15 Acres of Adventure in the Heart of Leicester

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Identifying Plants during the Pandemic

Weeds- it's all a matter of perspective. By Chris Murnin

Taraxacum or Dandelion

Its Early May and Spring has well and truly sprung in Leicestershire The woodlands, fields and boundaries are in full flow, bursting at the seams with different shades of green. As the old adage goes, you can't see the wood for the trees and the same can be said by the hedgerows surrounding our estate.

These swathes of green shades and hues can seem like a blanket of growth rather than a get together of different plant species. This can be a bit off putting for those getting into plant identification and foraging. But what better time to learn than spring, and in the midst of the Government advised “Lockdown”.

I started self isolating mid March 2020, after completing my Level 2 in Survival and Wilderness Living with Peak District Survival School. This was swiftly followed with being furloughed from my full time employment. Not wanting to view this as a negative, like most people I created a self improvement action plan which included ways to improve my plant identification. Primarily with the personal emphasis of foraging, which seems to be a bit of a buzz word during the pandemic. As the shop's shelves started to dry up, nature's larder’s doors were opening.

On a professional level this supplementary knowledge could be drip fed into most outdoor activity sessions, on the river, hill or at the crag.

With a bit of a mental archive already, my first step was to create a framework to aid my learning (as 
I get distracted quite easily), so to aid some quick results my first point was:

We should all have a handful of plants we recognise, as they probably appear in our locally and/or we encounter them regularly. This makes them ideal to get the hang of identifying, as we can probably recognise them in most seasons and stages of their life cycle.

Basic colours and getting to grips with leaf and stem shapes along with petal arrangements can really help you focus your identification process. These can also help make sense of the descriptive language used in reference books. (I’ll list a few sources I use at the end of the article)

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”Initially how do you know what or who to listen to? By using a few different reference sources, you can make an educated decision. I have found
professional level this supplementary knowledge could be drip fed into most outdoor activity
sessions, on the river, hill or at the crag.
this particularly useful when I've been stuck with an “it's either A or B” situation, as some sources may hold that little gem that sits perfectly with the specimen you have. True story; after watching a video on Youtube of the merits and benefits of eating Dock Leaves, I finished off the evening’s viewing watching a survival show where the host had a very crappy experience after doing just that!

My long suffering wife can now identify every Lime (Linden) tree in our village, as after first finding out you can eat the fresh spring foliage we couldn’t leave the house without me stating “Do you know what tree that is?”. Now I do it just for fun. But seriously, to be confident enough to share your knowledge with someone else, will reinforce what you know, and could even spark a deeper understanding as you may be questioned on what you're saying, or even learn something in the conversation.

Now this one comes with a public health warning. Before eating anything, you need to be 110% sure you have positively identified the plants you wish to use. Mistakenly using Yew for your Spruce in tea or putting Hemlock in your salad could have DEADLY effects. Luckily there are many wild edibles that are very easy to identify and some are even quite tasty. By using what you have picked it takes your learning to the next level as you get to understand what makes a good specimen for the use you want. A long leggy nettle that has flowered can have great fibres that can make some high quality string but wouldn't be as good as the spring fresh tops for putting in a soup.

This image was taken during our 1hr daily family exercise as we walked along the edge of our estate. Within this small patch there were at least a dozen different species, almost all of which we could use in some shape or form, even if just as “Pandemic Poo Paper”.

Once you have a few under your belt, you will start to notice them everywhere. And you should challenge yourself to do so, as you will be starting to build up a mental picture and associate environments with certain species or types.

Being aware of a few basic foraging guidelines is as important as identification. No plant can be uprooted without Land owner’s permission, and some are even protected. But if you follow the 4 F’s you are onto a good start.

On common land you may gather moderate amounts of Fruit, Flowers, Foliage and Fungi for personal consumption. Other ethical considerations are for the wildlife that are dependent on the plants and other foragers. Never pick all what you see!

