Monday, April 22News For London

What is it like to be a UK survivalist?

prepper guy JPEG

Water gushes through the cracks, high winds crash against your windows, and sparks fly as the electrics blow. Outside, two men fight savagely over tinned beans, water rising up to their bellies as the foundations of another house give way. Catastrophe has struck, will you survive?

In the UK, most of us are lucky enough to have never experienced a natural disaster. So most of us probably don’t ever worry about this type of scenario, let alone prepare for one.

But there are a growing number of people determined to lay the groundwork for a rainy day, and secure survival in any situation. Whether a manmade disaster or freak accident hits – they are prepared.

Tom Linden is a survival instructor from North Yorkshire, specialising in the effects of nuclear weapons. He is what is commonly known as a “prepper,” or “survivalist” – someone who prepares for any give disaster, emergency or dangerous scenario.

Tom linden
Tom Linden

Tom’s interest in survivalism began way back in ‘78, when he worked with the Ministry of Defence. He started teaching survival in the mid-80s.

Why is Tom a survivalist? He asks why others are not.

“When shit hits the fan, and it is bound to, I do not want to be wondering what we eat and how we will keep warm,” says Tom. “I want to survive whatever challenges we face. From local flooding, to regional flooding, from nuclear, chemical, or biological accidents, terrorist incidents, to full blown attacks, we are ready.”

I do not want to be wondering what we eat and how we will keep warm

Tom leads a survivalist lifestyle to ensure his family are protected if and when danger strikes. In wider society, there is a tendency to tarnish every prepper with the same brush – crazy, camouflage-clad, and waiting for the world to explode. But for many, survivalism is simply a practical hobby.

“This doomsday prepper’s image was, and in fact continues to be, promoted by the mainstream media to increase ratings, and make money,” says Tom. He has come to the conclusion that Britain is full of preppers; they just don’t know they’re “prepping.”

Tom is prepared for any disaster or event
Tom is prepared for any disaster or event

“Most people have a first-aid-kit, an umbrella, spare tyre, smoke alarm, raincoat,” he says. “Just because I take things a stage further, it means that I am prepared for even more circumstances both natural and manmade.”

So what does a prepper actually do to prepare?

Tom has in storage enough water for each member of his family to use a gallon a day, medical supplies, heating alternatives, clothing, animal antibiotics and masks. As well as this, Tom has alternative cooking equipment, heating, water purification equipment, torches and MRE (Meals ready to eat).

A survivalist practices skills in preparation for a situation where they might have to flee their home and live off grid, in the woods for example. These skills include: shelter building, water collection and purification, fire lighting, hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging. The very basics for survival.

Food preservation, like smoking, drying and pickling, and repairing clothes, are also techniques commonly used by survivalists.

“Daily on my person, I carry my EDC (Every Day carry) items I think will be useful if something goes wrong,” says Tom. “In my car is a 72hr survival bag ready to go.”

A typical EDC
Credit – Pig Monkey, “Urban EDC Level 2: Carried (Alt)”

But the three most vital preparations for Tom are water, knowledge, and a plan.

“Most other people would probably say weapon, water, and food,” he says. “But the more I have in my head the less I have to carry on my back.”

The more I have in my head the less I have to carry on my back

According to Tom, to be a successful survivalist, above anything else you must have a positive mental attitude. Tom believes to survive in a perilous situation, one must have a strong belief in him or herself, be able to think under pressure without panic, and rely on training and experience.

“You can have all the top gear in the world, but die because you gave up,” he says. “It alone is useless without the knowledge to use it and having practiced many times to get it right. I always say if you cannot light a fire in your back garden in all weathers then how will you when in a survival situation?”

You can have all the top gear in the world, but die because you gave up

Leading a survivalist lifestyle in the UK can be problematic. “We do not have much room here in the UK to Bug-out compared with the USA,” says Tom. “Bugging out” means staying in a safe location, away from home. “We are not allowed to buy land, build on it and live on it without planning permission. In the USA this is something that they can, and do do,” adds Tom.

And of course, the US has more liberal laws on arms. “We have limited access to weapons for self-defence and home defence,” says Tom.

North Yorkshire where Tom practices his survival skills © Copyright Colin Grice and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
North Yorkshire where Tom practices his survival skills
© Copyright Colin Grice and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Tom has noticed a great deal of change over the years. “Being a prepper in the UK today is somewhat different to when I started in the late 70’s,” says Tom. “I would say that public perception has changed and they realise that perhaps there is something in it.”

The online world is a boundless space where no question is left unanswered, and no desire left unsatisfied. It is no surprise then, that the web has had a huge impact on survivalism in Britain.

The internet provides a platform for survivalists. “It allows individuals to feel part of a much larger community, which in itself provides advice, information and new ideas, as well as being able to set up meetings and woodland weekends to practice and learn new skills,” says Tom. “It provides the opportunity to explore the subject in other countries and from world renowned experts.” Watch Tom’s reviewing video

Like a holy book for the devout, the internet is brimming with the best guides for those preparing for the worst. From advice on how to stop bleeding with kitchen condiments and harness the sun to purify water, to forums where preppers swap tips, the web enhances survivalist’s lifestyles.

Tom has his own online radio show, which he set up in 2003 after having major heart surgery and contracting chronic lung disease.

“The internet has often influenced my own involvement [in survivalism], it has had to,” says Tom. “I now have a level of responsibility to others to review kit and products, which must be honest as their lives are at stake.”

I must be honest as their lives are at stake

The show is very successful, drawing in registered listeners across 130 countries, and 195,000 downloads per month. “I’ve not been fit enough to actually go out and teach, this is why I started the radio show,” he says. “The show allows me to maintain contact with the industry and lets me keep involved in something I really love.”

