How are you using technology to help your understanding of bushcraft?

Fraxinus excelsior leaves

I recently posed this question to the Woodland Ways Team. The reason being, I am a bit of a technophobe, and I also suffer from Chronic Migraines, so reading or working on the computer for hours, just does not happen. In fact, it is probably been more than 10 years since I read a book. The team is very supportive to help me, and others who have learning challenges. Woodland Ways is on a mission to increase diversity and inclusivity within bushcraft, part of that is to remove barriers that hinder or prevent people from getting the most from spending time in nature. My very first lecture at university, we were told we were there to “read” for our degree. By not being able to read for more than 15 to 20 minutes is certainly slowing my progress through the apprenticeship, hence my question to see how I can use technology to overcome.

The overwhelming response from the team was that no amount of technology will ever replace being in the environment and practically applying skills and knowledge to reinforce the learning process. Given the team probably has a combined experience of learning and teaching bushcraft that would be measured in the hundreds of years, I think we can agree, there is no substitute for what Jason calls “Dirt Time.”

The team also came back with a few Apps that they have tested in the field, e.g. Seek for animal and plant identification. Merlin for bird identification, Star Walk for understanding the night sky. These are probably the subject for another blog.

My focus was for those times when we cannot be in the woods, so what can we be using to help with our “homework”?

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence

The list of potential resources is fairly extensive, Internet Search, Websites, Blogs, YouTube, Audible, Social Media, Apps, AI and I am sure you can add many more. I believe the number one priority is to trust your resource. This is why on many courses the instructors will recommend books by authors they trust, are peer reviewed and highly thought of by leaders in the bushcraft and survival industry. For example, we would recommend The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. Therefore, it would be safe to say that other books by Tristan, his website, blogs, online courses are a good source of material.

Going back to my challenge of struggling to read for any length of time, using Audible to listen to The Natural Navigator meant that I was able to gain that knowledge, whilst making dog walking time productive. But what about my own notes, material I wanted to collate on a specific subject? This led me down the path to explore Artificial Intelligence. And yes, I did pose the question “Write a thousand-word article on the use of technology in helping to learn bushcraft skills?” And yes, in under a minute, there was the article. Did it do what I wanted? No. Did it give me some ideas I hadn’t thought about? Yes.

My journey in to AI began with wanting to learn more about the plants we discuss on the Spring and Autumn forages. The knowledge the instructors have on a given plant is phenomenal, not simply 100% identification and whether it is edible or poisonous. What are the toxic chemicals? What about folklore or mythology? These are questions that can be answered away from the environment. So, I began experimenting with BING AI, just because my computer came with Microsoft Edge as its search engine – I did tell you I am a technophobe! I have had to adapt and develop my questioning over time, to improve the response, this is what I have reached so far:

Create an in-depth study guide for a bushcraft instructor about Ash Tree.

Fraxinus excelsior leaves
Fraxinus excelsior leaves – Credit: Rudolf Schafer/FLICKR

Do include the Scientific Name for Ash Tree, the meaning of Ash Tree Scientific name. What are the common names for Ash Tree? What is the family name for Ash Tree? What are the Ash Tree’s family characteristics? How to identify the key parts of Ash Tree (give detailed descriptions of Ash Tree leaves, Ash Tree stems, Ash Tree flowers, Ash Tree fruits etc)? How big does a Ash Tree grow? What is the Ash Tree’s life cycle? What parts of a Ash Tree are edible? What parts of a Ash Tree are used for medicinal purposes? What parts of a Ash Tree are used for crafts? Is Ash Tree toxic, and if so, what are the toxic chemicals? Does Ash Tree appear in mythology & folklore? What species can be confused with Ash Tree.

Mainly focus on UK websites, including University papers, Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society, Herb Society, River Cottage, Food for Free, Eat Weeds, Country File, Wikipedia etc.

Finally, what is unique about Ash Tree, what makes an Ash Tree an Ash Tree?

Use the following format, with the title heading in bold typeface:

Scientific Name:

Meaning of Scientific Name:

Common Names: 

Family Name: 

Family Characteristics:


  • Leaves:
  • Leaf buds:
  • Stems:
  • Flowers:
  • Fruits:


Life Cycle: 


  • Food:
  • Medicine:
  • Crafts:

Mythology & Folklore:

Toxicity & Toxic Chemicals: 

Confusion Species: 

I have this question saved and use Word’s Find/Replace feature to change the species. I found the repetitive use of the common species name produced a better result than only using it once, and better than using the scientific name. The results I got originally were not laid out well, hence the specific instructions on format. It is still a work in progress. I now use ChatGPT having spoken to someone who is the opposite of a technophobe! And the result:

Scientific Name: Fraxinus excelsior

Meaning of Scientific Name: The scientific name Fraxinus excelsior is derived from Latin. “Fraxinus” refers to the ash tree, and “excelsior” means higher or loftier, likely describing the tree’s tall and majestic nature.

