The Bushcraft Buzz
YouTube channel Kent Survival brings 26,000 viewers closer to The county’s outback
When Bear Grylls is jumping out of a helicopter onto a snowy mountain top, or plunging into the ocean before paddling his way to the beach, I can’t help but think: “yeah, but can he do it on a rainy Tuesday night on Kent’s North Downs?”
Andrew Davidson, better known to his 26,000 YouTube followers as Kent Survival, is demonstrating exactly how it’s done.
The outdoor oracle has been getting stuck in to some of the county’s most unforgiving terrains posting more than 130 videos from locations including the UK’s only official desert - Dungeness (it has so little rainfall that it can be classed as a desert) – and the Thames Marshes.
A cosy little camping set-up in a field, borrowing your Auntie’s blow-up bed - this isn’t. We are talking tools, fire, beards and foraging.
Just like in that TV show Hunted, we sent out sniffer dogs and heat-seeking drones to catch-up with Andrew and find out more.
How did your enthusiasm for the outdoors begin?
I think my interest in the outdoors didn’t really begin until my early teens. Growing up in an urban estate as a child I didn’t have anywhere natural to retreat to, but when we moved to a house near some heathland, I was immediately drawn towards it. We would head there at any opportunity just to play around and build small shelters.
Where did you learn your skills for foraging and building stuff?
My foray into the outdoors life went on a bit of a hiatus from my late teens, at that age you have a lot going on with discovering girls and going out etc. It wasn’t until I developed an interest in photography in my 20’s that I started to leave my ‘comfort zone’ and began to explore.
Once again nature was calling me and to capture that next challenging photograph I would have to travel further afield. I’d often need to stay overnight (sometimes under canvas) to get to a location during what they call ‘the golden hour’ of natural light at the start and end of the day. This took me to places such as the Peak District and the Cornish coastline and out of necessity, I began to learn about reading Ordinance Survey maps and being productive in bad weather conditions.
This is around the same time I would watch TV shows from the likes of Ray Mears and Les Stroud, furthering my interests and knowledge.
How did Kent Survival start?
My hobby of photographing nature and a growing interest in survival and bushcraft seemed the perfect fit for starting a YouTube channel, with the aim to motivate and push myself and maybe help inspire others; Kent Survival was born.
I already had a passion for being behind a camera, an immediate advantage in the world of YouTube, but being more of an introvert who escapes to the quiet of nature, I now had to get comfortable with being the focus of the camera’s attention.
Filming yourself in a variety of environments and conditions can be extremely difficult; it’s a far cry from vlogging in front of a webcam in your bedroom. On the moors, the rain can get everywhere, high winds affect sound quality and freezing temperatures will kill batteries very quickly. Not to mention the fact you’re already hiking with the equipment you need to survive.. you then have cameras, mics, lights and tripods to think about, too.
It’s a time-consuming activity, you are your own researcher, camera man, presenter, sound man, editor and social media manager.
What do you like most about it?
When I started the channel, I just imagined myself getting away from it all but in a way, the opposite has happened. YouTube has opened up so many things for me; I’ve met and collaborated with some great people, started to work with outdoor-focused companies, visited and camped in locations I never would have without the motivation to continually make videos more interesting. It’s certainly a way of getting noticed, I am even in the early stages of a couple of new projects for the future.
Do you have a favourite Kent place to practise bushcraft?
Depending on the video I am making, I may have to take care in revealing a location. Unfortunately, not everyone is as caring about the environment as they should be and this casts a negative view on the whole ‘hobby’ of bushcraft and camping. England does not have the same ‘Right to Roam’ laws as in places such as Scotland and Scandinavia so discretion is generally the name of the game. The North Kent Downs have some pretty quiet spots, as do parts of the coast line. It’s every bushcrafters dream to own a small woodland or at least gain permission to use one to expand their skills. A hobby involving sharp tools and fire can be hard to get into, but there are schools and a growing number of ‘wild’ camp sites popping up around the country.
Some of your videos have gone viral, how do you do it?
The funny thing with YouTube is that no one really knows the exact recipe to make it work, you can stack the deck in your favour with interesting titles, well-made thumbnails and of course, interesting content, but once you hit that publish button it’s in the hands of the algorithm gods.
Do you think bushcraft is becoming more popular?
Wild campsites allowing camp fire and bushcraft schools are more prevalent than ever. I think this is down to a need to get back to nature; we have forgotten how to exist in our environment. People need more than working all week, watching TV and visiting shopping centres. Even just a couple of hours exploring a woodland can be good for the mind and soul.
Have you ever had a close call?
When visiting these locations and camping in remote or interesting spots, you really experience things that you would never ordinarily see, but you do have to remember that you are alone and things can get dangerous quickly. That said, it’s usually the thin line between success and failure where the most interesting things happen.
Last summer I took a trip to see the forts of Medway and after a hard paddle against the currents in an inflatable dinghy, finally got to the island of Hoo. Unknown to myself, the beach landing there is covered in washed up glass which left my boat unrepairable. I had intended on spending the night on the island, however, now had no way back to the mainland.
Luckily, I had made a contact through YouTube that was able to paddle over in his kayak with another in tow at the next day’s high tide. It was gruelling experience which I learnt a lot from, but and is certainly a memory that will stick with me forever.
Check out Andrew at Youtube.com/Kentsurvival