A reader asked me about the “woodscraft” category that some posts on the Centurywood.uk blog have. Using modern computers to communicate forces us into a world of hashtags, keywords, and categories, so that things can be sorted and found. But it turns out that this word and related terms have a surprisingly long history.
First, I should say what I mean by “woodscraft”. The About Page says it’s “living out in the woods, managing them, and making use of their produce”. The craft of woods if you like. And that’s small woodlands rather big forestry as well.
In the UK we often see the word “bushcraft”. The Oxford English Dictionary just says “skill in matters pertaining to life in the bush”, with its first example occurring in New Zealand in 1871. For “bush”, the OED is more forthcoming:
(Recent, and probably a direct adoption of the Dutch bosch, in colonies originally Dutch.) Woodland, country more or less covered with natural wood: applied to the uncleared or untilled districts in the former British Colonies which are still in a state of nature, or largely so, even though not wooded; and by extension to the country as opposed to the towns.
Which conjures images of Ray Mears grilling a fish in a forest in Tasmania, New Zealand, or South Africa. There’s more to it than that though, and Mr Mears himself gave this definition in 2016:
It’s the knowledge of how to live in wild places in a traditional way, how to feel as though one is part of the landscape and not an alien and, perhaps most importantly, how to be safe in the outdoors.
That’s more like it. Something a lot of people do in woods, although not everything we’re talking about. Especially management and managed woods.
In the United States, “woodcraft” is often used to refer to roughly what is called “bushcraft” elsewhere. It’s a tricky word though, as it’s also used to mean woodworking, even though it has a deep history in relation to woodland – all the way back to the 14th century as “woodecraft”.
It’s used this way in the General Prologue to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”:
Of woodcraft knew he all the useful ways.
Upon his arm he bore a bracer gay,
And at one side a sword and buckler, yea,
And at the other side a dagger bright,
Well sheathed and sharp as spear point in the light;
On breast a Christopher of silver sheen.
He bore a horn in baldric all of green;
A forester he truly was, I guess.
Which sounds quite close to what I’m getting at, but this character, the Knight’s Yeoman, is really a hunter or gamekeeper on his lord’s estate, and so that’s not quite right either.
In the end, “woodscraft” seems like the most accurate and least contested term to use, so you can click on a word and see posts about people doing things in and with woodlands.