Other than the ethics there is the consideration to personal safety, so I like to remember W.E.E.D when i'm out and about:

W- Water, is the plant growing in, or nearby water? My area regularly floods, so ensuring what you harvest is above flood zones to prevent contamination is a good idea. Some of the U.K most deadly plants grow near the water’s edge (Hemlock Water Dropwort). Also disease
On common land you may gather moderate amounts of Fruit, Flowers, Foliage and Fungi for
personal consumption. Other ethical considerations are for the wildlife that are dependent on
the plants and other foragers. Never pick all of what you see!
carrying animals use riverbanks as highways. Last summer I watched a rat (Known carriers of Weil's disease) merrily munch away on a bramble patch that we visit often on canoe trips.

E- Emissions, Consider where your plant is growing. Is it on farmland that could be exposed to chemicals, or next to a bin compound that could have seepage? I have found a tomato plant growing on the site of a burst sewage pipe. No guesses how that got there!

E- Exhaust, Similar to the previous, whilst collecting from the road side consider that plants next to a traffic light will have had more exposure to exhaust fumes than those half way down the lane.

D- Dogs and other animals excrete outdoors. My Mum always warned me of picking berries below my belly!

Crataegus or Hawthorn.

INTERMEDIATE 3- Sticky weed (Goosegrass/ Cleavers) Hawthorn, Blackberry ADVANCED 3- Rosebay Willowherb, Plantain, Hedge Garlic
Bonus Points. Wood Avens, Thistle, Hogweed

Lamium album, commonly called white nettle or white dead-nettle

Sources of Reference;
  • ●  Food For Free .......
  • ●  Wild food Uk, have produced a sturdy field guide, but also have information on their
    website, plus countless videos on Youtube. https://www.wildfooduk.com/wild-plant-guide/
  • ●  Robin Harford is a wealth of knowledge https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/plants

  • ●  Plants for a Future. Google any plant followed by PFAF for a brilliant fact rich resource
    This is just a tip of the iceberg, the information is out there for you to take in, in whichever medium suits you.     

  • Stay safe.

For more information about Bushcraft courses 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Woodland Wanderers Guide to plant remedies.

or Five plant remedies every Outdoors person should know.

by Chris Murnin.  APIOL

Since 2006 I have been based in the Midlands, and as with anywhere you spend a lot of time, you start to become familiar with the surroundings. I started to see the seasons pass, and recognised plants flourishing, or re-appearing in the same spot each year. As my interest in bushcraft grew, so did my thirst for knowledge. What was the plant that filled the bottom field with a beautiful scent signalling the start of the summer, and what was sprouting, and encroaching on the paths in the shade?

In today’s society medical supplies are readily available. Pain killers in the check out at the super market, cough sweets at the news agent or plastic gloves and wound dressings at the petrol pumps. We have never had it so easy... or have we? As with most conveniences nowadays, our ancestors had equivalents that were derived from nature.  In this article we will explore a few easily identified plants that are not intended to replace a simple first aid kit, but in the absence of one, or for longer term, can ease a few common ailments.

Firstly we need to look at a few ways to work with the materials we find whilst out and about. To be most practical to be used on the move, it should involve minimum kit or processes.

  • Poultice: Take the material and mash it all up. This could be done between two smooth (cleanish) rocks or with a spoon in the bottom of a mug. This process loosens up the fibres, releases the juices and gives you a nice mushy lump that can be moulded around a wound. If working with dried material, add a little water, a wee bit at a time until the correct consistency is achieved. In haste I have grabbed a few leaves and chewed them up to produce a usable dressing. Cover with a large leaf and secure with a bandage or cordage if you need to keep mobile. 

  • Infusion: Place the mashed up material in a container and pour over boiling water, allow it time to steep to produce a medicinal tea. Straining the liquid through a sieve (T-Shirt) will save you getting bits stuck in your teeth, or choking on a twig. Without access to fire or a suitable metal container, well worked material left in a small amount of liquid in direct sunlight for as long as possible will create an alternative brew. Or you could just rough it out, chewing the material, swallowing the juices and spitting out the fibres. 

