Firstly, I should point out that I wasn’t planning on writing this piece and adding it to the site for public viewing. It will be irrelevant to most readers, and not particularly of much interest, but I’ve written it to answer some of the questions that I’m often sent via email or frequently asked whilst either working, or in general chat.
So, these are just a few variations of pretty much the same sort of question that I’m often asked. I don’t mind answering them on an individual basis, but hopefully what you find here will help a little. I’ll try to go into a bit more depth than that on the ‘about me’ page and give you an idea of how I came to do what I do today.
“how did you get involved in Bushcraft?”
“how can I teach Bushcraft and do what you do?”
“where did you study Bushcraft?”
“bushcraft jobs, how do I get involved?”
“what led you to be in the profession that you’re in today?”
“were your skills passed down to you?”
To begin with, I’d like to stress that I’ve never gone to any college or university to formally study the main subjects that I teach. I do hold a degree in Conservation and Environmental sciences, but this is pretty irrelevant to the majority of my teaching, and I only began this study some years after I initiated teaching anyway.
In all honestly, any formal qualifications that are now offered in bushcraft, I completely disagree with, and have great distain for. Bushcraft is a subject that you can only truly learn by your own doing. Attending a full length ‘degree-type‘ course is sad in my opinion. Bushcraft should be passed down through the generations and not pushed through lectures and classrooms.
I appreciate that some may think I’ve just set a double standard as I ‘teach’, but a day course to spark someone’s interest and send them on their own adventures is a little different in my opinion. Formal qualifications will just harm the subject in the long term, as it will make it difficult for anyone who learnt bushcraft in the traditional way to teach because insurance companies will want to see the formal piece of paper before providing cover. This will get rid of some of the wannabe-type instructors which is a good thing, but I fear it will harm far more genuine instructors than the few bad apples.
Anyway, that was a long-winded way of putting it straight, that I’ve not studied bushcraft at any type of university.
Now this is known, most people will then automatically think it’s been passed down from father-to-son, which although is usually the case, it’s certainly not true in my situation. It was my granddad that first sparked my interest when I was just four years old, but from that point on, I am completely self-taught. I’ve never been lucky enough to have someone there to teach me anything as far as interests go – every single hobby I’ve been involved in I’ve had to teach myself by reading (lots) and practice, practice, practice. These days with the internet maybe it’s a bit easier. It would have been nice to have someone to share my interests with,but that’s just not always to be. My granddad would always show an interest, but being riddled with arthritis it was hard for him to become actively involved, so did so at a distance.
Due to lots of personal problems as a child I left school at an early age, I can’t remember my exact age, but it was around nine or ten years old. To cut a long story short, I just refused to go, and if I did, I’d soon take it upon myself to leave again. I never really fitted in at school and other than cooking or looking after the wildlife garden (the two things I did enjoy), I’d either be fighting or struggling with trying to catch up with work. So, after being miserable from day one, I left, causing no end of worries for my poor mum.
From the age of nine (ish) through to sixteen I hardly had any further education, other than a couple of hours a week with a home schooling service, which to be honest was pointless for me, but I did at least give that a go!
From the ages of nine to sixteen I spent more time in woodlands and grasslands, learning bushcraft, wild camping and about nature in general. I’d be roaming for hours, usually with my catapult and a few wildlife identification books. I’d spend hours making notes of nature observations, and learning which plants and fungi can be used as food.
When I was nineteen, I’d packed a full fifteen years of bushcraft skills into my life, but I had little formal education other than what I’d taught myself, so my career prospects were not looking too good . So, with that in mind, I thought I’d get involved in some more voluntary work (I’d dome some previously). I worked for the Essex Wildlife Trust as a volunteer for a number of months, doing general conservation tasks. It soon became apparent that I had a strong interest in wildlife and especially useful plants and trees, and because of this the rest of the workers and volunteers would always be throwing questions at me, usually about which berries they could take home, or what mushrooms they could gather safely.
It wasn’t long before I was approached and asked if I’d like to teach people about these skills. I was quite shy at the time, so although I can’t quite remember what I said, I’m guessing I said no at first, but they were persistent, and I finally gave in and agreed to run one course. By now, I was about twenty years old, I’d never run a course in my life and I had no teaching experience, and after worrying about it for weeks on end I’d convinced myself it would only be two or three people that would attend the course, so you can imagine my shock when a full 28 people arrived! Bear in mind I’d never stood in front of anyone and done a presentation or anything at this point! But, it was too late to back out, so on I went, thinking to myself “shit, what have I got myself into here!” as I led the group around a hundred acre estate.