Common Names: Common Ash, European Ash, Common White Ash

Family Name: Oleaceae

Family Characteristics: The Oleaceae family, commonly known as the olive family, includes woody plants, shrubs, and trees. Characteristic features include opposite leaves, often simple and sometimes pinnately compound, and usually fragrant flowers.


  • Leaves: Ash tree leaves are compound, consisting of 5-11 leaflets arranged oppositely along a central stem (rachis). Each leaflet is serrated, elliptical, and has a pointed tip. The leaflets are dark green on top and paler underneath.
  • Leaf Buds: The terminal buds on ash trees are large, black, and distinctive, helping in differentiation from other tree species.
  • Stems: Young stems are smooth and grayish-brown, while older bark becomes fissured and develops a diamond-shaped pattern.
  • Flowers: Ash trees produce inconspicuous flowers in clusters during spring. These are small and purplish in colour.
  • Fruits: The seeds are winged samaras, commonly referred to as “keys,” which form in clusters. They are oar-shaped and can be up to 5 cm long.

Size: Ash trees can grow up to 35 meters in height, with a broad and domed crown.

Life Cycle: Ash trees have a typical angiosperm life cycle, involving pollination by wind or insects. They are deciduous, shedding their leaves in the autumn to conserve energy during the winter months.


  • Food: While not commonly consumed, young ash leaves can be used in salads. Additionally, the seeds are a valuable food source for wildlife.
  • Medicine: Historically, various parts of the ash tree have been used in traditional medicine. Bark extracts were employed for their purported diuretic and laxative properties.
  • Crafts: Ash wood is valued for its strength, flexibility, and shock resistance. It has been traditionally used for tool handles, sports equipment (such as baseball bats and hockey sticks), and furniture.

Mythology & Folklore: In Norse mythology, the ash tree (Yggdrasil) is considered sacred, representing the World Tree that connects all realms. It plays a significant role in the cosmology of the Norse universe.

Toxicity & Toxic Chemicals: Ash trees are not generally considered toxic. However, caution should be exercised when using any plant for medicinal purposes, and consultation with a qualified herbalist or medical professional is advised.

Confusion Species: Ash trees may be confused with the Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia), which is not a true ash. The Mountain Ash belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae) and has compound leaves, but it produces clusters of red berries.

What is Unique about Ash Tree: Ash trees are distinct for their tall and graceful appearance, compound leaves with serrated edges, and the characteristic diamond-shaped bark pattern on mature trees. The wood’s strength and flexibility make it highly valued for various practical applications throughout history.

Fraxinus excelsior keys
Fraxinus excelsior keys – Credit:Pleple2000/WIKIMEDIA

I can now produce a standard format of notes, which helps my learning, on any given plant, produced within a minute or two, with perfect (American) spelling and punctuation.


This is ONLY a starting point. From here my learning process takes me to the books and websites I trust to FACT CHECK. I also have my notes from being in the woods with the Woodland Ways Instructors to add other aspects. For example:

Under Meaning of Scientific Name, I would add, “to remember Ash is Fraxinus excelsior, Fraxinus is similar to Fracture (i.e. Split), Excelsior similar to Excels (i.e. really well). Hence, Ash splits really well – the long, straight fibres allow for this, and with the strength of the Ash wood, it is used for bow staves.”

There is always more to learn and therefore add in the future, however, when I am happy I have enough from the process of adding my notes and fact checking the AI response, I then wanted the document read to me. (Hence photographs are added to another copy of the notes). There are free text to speech Apps available. But I found those very clunky, so with Birthday and Christmas just around the corner, I asked family and friends to contribute to Speechify. This gives me a choice of voices, which I can also vary the speed. (I will add that punctuation is important for Speechify to read naturally, e.g. a list of bullet points will be read continuously as one sentence, unless each line ends with a full stop. Which is why I like the AI to do the typing for me, as it remembers to put the full stop at the end of sentences!)

This process also got me thinking of how I could use technology in the forest to help my note taking, hence I have also looked at speech to text Apps. The one I am using at the moment is which not only transcribes what is being said, but also records the audio as well. One thing I didn’t know was it connects with your calendar. When I had forgotten there was a Woodland Ways Team Zoom call, my little Otter remembered, connected to the Zoom call, managed to get let in to the call and proceeded to record and transcribe the whole thing, while I was completely oblivious! Until of course it sent me an email to tell me it had done the job. Technology taking over? Best head back to the woods, see you there!

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