For many people, Spring is the first time they venture out after our long wet winters have eased and the trees start to plump their buds before bursting into leaf. The days start getting warmer but the nights still happily yield freezing temperatures, so proper planning is essential. I remember my first Spring camp, I was unprepared for how cold the night would be. Thankfully I’d packed a small hot water bottle so every few hours when I was awoken by the cold, I would reheat it before tucking back in.
Spring does bring with it however, an abundance of opportunities for the bushcrafter. I’m very fortunate in that I live within 100 yards of lakes, woodlands and fields, so even when I’m not out, I’m woken early by the stunning dawn chorus, including a frisky woodpecker that’s taken a liking to a telegraph pole opposite my house and drums for over an hour.
As the season starts there is a lack of obvious wild foods. Pray animals are hunkering down to have their offspring and greens are not yet in abundance, but there are foods available for those who know where to look. Quickly the trees explode with colour, young beech & hawthorn leaves providing substance for an early Spring salad. Dandelions push up their broad headed flowers, which make an excellent accompaniment to a salad or if in abundance, can be used to make dandelion honey. The roots make an excellent alternative to coffee or can be cooked & added to stews.
To start a morning, if dandelion root hasn’t been prepared previously, there’s nothing better than pine needle tea, using the fresh bright green shoots finely chopped and steeped in hit water. Remember to only eat plant that you can identify for certain. Making a cup of yew needle tea for example, would not end well!
Fire is of huge importance. As the sun goes down and the chill of the long night sets in, there’s nothing more satisfying than still next to a warming fire. When setting up camp it’s vitally important to consider the location, wind direction, any natural cover and how the fire will be laid. Using a tarp gives the most versatility, it can be set up in a multitude of ways and quickly adapted if the conditions change, which they invariably do.
The nights sleep will largely be determined by the ability to set a sturdy camp and by the sleep system used. As the ground hasn’t had a chance to warm it is vital to insulate very well from underneath if sleeping in the floor, which can be difficult as often the majority if leaf litter is either damp and rotting or non-existent. A moisture barrier, which can be as simple as a bin liner, is a must. On top of this should go blankets or a sleeping pad, before the rest of the sleep system is put down. With a fire, a tarp pitched correctly and an adequate sleep system, the micro-climate you create should be ample to fend off the Spring cold.
As the trees surge their sap from their roots up to the tips of their leaves, this provides a delicious opportunity to collect a nutritious and versatile food. Most notably is the sap from the birch tree, which can be gathered by “tapping the tree”. This is a highly specialized skill as doing it incorrectly can kill the tree so please proceed with caution. The sap can be used in a multitude of ways. It can be made into syrup, wine, beer or simply used as a replacement to water in a woodland tea.
It is important to remember to only take what you need in a sustainable way. Those early Spring greens will yield other bounties later in the year if they are harvested sparingly. Nature is a gift that keeps giving as long as it is respected. When camping, leave no trace, tidy your camp so no one would know you’ve been there and take time to appreciate your surroundings.