Wild Wanderings 4 – Summer, Sussex and Students

Wild Wanderings 4 – Summer, Sussex and Students

Common fleabane stem, leaves and flower against green backdrop
Common fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, East Sussex, August 2016. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Since I was a boy, summer has always meant a lot of time spent outdoors. In my school years it was the halcyon days of the “six week holidays”, seemingly endless times of riding my bike or romping around the woods.

These days, it’s not so different. Less cycling maybe but still plenty of time in the woods. For the last decade, a good proportion of the spring and summer months have been dedicated to sharing what I know on courses. In particular, July and August have almost always been block-booked with teaching students.

No less this year. August saw me teaching an Elementary, Woodcrafter and Intermediate courses back-to-back.

All of the courses I run contain an element of tree and plant identification. These are the raw materials of bushcraft for the main part. And to use the resources, you have to first identify them.

Students on my Intermediate course have most reliance on an ability to identify natural resources. It’s something which we work on considerably during this six day course. We are lucky to have a large training area which has a diversity of tree and plant species on which we can draw.

In particular, this venue allows me to teach common, widespread and sustaining northern hemisphere food species all in one venue. For more information on my approach to this you can read Survival Foraging: A Realistic Approach.

Clearly, the majority of my time during this programme was dedicated to teaching and overseeing the students rather than my own photography but below is a selection of interesting images I managed to grab during the week. All the photos are pertinent to the Wild Wanderings theme I’m developing with these photoblogs.

Summer Colours – Red, Yellow and Green

Woody Nightshade Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara red berries
The berries of woody nightshade, a.k.a. bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara ripening. The familial resemblance to tomatoes is easily seen here but beware, these small red berries are poisonous. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Sunflower like flowers of common fleabane
The flowers of common fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica provide some bright August colour. They also show clearly this plant is in the daisy/sunflower family, Asteraceae. “Fleabane” comes from the historical use of this plant to discourage fleas and other insects. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Light green leaves of giant hogweed.
The young leaves of giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum. Not to be trifled with. NB light green colouration of the foliage at this stage. Also note by boot in bottom of the photo for scale. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Ripe red rowan berries on a tree in the distance amongst other trees
Not immediately apparent but once you tune in to the colour, ripe, red berries of rowan, Sorbus aucuparia make themselves known. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Green norway spruce cone
Norway spruce, Picea abies, has the longest cone of any spruce. This is an immature cone (it’s green), we found on the ground, which is somewhat unusual as the cones tend to persist on the tree at least until they are mature and brown. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Wild Food Foraging

Being able to pick out edible greens is useful for micronutrients and a wild salad is always pleasant, particularly in summer. But for real sustenance, one needs something more substantial. Plants with underground storage organs need to be targeted, in the same manner tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, roots and corms are targeted by hunter-gatherers. The more common and widespread these plants are, the better. See the related material links at the end of this article for more details on these points.

People in a pond collecting Typha latifolia
Students on the Intermediate Wilderness Bushcraft course harvesting Cat-tails, Typha latifolia. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Ropey roots on a fire
Typha latifolia rhizomes cooking on embers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Burdock burrs.
The familar velcro-like burrs of burdock, Arctium lappa, contain the plant’s seeds and follow the thistle-like purple flowers. This flowering stem, however, forms in this biennial plant’s second year of growth, using up energy from the underground tap root, Photo: Paul Kirtley
Digging up burdock roots
Excavating the roots of burdock, Arctium lappa, in the plants first year of growth. The large leaves have already been removed from the stems and will be utilised. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Burdock roots and other plants for food
Burdock roots and other foraged plant foods. Photo: Paul Kirtley
People digging up Silverwed
Silverweed, Potentilla anserina a.k.a. Argentina anserina, is a small plant with small roots but one that grows in abundance. Here students dig up a sward of the plants for their small starchy USOs. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Silverweed roots a bit like spaghettie
The small roots of silverweed. Photo: Paul Kirtley

We Weren’t The Only Foragers

Hazel nut and leaves
Hazel nuts were forming quite nicely in this part of Sussex in August. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Hezelnut cross section
We actually ate a fair few raw nuts and they were good. It’s interesting, though, that some shells contained a fully formed nut (left), which others still largely contain the foamy pre-nut pulp material and only a small kernel (right). These were taken off the same branch. The fully formed kernels are good eating fresh. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Hazelnut shells and parts on the ground
We were not the only ones who were finding the hazelnuts good eating. It’s hard to get ahead of the grey squirrels… Photo: Paul Kirtley
Squirrel tracks in soft earth
On closer inspection, we could also see squirrel tracks in the soft mud. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Wasp nest excavated by badger
In another area of the woods, not far from where we bivvied one night, we found a wasp nest in a bank, which had been excavated by a badger. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Final Foraging Foray

Towards the end of the Intermediate course, students are asked to spend time foraging then to display the species they have collected. There are also other elements to their final challenge…

Wild foods foraged on a Frontier Bushcraft course
Students present an array of species collected. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Summer fruit foraging
Summer fruits collected in foraging baskets, made from bark, also part of the course. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Students lighting a small stick fire
Fire-lighting as well as foraging… Photo: Paul Kirtley

Photographic Kit

When I’m travelling as light as possible (as I was during the Intermediate course), I opt for my smallest, most compact camera, the excellent Canon G7X. All of the above photos were taken with this camera.

What Are These Wild Wanderings Blogs Anyway?

Wild Wanderings is a series of photoblogs of elements of nature which, having caught my eye while out and about, I want to share with you, the reader. These observations are typically related to tree and plant identification, animal tracks and sign and other aspects of natural history which pertain to bushcraft and survival skills.

These blogs do not usually contain much written explanation other than concise photo captions. This is intentional, as writing long descriptions, including background facts or a large amount of context, whether it be historical or contemporary, slows down the sharing of these images with you.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog…

How To Identify Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum

Five Survival Plants Every Forager Should Know

The Difference Between Foraging And Living Off The Land

6 thoughts on “Wild Wanderings 4 – Summer, Sussex and Students

  1. Paul I really enjoy every thing you post to me on my emails .You make every thing informative.Thanks and please keep up the great work.———Don Burress –from the USA

    1. Hi Don,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m very glad you find these posts and my emails so informative. I really appreciate the feedback.

      Keep in touch.

      Warm regards,


  2. Paul, do you know of anyone who does what you do in the U.S. or in North America?

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your question. Just to clarify – I’m assuming you are asking about physical courses rather than online materials?

      Warm regards,


  3. Once again Paul an interesting article. i found it interesting that not all the unripe cob nuts had formed kernels. I also did not realise they were edible raw.
    Many thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences again. Keep safe and keep up the excellent work. Dave.

    1. Hi Dave,

      It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for your feedback on this photoblog.

      I hope you manage to find some cobnuts before the squirrels and get to taste them raw 🙂

      Warm regards,


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