  • Decoction. This is the most involved process of the three. Bring the macerated material to the boil, then simmering it to reduce the volume of liquid making a more concentrated, potent treatment. 

Knowing how to take the material you have found and turn it into the treatment you require is a useful skill, but it is irrelevant if you cannot confidently, positively identify the plant in the first place. Also there is potential conflict if you are currently under other medication, pregnant or breast feeding. If this is the case, please seek medical advice before using any of these remedies. 

Greater Plantain- Plantago major, also Ribwort Plantain –Plantago lanceolata.  

Greater Plantain
Ribwort Plantain
  A great wayside remedy, as it’s very often found on paths and trails where it populates well travelled ground. This earned it the common name of Cart Track Plant or White Man’s Footsteps. A perennial so can be found all year round in the UK. Both varieties sport tough internal ribs that can remain intact when the leaves are stretched and split. They sprout tall seed bearing stems (May- October) that act as flags for the observant forager. This plant is a standalone treatment for skin ailments, excelling in easing bites and stings. Renowned forhaving antibacterial, antimicrobial, antitoxic and anti-inflammatory properties ensure any broken skin will benefit from a plantain poultice. I have had great results by refining this plant a bit further and creating a salve from infused oil and bees wax, which a colleague of mine swears by!

Yarrow- Achillea millefolium

An ancient remedy whose many names infer its medicinal uses. Soldiers Woundwort, Nose Bleed, Staunchweed, and if your wood work is anything like mine, Carpenter's Weed. If it’s good enough for the warrior demi-god Achilles it’s good  enough to treat cuts and grazes we experience out and about. Its astringent properties staunch blood flow, its antiseptic properties reduces the chance of infection whilst its analgesic effects lessen the pain. It’s said that dried and powdered yarrow leaves are the most effective (They may sting a bit!), but in a pinch, a rough poultice of fresh growth will do the job. 
Whilst working in Inner Mongolia, in the build up to winter we were given teas containing Yarrow, as an immunity booster. A tasty tea infusion of Yarrow, 1 tsp dried leaves (or 2 large leaves) in one cup of boiling water is a recognised cold and flu remedy, which once cooled can also be used to wash out cuts and grazes.
It has also been noted that fresh leaves can be directly applied to relieve tooth ache.

Meadow Sweet- Filipendula ulimaria 

Meadow Sweet
This misnomer could potentially have you seeking this plant in the wrong habitat, rather than rolling meadows, it favours the damp soils of marshes and river edges. The name actually refers to the honey based alcoholic beverage “Mead” in which the flowers were used as flavouring.  
A potent anti-inflammatory, an infusion of the flowers is said to remedy heartburn, gastric complaints and nausea. Records state that meadowsweet may have been the original Aspirin with uses recorded back to the time of Hippocrates 400BC. High in the compound salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid, this pleasant drink will relieve headaches whilst out on the trail. 4 tsp fresh flowers (or 2 tsp dried) in 250 ml boiling water will make a tasty tea once it’s been steeped for 10 minutes.
As a quick fix without too much processing, a few roots cleaned up can be chewed to release the healing juices, as long as you don’t mind that TCP/ Germoline taste. 

Willow- Salix family  

A prevalent tree in the British isles, found near water, Willows also contain salicin, White Willow-Salix alba, has some of the highest concentrations, easily identified by its long pointed leaves, with a lighter (white ) hue underneath. Its anti inflammatory properties can aid joint and muscle pains.
An infusion of the leaves has been recognised to have a calming effect, and can be used to remedy insomnia.
As a pain reliever, an infusion of willow bark (1 tsp steeped to 1 cup water) can relieve headaches and other pains. Again in the absence of equipment, chewing on the inner bark would give some pain relief. Often compared to Aspirin, willow is reported not have the stomach-irritating or blood thinning side effects. 

