Since leaving his job in the film industry 15 years ago, Greg Humphries has been working as a woodsman, making bows and arrows and green wood furniture, and generally pursuing his passion for the great outdoors. Greg’s mission is to rediscover western society’s forgotten survival skills and pass them on to us. In the name of research, he has trekked through the Amazon and the Arctic, and tracked down knifemakers in the northern reaches of Norway. If you’re in a survival situation with Western Europe’s wet climate, the first things you need are fire and shelter. There are lots of different ways to start a fire, from the obvious match or lighter way to more primitive methods that are of course much more fun. Firestrikers are a handy tool, as they’re light and it doesn’t matter if it’s wet or windy. When your tinder is burning or glowing, put it in a handful of hay or dried grass and blow into it in the direction of the wind so it catches fire.
Wild food is quite easy to find when you know what to look for (see last month’s feature on wild winter greens). But finding clean drinking water is a lot trickier as chemicals, pesticides and herbicides can cause real problems and the only truly safe way is to take it from a tested source.
Some people use a pair of jeans to filter out any particulate matter; and then add either chlorine or iodine drops (available from good camping shops) to kill off the bugs. Even better, bring a bottle of clean water from home to avoid any complications, even if it’s not very survivalist. A quick and simple bed is the leaf litter shelter inspired wild boar hideaways that the creatures borrow into for the winter. Survival skills are sometimes seen almost as tricks, techniques that will enable us to survive in an alien environment for a limited period of time.

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This course is designed as a challenge for those who already have some bushcraft experience. Leaving your standard winter kit back at base camp for safe keeping, for the challenge you will be allowed only one wool blanket, your bushcraft knife and folding saw, a Swedish fire steel, one cooking pot, a non-metal cup, a head torch, a first aid kit and a reliable method of communication. Saturday will give you the chance to improve your situation and comfort further, before experiencing your second night with minimal kit in the winter woods.
In 2009, he set up Future Tracks to provide woodland management services as well as running a wide range of courses at the Plan-it-Earth eco-site in Sancreed to get people understanding nature.
What they don’t realise is that trees are mainly composed of water like the human body, and take about a year to season. To begin with, find a sheltered spot and clear the earth so it’s free from leaves and away from tree roots, which can cause fire to spread. Striking sparks onto cotton pads creates an instant flame; so do the fluffy seed heads you find on reed mace in the summer, so it’s worth collecting a few bags of the stuff. We all know what stinging nettles look like – these are high in vitamin A and make a lovely if rather tangy tea.
The general rules in a survival situation are firstly to filter the water to remove any particulate matter and then treat it to kill any bugs.
Greg prefers a simpler option: “My favourite way of making water safe to drink once it has been filtered is by boiling it on a rolling boil for two minutes or more. To build the structure, create a tripod with three sticks – crisscross two smaller ones at the front to make the entrance then attach a long one, the length of your body to make a roof that slopes down to the ground.
What we tend to forget is that every environment has people who live their whole lives there.

Camping out in colder conditions is always a challenge but going without a tent, sleeping bag and stove requires a real understanding of survival priorities and a good knowledge of how to provide these essentials for life, using what nature provides. With the proper preparation and practice there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be anything other than toasty warm and well fed.
The more I learn about being self-sufficient the better I feel – it makes me feel happier and certainly more connected to the environment,” he explains. The thought of starting a fire outside, from scratch, can be a little daunting and even frustrating. Cramp ball fungus and char cloth also make great tinder – the latter can be made at home. To them, hunting, fishing, building shelters, and sourcing water might be a way of life, along with herding and growing crops. Working in pairs, small groups or even solo (for the most experienced course members), by last light on Friday you MUST have built an effective shelter and bed, made fire to cook on and keep warm by, prepared and cooked up an evening meal before bedding down for the night.
Learning with an experienced firestarter like Greg is the best way to gain confidence while ensuring safe practice. When you’ve got enough, arrange them into small bundles from the smallest to the largest and make sure they’re close at hand”.

Survival box checklist form
Survival refrigeration without electricity food storage containers
National geographic nature valley

Rubric: Microwave Faraday Cage


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