Meet Devon’s YouTube survival experts – Archyde

The pandemic has shown that our lives can be turned upside down in an instant, and someone who is aware of this is Devon-based survival expert Steve Aley.

Steve, 38, is a military survival instructor with over 22 years of service in the British Army.

Steve has worked in a number of hostile environments during his career, including Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and Baghdad.

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He’s also experienced more than a few hairy moments closer to home – one in which he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and required multiple surgeries on his hand.

Steve Aley uses his years of experience to teach others how to stay safe
(Image: Lee Pardoe)

Steve’s interest in survival techniques was sparked around the age of six when his older brother enlisted in the army.

He discovered his brother’s SAS Survival Handbook and Steve soon found himself lost in it.

“It’s quite a legendary book in this field,” said Steve.

“I’m a curious little boy, I kept flipping through this book and my mind was going crazy at the thought of being out in the woods and being able to do something like this.”

Steve spent much of his free time as a kid out in the woods practicing skills from the book, and when he turned 16 he followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined the army himself.

In 2011, Steve was deployed to Afghanistan, where tragedy reignited his passion for survival skills.

During Steve’s time in Afghanistan, Highlander Scott McLaren – a 20-year-old soldier – disappeared from base camp.

Tragically, the young soldier was later found dead and coroner David Ridley a verdict of unlawful homicide in the hands of the insurgents.

Steve said the horrific events made him ask further, ‘How are we going to essentially keep our people healthy and alive when things go wrong?'”

Steve joined the Army at age 16 and enjoys sharing his skills with others
(Image: Steve Aley submitted)

So over the years Steve has continued to learn and share his survival skills with others at work and online. He documents his experiences and tips on YouTube and his own Facebook page – Steve Aley Survival.

This included a candid account of an unfortunate incident Steve encountered in 2012 while taking his second ever survival course to hone his skills.

But Steve got a little more experience than he expected.

On the second day of the second week of the course, he was bitten on the hand by a fake widow.

The bite became infected and Steve said his hand swelled to more than twice its usual size.

He was taken to the hospital, where he spent nine days and had four surgeries under general anesthesia to remove the infected tissue.

“I was very fortunate to have the UK’s leading hand surgeon visiting Treliske Hospital this week,” said Steve.

The injury also saw Steve endure six months Physiotherapy, and it is still important to him today to stretch his hand.

“It wasn’t that bad because I was in a real survival situation myself,” Steve said.

“But I’ve learned a few valuable lessons and learned how resilient the human body can be — which is good.”

Steve during a training session
(Image: Steve Aley submitted)

Much more experienced now, Steve shares survival tips on his YouTube videos, which include everything from basic bushcraft skills to videos on how to find food quickly.

Steve is of course an expert in his field and as such he has stressed the importance of educating people about survival skills – particularly when it comes to foraging.

“My number one — and the rule that encompasses everything I do in terms of foraging — is 100 percent ID [plants] every time,” he said.

“There are so many doubles, so many dangerous plants that people don’t notice – we have to be absolutely sure.

“I can now look out my window and see an area where I know wild carrots grow [in]. But also along the same route there is Hemlock-Water Dropwort, the most dangerous plant in the UK.”

Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe Crocta), also known as ‘Dead Man’s Finger’ can be fatal if ingested to both humans and pets (Picture: Caroline Dodd)
(Bild: Cornwall Live)

To the untrained eye, Steve said, the plant’s roots might look a bit like those of a carrot, but mixing up the two could be deadly.

“If someone would consume the roots of this plant – but a very, very small minority – you can really only provide palliative care,” he said.

“That is an important point that I like to emphasize. It’s imperative that you identify things 100 percent before they even come close to consuming them—and that’s my absolute golden rule when it comes to foraging.

“There are other things. You need permission from the landowner, and you need to look around and make sure there’s no sewage going into that area and other things,” he said.

Steve said that those who want to try foraging should ideally get expert guidance because of the potential dangers of making a mistake.

But for those in the know, foraging can be a worthwhile pastime, despite living in an era of highly advanced technology.

A training session
(Image: Ben Uttley from STAMP media)

“I think people have gotten a little hooked on it because of labor-saving devices and stuff like that,” Steve said.

“And we’ve seen in the last couple of lockdowns all it takes is a shortage of drivers and then all of a sudden we’re running out of fuel, we’re running out of food and this and that.”

“Whereas some of my friends didn’t even notice because they scavenge a lot of their food while walking the dog.

“We could have a much simpler life and spend a lot less money and [spend] much more time out in nature, where it is beneficial to your well-being – your general health – and you can also take something to eat with you.

“You don’t have to buy ‘X, Y and Z’ when you can source it when you walk the dog or do whatever you want to do,” he said.

Aside from deadly plants, Steve said that of all the dangerous places he’s encountered during his career, he finds the sea to be the most challenging.

“In my opinion, the ocean is the hardest place to survive — some people might disagree,” he said.

“In a cold climate you make a fire and keep warm. In a sea life raft you don’t have that luxury at all. You can close the liferaft doors, but that’s about it.

Steve Aly
(Image: Alan Lane)

“In the past there have been people trying to start fires on wooden life rafts – I’m talking old school paddle boat life rafts. Well you can imagine what happened.

“But that’s certainly not an option on an inflatable nylon liferaft,” said Steve.

“They struggle with seasickness and the vast majority of people who operate at sea will be largely used to it.

“But that’s in a stabilized ship that you can steer into the waves and minimize the impact.”

Steve said the seasickness can prove “absolutely debilitating” and last up to three days – a hazard in itself.

He said a lack of food could also pose some serious challenges for people stranded at sea.

“Food will be a scarce resource,” Steve said. “Some things will be packed in the life raft.

“You may have a fishing set available, but raw fish may not taste good to some people. You won’t be able to cook it, so you’re pretty much where you are.

“In essence, protection from the elements and rescue should be your first priorities.”

In fact, a recent family trip to the sea has brought its own potential danger for Steve and his young family.

At just six years old, Steve’s eagle-eyed daughter seems to be running after her father when she suddenly spotted something troubling on the beach while doing an impromptu beach cleanup.

She had spotted a parachute flare capable of launching a rocket about 1,000 feet (300 m) into the air, which then fires a bright red flare from under a parachute to signal distress.

Steve and his family quickly informed the coastguard, and the Bideford Coastguard rescue team later informed them that the flare had indeed been active, and praised the little girl’s quick thinking.

With just three years left to serve in the Army, Steve is beginning to look to the future – and he said his love of teaching survival skills would continue even after he retired from the military.

He said he’s happiest outside and that it’s “a dream come true” to gain and share his skills with others.

“When I’ve been in the office all day I’m a pretty grumpy guy, but when I’ve been out in the woods that day I’m super relaxed — I’m a lot happier with myself,” he said.

He now hopes to find a piece of forest to continue his passion for all things surviving while also being a husband and father to three young children.

“My wife was forewarned,” he laughed.

You can follow Steve’s adventures on the Steve Aley – Survival Facebook page and on YouTube through his Steven Aley channel.

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