Bog Moss- Sphagnum Recurvum  

Bog Moss
Anyone who has spent in the hills has misjudged a patch of green as a safe haven and ended knee deep in a bog, often thanks to a clump of bright green moss that blankets our peaty uplands and boggy lowlands. Once dried, bog moss can absorb over 20 times its own weight before becoming saturated. This married with its antiseptic properties made it an invaluable medical commodity over the ages. Other than a dressing to cover battle wounds, it has been used to line baby’s nappies and as sanitary towels.
This plant became so heavily revered during World War 1, that in its final year over 1 million moss dressings were being produced each month! The labour intensive task of collecting the moss was mainly carried out by volunteers such as the Boy Scouts.  
For best results use ground up naturally dried moss, this increases the surface area of the material, fully utilising the antiseptic and absorbency properties. This bound under a cloth bandage will see most casualties off of the hill.  A rough field dressing can be made from a hand full of moss which has been squeezed and wrung out. 

These plants can aid us when we really need them, but at that stage we don’t want to be wary of our identification. Learn to identify these plants in all seasons, and you will have access to an array of medicines for a variety of ailments.

New Bushcraft Courses for 2020

Introduction to Bushcraft
Bush 'Crafter
Primitive Skills
Campfire Cooking
Canoe Camp

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Apprenticeships at the Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

An interview with Stephen Granger, one of out past apprentices. by David Robinson.

With our new apprenticeship having been launched I decided to talk to Stephen Granger, who has gone through the whole apprenticeship scheme, about his time as an apprentice and ask him to reflect on his adventure into a new career.

Q) Stephen how did you become an apprentice?
A) First of all I volunteered at Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre for a summer, having a passion for the outdoors this was an opportunity close to where I lived, a place I’d been kayaking before and loved it. I also thought volunteering would be a good way to get my foot in the door having known LOPC takes on apprentices. At the end of the summer there was a vacancy so I applied.

Q) Looking back do you think the apprenticeship was a good thing?
A) Yes, it allowed me to meet and learn from some very experienced people with lots of knowledge of the outdoors. The apprenticeship helped me to find my passions (rock climbing), and helped me to learn about myself - working with a variety of clients whom some I never thought I’d be working with. Some of the challenges I’ve faced both from work and getting out on my own adventures have helped shape who I am today.
Q) So you would say the apprenticeship scheme was right for you?
A) It was perfect for me and I’d certainly suggest it to other people. I was learning every day.

Q) So if you could turn back time you would still do it or do something else?
A) 100% yes

Q) What parts of the apprenticeship worked and helped you develop?
A) The reviewing and reflection I did, particularly at the start, helped me to think about how I was presenting myself and performing as a professional instructor. I also looked at my organisation skills and kept picking out what I needed to do to be a good instructor.

Q) What would you say to anyone thinking about becoming an outdoor instructor apprentice?
A) I would say do you see yourself working with a huge range of people? Are you a people person? Do you enjoy working with young people, getting to know them and developing them? Do you see yourself giving up your time to work on your personal skills? You’ll need to spend time going out climbing or paddling, for example, in order to progress to the higher qualifications. So what are your aims, where do you want to be?

Q) And what advice would you give them?
A) Find out early on what you’re good at or what you love, and focus your time and energy on that, in your personal life as well as work life. If you can find people to do that with it will also help – learning from each other and coaching each other to improve.

Stephen Granger has emerged from our apprenticeship scheme as a brilliant instructor who we rely on every day. We’ve had great feedback from a variety of different customers about the quality of his service, an asset to the centre. Having little experience and no qualifications when he started, this is someone we may not have employed if it wasn’t for the apprenticeship scheme. Therefore the apprenticeship has been a win win, with Stephen clearly benefitting from the development and us the employer benefitting from his great service.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Kayak Launch Appeal

We need to Reconstruct the kayak launch area, which will enable safer and easier access for both able-bodied and disabled users to enjoy paddle sports on the River Soar in Leicester.
We need your Help.
Following years of flooding and riverbank erosion, the kayak launch is at risk of collapsing into the river. Used by up to 10,000 people per year, the kayak launch provides the access point for individuals, families, schools and a variety of community clubs to get onto and off the River Soar in Leicester, supporting the development of paddle sports. 

Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre is a Registered charity number 1074671

The proposed project would involve placing pilings into the river, back-filling the space behind, adding a new concrete launch area and access from high ground down onto the launch area. This would future-proof this important facility, which is used every day that we are open. 

We need your help with Ideas and Actions to Fund Raise to make this project happen.

The Centre now attracts visitors and users from across the UK and we anticipate demand on this facility to grow in the months and years ahead. This makes it really important to carry out this reconstruction sooner rather than later.

Our goal is to raise £34,000 Please will you help us make this happen?

For more information or offers of help please email manager@lopc.co.uk

Your text will cost your donation plus your Network Charge. Please make sure you have the permission of the bill payer before making a donation.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Proving that neither age nor disability is a barrier

Proving that neither age nor disability is a barrier to new experiences, with her 2 daughters & grandson, 85 year old June Jones from Wigston, Leicester was one of the participants on the Zip-line at the LOPC (Leicester Outdoor Pursuit Centre) in March. 

June, who will be 86 in June this year is totally blind in one eye and has only partial peripheral vision in the other eye.  Speaking to a family friend who had been on a zip-wire whilst on holiday, June told her family that she would love to have a go, to have that feeling of flying through the air.  Her family contacted the LOPC who arranged the experience as a private booking for a Christmas present.

After her 1st go, June said ‘Oh I loved it and it was so quick.  I was twirling in the air & could feel the wind rushing past me, do we get to have another go’?  

The family were led back up to the top of the tower with greater confidence to have another go.  June said ‘I’m going to tell all my friends at the Deaf & Blind Society & see if they want to come & have a go’

The LOPC provide Outdoor Adventure Activities for almost All ages & groups of people, with a range of experiences designed help stimulate, educate and motivate people at affordable prices.

The LOPC is an Independent Charity based in 15 Acres of land at the Heart of Leicester.  
For more information about the Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre.
e-mail: enquiries@lopc.co.uk                           
Tel: 0116 268 1426  

It was as if we had stumbled through the wardrobe and landed in Narnia.

Sometimes the stars align, freak weather conditions sweep the nation and events build up from a normal Saturday bimble in the peaks to an epic winter experience that ballads shall be sung about for generations to come.

It’s a rare event working in the outdoors to have a free weekend, even rarer for my partner in crime Steve also to be free, so queue a fortnight of planning what to do with the 10 hours of release from work and family. We were adamant that “It didn’t matter what we did, just being out is good enough”, this of course was purely lip service as we both had our own agenda “to fit in as much to these precious hours as possible”.

Watching the forecast build we were treated with a solid days snow in the Peaks on the Friday, so as Saturday morning hit we bundled axes and crampons into the tiny Fiesta and tore off towards the Edale Valley.

The drive was dreary with little or no snow. “It will be fine once we clear Chesterfield.” I said with mock confidence, the building feeling of pre emptive disappointment. The prospect of trudging through slush or being knee deep in chilled bog was far from appealing. Rolling past Birchen’s Edge the streams were pouring out along the road and Stoney Middleton did nothing to appease the building frustration at the thought of a wasted trip. As we pulled into Hope there was a margin of white on the skyline, but we both struggled to differentiate between cliff and cloud. Along the Edale valley the jury was out, as tops were covered in clag and without a window.

We were the second car in the Barber Booth lay bye. As we kitted up a few others arrived, but there was a hushed feel of muted excitement as we exchanged nods and hellos. From this point we could see that winter had touched the hill, but had no idea what conditions would be like one we got up there.