But the open nature of these online communities does not extend beyond the confines of a computer screen. Preppers on international forum “Survivalist Boards,” describe themselves as part of a community online, but “lone wolves” in the real world.

Survivalists are secretive about their arrangements, even to fellow preppers, for fear of having hordes of people knocking at their door when something goes wrong.

“When the shit hits the fan, all the criminals, scroungers, neighbours, family and friends will come a knocking,” says Tom.

Denis, a prepper who too hails from North Yorkshire, also lays importance on keeping quiet.

Denis in Texas
Denis in Texas

“In the UK, the prepper movement is much less public than in the USA,” he says. “I like it that way. Operational Security, or anonymity is more low key and helps not to blow it into the realm of doomsday prepper, nutter stereotyping that television and tabloids like to portray.”

On one occasion, Denis let slip that he was a prepper to a colleague at work:

“A couple of years ago, one of the main tabloids ran a story on a guy from down south, who admitted to being a big time prepper,” he says. “One of my co-workers was telling me about it, and showed me the article. I broke operational security and told him about me and introduced him to Survivalist Boards, course this let the cat out of the bag.”

Now all his co-workers say they’ll be visiting his place if disaster strikes.

“Yeah right!” says Denis. “How close to my place do you think you’ll get? Do you know the effective range of my .270?”

Denis is a little more focussed on “defence” than Tom. He has an armoury of weapons, from guns and ammo to bows and fishing gear. He also has night vision monocles, as well as infra-red night and vision sights for weapons.

Denis' old gun room
Denis’ old gun room

Denis has a particular interest in weaponry – his three most important items are guns, ammo and tools. He suggests that it is not quite as difficult as people might think to get hold of a shotgun or firearm licence here in the UK.

“Practically anyone can get either, some county police forces are a bit more stringent than others,” he says. “Basically you have to have a couple of sound referees, they will also do a background check. You must provide written permission from a landowner on any land on which you intend to shoot.” According to research organisation Gun Policy, there are over 840,000 licenced gun owners here in the UK.

Although an undoubtedly surprising figure, compared with the US, which comes first in 178 countries for the number of privately owned guns, this is nothing.

Denis' gun collection
Denis’ gun collection

“My friend and I go over to Texas as often as we can, perhaps every other year,” he says. “We have family and friends who are ranch owning, real cowboys.”

Whilst in Texas, Denis hunted wild boar with a bow and arrow, and even used a machine gun to hunt in one area. When hunting nearby the Rio Grande, where Mexicans sometimes cross the border illegally, Denis was armed with a nine millimetre gun for protection.

He was told: “If anyone makes a false move, then do not hesitate, draw on them and shoot to kill.”

But back from the wilds of the American South, Denis’ guns are used to hunt wild duck, Pheasant, Partridge, Woodcock, Snipe, Deer and Venison.

If anyone makes a false move, then do not hesitate, draw on them and shoot to kill

“There are plenty of wild places in the UK where you can still escape to and be in the wild if you seek them out,” he says. But compared to the vast lands of Texas, where a day could go by without seeing a soul, the UK has much less space.

“There are too many people in the UK,” he says. “In general, cities, towns and villages are all too close together, and often the wild places can be full of day trippers and hikers.”

Denis regularly camps on his friend’s isolated farm, in forests and on the North Yorkshire Moors.

“Last year on one camp out we shot a couple of partridge, fried off the breasts and then with wild raspberries, brambles and bilberries that we had also gathered, I reduced these in a pan with a little red wine,” says Denis. “In another pan I fried potatoes picked from my friends fields, boy what a meal.”

Denis' bug out box
Denis’ bug out box

But ultimately, it is not indulgent meals in the country that Denis has learnt his skills for. Denis is prepared for a range of scenarios.

For a pandemic, Denis has ready: a first aid kit, water purification kit, and a gun to procure meat. “In a financial collapse, I have gold and silver items for bartering,” he says. “Snowed in – I’d have water, food and heat.”

Denis believes to be a successful survivor, you need to have a range of characteristics:

“Strong of body and mind, stamina, resourcefulness, ability for analytical thinking, forward planning,” he says. “The ability to make do, mend, knowledge of the outdoors and elements, to name but a few.”

Strong of body and mind, stamina, resourcefulness, ability for analytical thinking

Denis’ brother and best friend share his lifestyle. But his wife is not so convinced:

“Even my wife thinks I’m nuts when I keep tabs on what is happening in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine, world stock markets, weird weather, the Greek crisis,” he says. “She is of the belief it will never happen and it will not affect us.”

But like Tom, he believes his preparation is simply an extension of the everyday precautions an average person has:

“I am certainly not a doomsday prepper,” he says. “You, albeit law, put your seatbelt on when you get in a car, you are preparing to possibly save your life if you are involved in an accident.”

I am certainly not a doomsday prepper

Denis is a little offended if someone labels him a “doomsday prepper,” but to him, it is just water off a ducks back.

“How I look at it is, if ever it [disaster] does happen, we’ll see who has the last laugh,” he says. “We’ll see who goes cold and hungry. We’ll see who survives.”

So there you have it. Maybe your original beliefs are confirmed – preppers are crazy people, obsessed with guns and ducks and forests. Or perhaps you like the sound of being self-sufficient, shooting your own dinner, instead of buying Tesco chicken strips for your Old El Paso fajitas.

Either way, if shit really does hit the fan, and floods or bombs or zombies destroy our homes, it’s fair to say that there is one community in the UK that will be well and truly prepared.