Picture this. You and the family in a wooded glen, toting wicker baskets, harvesting a glut of wild blackberries. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?
Foraging has undergone a renaissance of late. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering idyllic scenes such as the above. And, of course, everyone loves the idea of a free lunch! But is nature an all-you-can-eat buffet? Or are there some ethical concerns when it comes to foraging?
Foraging vs. Theft
Is foraging stealing? After all, who planted those blackberry bushes? Are they intending to come back and pick the berries they have spent time growing?
Generally speaking, foraging is finding edible food in wild, public areas where the plants belong to everyone. Including the animals who can come by and eat them. The most commonly foraged UK foods include blackberries, currants, chives, mushrooms, elderflower, sloe berries and wild garlic.
It’s important to know if the land you’re foraging on is public or private. If it’s private, make sure you get permission from the landowner before entering their property. Always make sure you ask before you help yourself to their tasty looking plants. Some landowners may have planted them as fodder or food for their livestock.
If you come across something that looks like it’s been purposely planted, leave it be. Unless you’ve spoken to the landowner who has given you permission.
Children may ask whether foraging is theft. You can explain to them that some plants belong to everyone (including the animals who munch on them). These plants have grown naturally in the wild, whilst other plants may belong to one person because they have grown them.
More and more of us are taking to the hedgerows and country lanes of the UK looking for our own basket of goodies. So it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of sustainability on the foraging front.
Demand for foraged food has even led to some companies capitalising on the trend. We can now buy “foraged food” baskets. But this is counterintuitive to the very notion of foraging.
When you’re out collecting food, a good rule of thumb is to only take what you need. Remember to consider the needs of other people as well as the wildlife that inhabit the area. If there isn’t enough to take, it’s best to leave the plants to regenerate. Otherwise we risk losing them forever.
Forage, but Not With Wild Abandon
When walking along byways and country lanes or through publicly owned land and hedgerows, it’s fair to assume that most food is fair game for foraging. But that doesn’t mean you can take what you want and leave the place in a mess.
There are foraging guidelines set out by the Woodland Trust. There are also courtesies that should be followed by all. These include simple rules such as:
- When you’re out walking in country pastures and lanes, leave gates how you found them
- Don’t interfere with wildlife
- Don’t cause undue damage to ground, trees or plants in your quest for dinner
When in doubt, locals can be a great source of information. Always be sure to follow the guidelines, especially when it comes to where you can forage. Because of the potential ecological impact, some public land should only be foraged very lightly and only at certain times of the year.
So, is foraging ethical? The short answer is yes, with a ‘but’.
There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure foraging remains the enjoyable and nature-loving pastime it always has been. These will also help preserve the tradition for generations to come.
After all, nature belongs to everyone and we should all be able to enjoy the spoils of this earth we call home.