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Winter – The season for blankets, warm fires…

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and walks on bright, crisp, frosty mornings. Not everything has hibernated yet, and we don’t have to either.  I recently saw hedgehog tracks in a woodland, and watched a king fisher on the banks of the River Usk.

Winter can seem like a time to batten down the hatches, but the lack of leaves on the trees allows us to see into the canopy more than before, and spot the squirrel drays, the abandoned nests in the blackthorn shrubs and pause to appreciate the shape of an ancient oak tree.

Its a good time to gather supplies too; grasses, cleavers and bracken gathered on a crisp and sunny day are good for tinder bundles. There is a lot of grandfathers beard around this year, and reed mace heads, which if you can find them, can still be gathered at this time of year.

Winter tree ID is a good way to focus in on the detail, what do the buds look like, the bark and the structure of the tree? What can you tell about a tree without knowing what it is called? Straight and narrow and single stem, tells you its pioneer tree like the birch. There will be dead ones in a wood with lots of trees like this in, perfect if you need dry wood for a fire. If the branches change direction, are hooked and crocked, like an oak tree. This shows you the tree is slow growing, and growing to find the changing light, good for building, or for keeping a fire burning once it is established. If your not sure what the tree is, save its location and return in the spring once the leaves have returned to clarify the ID, and smile at yourself for the ones you get correct.

There’s nothing better in our book than a day spent outside, then returning to home or camp a hearty meal, it is the season of soups and stews after all, and a log fire.