We headed up a swollen Crowden Clough, the route is a winding one, with small patches of woodland at the lower end, when we emerged from the last patch as the snow began to fall we got the first glimpse of the Kinder Plateau, and it didn’t disappoint. 
It was as if we had stumbled through the wardrobe and landed in Narnia. The stream has carved a steep path off of the plateau and other than the most perseverant rocks; everything was covered in ankle, knee to waist deep drifts.

Without a defined path, care had to be taken not to end up in the stream, hopping from rock to rock, clutching at heather tufts to gain headway. Then it gets steep!

We catch up with a man we had been seen in the car park. “There was too much water coming down the other day, it was impassable.” We opt for the steeper left hand bank and carve a trail, hugging the rock and making the most of natural gullies. That amount of snow can be extremely deceptive, nothing can be assumed, especially that the next foot hold is going to take your weight. After working around the main falls the ground flattens out into a frosted icicle garden.

We lunch at the edge of the Pennine Trail, enjoying the muffled silence aided by the blanket of snow. Barely a soul about. That is until a walking group of around 40 members march through, swiftly followed by a group of trail runners. We finish up and move on; just before the local dog walkers come tearing through.

The day takes a turn from this point on, as we work our way along the edges towards Jacobs Ladder. It’s apparent that everyone this side of Sheffield (Actually there were quite a few Liverpudlian accents about) had decided to hit the hills. We follow the massive furrow carved out by the walking group, and can’t go 2 minutes without greeting someone coming the other way. The conditions were perfect for a good days walk. And it was great to see so many people enjoying the hills, and not being put off. Everyone was having their own adventure. Us included.

What is normally a long knee jarring trudge down the steps of Jacobs’s ladder was actually quite fun, partly watching a pair of dog walkers slide down on their bums whilst chasing a giant snowball they were rolling down the hill.

Once back at the car we see a few of the faces we met earlier. All smiling and satisfied. Well worth getting out of bed for.

Post by Chris Murnin.
For More details about the Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Advanced White Water Leader Course

Advanced Leadership

by David Robinson of Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

As part of my own CPD I recently enrolled on to an Advanced White Water Leader Course. It was great to get some paddle sport training again, as a coach I’m often the one giving out coaching advice but rarely receiving it. The course was fantastic with a real emphasis on professional guiding and professional leadership.

One thing we looked at was being able to adapt our leading in order to ensure the group were all part of the adventure. What do I mean by that? Quite often, and especially when we are in challenging environments, if we take the lead we can easily become the autocratic captain assuming responsibility of the group. Whilst there is a responsibility for the leader to look after the group, there is still a responsibility for the other teammates too - to look after each other.

They need to be an active part of the team. Otherwise, in a white water environment you can easily create a dynamic whereby the leader is carrying the group down the river.

A good analogy that was given to us referred to being in a car. When you’re a passenger you switch off and let the driver do all the work, you don’t start reading the signs and judge the stopping distances (well usually we don’t anyway). You switch off and let the driver concern themselves with all that.

The same can happen on the river, whereby the group just rely completely on the leader and then simply follow them like ducklings behind their mother. If this is happening you have to question how much they are part of the adventure and how much they are simply following a kayaker.

When we’re on advanced white water we need everyone to be drivers. So you need to make sure your clients are active in the adventure, and not just your passengers as you paddle down the river. This means adapting your leadership and moving yourself around the group, if the river eases off for a bit - put someone else at the front. If there are rapids where participants can practice specific skills encourage them to challenge themselves. We’re aiming for our participants to be more involved in the adventure making their own decisions and thinking about where they are going.

I’ll be looking to adapt my leadership as I spend more time on the river, and hopefully the result will be paddling with active engaged paddlers receiving real paddling adventure, rather than passengers simply following me from A to B.

The coach who delivered the course was Ross Montandon who runs New Wave Kayaking, who mainly delivers white water training. I thoroughly recommend Ross, very professional and great to learn from. 

Photos were taken by Ross during the course, thanks very much for letting us use them.

For more information about Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

For more information about Ross Montandon