Without going into what the course covered, it actually went really well, and at the end I got a round of applause, and even some of the students were trying to tip me with money! I was, as they say 'buzzing' with the adrenalin rush, and from there I decided I’d do a few more to see how they went.
After several courses, and a year or two of volunteering, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try my hand at obtaining a degree in conservation and environment studies. Bear in mind, I left school at a very early age and had no qualifications at all (other than a GSCE in art), Christ, I don’t even recall having an English lesson since being about seven years old. So, as you can imagine, a high-level course that lasted a couple of years was quite a shock to the system, and after having produced a few stinking bits of coursework I soon realised it wasn’t my knowledge that was lacking, but more my ‘unique’ style and approach to how I wrote essays. I adjusted this and then went back into the lectures with my fellow students, many of which who had come from strong academic backgrounds. But, I persevered and worked hard, teaching myself all the skills I needed to produce the style of work I’d decided they were looking for. As a result, my marks shot up and I was on my way. At that point, the university had introduced a wildlife ID module, which made most of the class crumble, as not many were able to ID a twig in winter, or a spring leaf when it’s being presented in a stand-alone way, especially when we had to produce not only the English name, but we had to understand, spell and know what the scientific (Latin) names were too. But for me, thanks to my background, this sort of thing was my bread and butter, and my lowest mark was 98.8% (it would have been 100% but I missed an E off two of the Latin names!).
After a few years, I got my degree and thanks to my volunteering (8 years or so including my previous voluntary roles that I’ve not mentioned here) I was offered a job to manage a wildlife reserve, which I did for a short while. Whilst doing this I was still teaching, and had now been doing so for a few years. I didn’t stick at the management job for long, and I did a few other things whilst teaching, such as working for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), but this was on a part time basis whilst I continued teaching.
Eventually, after a few years I decided to risk everything and go into teaching full-time through a company I set up.
During my time teaching bushcraft, I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked to train members of the MOD, TV personalities, forage for cookery shows and I’ve now written for well over 100 publications, including a regular column in a few well-known magazines. I've even been offered my own show twice, but this isn't really my thing, so I turned those down.
I’ve worked with several well-known people and their production companies, such as Jimmy Doherty (Jimmy’s Farm), Rachelle Allen (TV Chef), Adam Byatt (TV Chef and Restaurateur), Joanna Page (Actress, Gavin and Stacey, etc), James Tanner (TV Chef and Restaurateur), Ainsley Harriott (TV Chef), Ed Wardle (Alone in the Wild), Valentine Warner (TV Chef), Gordon Ramsey (TV Chef and Restaurateur), and many more.....
As you can see, I may not have got myself into bushcraft in the conventional way, but it’s been fun, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done it by myself. I’m completely self-taught in bushcraft, and self-taught in education since I left school at nine years of age.
Today, I don’t carry out very many courses as I run a different and very busy and successful (related) company, plus another few businesses and I write about my chosen subjects on a regular basis too. These few things take up more time than I care to think about, it’s not unusual to work for 18-20 hour days without a break. But over the years I’ve come to realise that I really can’t work for other people, I’m too strong-minded (some would say dam right stubborn) and although my work and teaching can be incredibly demanding and stressful, I really can’t see myself doing the usual 9-5, although through my work I have very often been given the chance to do so on a few occasions.
So, to those who want to do something similar, and teach bushcraft for a living, I’d recommend reading as much as you can on the subject, and practising as much as you can too.
Try to discover things for yourself, and not rely on others too much. As far as getting a job in the bushcraft industry, that’s not easy! I’d recommend treating it as an interest, and see how things progress naturally. You may find yourself teaching on a voluntary basis, but along with such commitments often comes paid work, it just takes time and a little bit of luck.
If you’re reading this and still at school, then I don’t recommend leaving early as I did. If I could go back and change things, this would be one of them. It certainly makes life difficult in more ways than anyone would even consider, but for me, I’m lucky that it did work out, but I’m sure that 95% of the time that wouldn’t be the case.
Hopefully one day, if I ever find time I’ll include the full story of how I got into the outdoor education business, but this is pretty much the 'in a nutshell' version, and as you can see, even that’s a bit long-winded!
Catch you on the trail.