, how to find a landowner? “There are free access places, but you can’t camp there, you can’t make fire blah blah blah.” Lol. Sorry I wanna go to the woods not jus to make a selfie for instagram or facebook.

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