Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Bushcraft Challenge

Craig eyeing up ingredients for sedge cake
On the 15th and 16th of September 2012 staff members at Dartmoor Zoo will be taking part in their first ever Bushcraft Challenge. For three days and two nights the team of five, including Zoo Director, Benjamin Mee, will be living off the land within the zoo, guided by Bushcraft expert Craig Grant.

Since re-opening in 2007 staff at Dartmoor Zoological Park have worked hard to treat the entire zoo and not just the animal exhibits, as a conservation project. Wherever possible wild spaces within the park have been managed to encourage local wildlife. Director, Benjamin Mee sees the Bushcraft Challenge as an opportunity to showcase the abundance of different life supported by the park’s grounds and is keen to take on the challenge set by Craig.

“It’s more than just an exercise in learning survival skills,” explains Ben. “Much of the on site conservation work we do is largely invisible to the uninformed visitor so we wanted to come up with a way of illustrating the fact that the spaces outside the enclosures are all part of broad conservation project.”

The team will be assisted in the challenge by, Craig Grant, an outdoor education specialist, artist and bushcraft practitioner with over 20 years experience. Born in Plymouth, his passion for bushcraft began on the moors of Dartmoor National Park and has since taken him around the world. Back on home soil Craig passes on his knowledge and skills to people of all ages using his experience to give them an enhanced understanding of themselves and the world around them.

“Dartmoor Zoo is a fantastic site,” says Craig. “I was expecting a well manicured park with tarmac pathways, devoid of wildlife other than the animals in the collection. It was a real pleasure to see the diversity of flora and fauna and the sheer volume of conservation areas.”

Shortly after his visit Craig suggested the challenge as an alternative way for the staff and visitors to experience the zoo.

The challenge will see staff using natural materials found in the zoo to build their own overnight shelter and supplement their basic ration of staple food. They will have to learn which plants can be eaten and which are to be avoided. They will discover the fascinating utility of things like stinging nettles as sources of food and material for making various items essential to their survival and comfort during the challenge. As they do this, they will be creating a ‘living enclosure’ to highlight the importance of the natural environment.

“The challenge fits very well with our overall aim here at DZP,” says Ben. “The chance to see endangered exotic animals is what attracts people, but we want a visit here to be a broader experience of nature. We want people to go away with an enhanced appreciation for conservation in all its forms.”

The event also fulfils the zoo’s obligations as an educational establishment. Operations manager, George Hyde, sees the challenge as a platform for expanding the zoo’s increasingly diverse offering to local schools and colleges.

“Education outside the classroom is an increasingly important aspect of schooling today,” says George. “The skills and experience kids get from this kind of activity meets a comprehensive range of learning objectives in a fun and engaging way which is why the schools we already work with are expressing an interest. Our relationship with Craig means we can present educators with new ways to meet their teaching goals.”

The challenge is also designed to be a public exhibit for the weekend. Visitors will be able to see the shelter being built as well as take part in various demonstrations of bushcraft skills. Kids can learn how to make basic utensils and have fun creating camouflage head-dresses.

Activities will run throughout the weekend and visitors will be able to follow the team’s exploits via Dartmoor Zoo’s Twitter and Facebook profiles throughout this unique 48 hour event.

You can see photos of the event on our Facebook page.