At first glance, foraging seems like an easy solution to a host of problems within our food system. Eating wild is a reliable way to eat sustainably if done responsibly, and foraging is by definition free, so anyone can do it. However, in order to not damage the local ecology, unwittingly breaking the law, or putting yourself or others in danger, we have put together some guidelines in order to make sure you forage safely and sustainably.
Here are a couple of key foraging guidelines:
As foraging becomes popular, we find more and more people venturing off onto private estates and protected areas to forage. While some landowners are happy for you to pick freely, it is important to seek permission before foraging in any private or public spaces. In certain areas, plant species will be protected so it is important to do some research and check with the owner or national trust on what is allowed. Pesticides and pollution are also important to factor in so make sure you know whether the area is safe to gather from.
One of the most important rules of foraging is knowing what you are picking – not all plants are safe to consume – and in more remote areas you may struggle to find help if you have consumed something poisonous. Always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat any plant you are unsure of. If you are a first-time forager – try finding a guide or a more experienced forager to come with you on your first few ventures so that you can learn how to identify different plant species.
One of the biggest problems facing foraging is an oversaturation of people picking – particularly in urban settings like London. In order to forage sustainably, only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply and make sure not to damage the plant when you are picking. Try to locate areas where you can find food in abundance and then only collect a small amount for personal use. Local foraging is not intended for commercial use – never completely strip an area as this could damage the species and ruin the ecosystem.
Many animals and insects eat wild plants as a valuable food source for survival, as a sustainable forager, it’s just as important to leave enough forage behind for wildlife and avoid damaging natural habitats. When picking, you need to avoid disturbing or damaging any nests or burrows. Be mindful of your surroundings and respectful towards other species.
Some species are endangered or protected, familiarise yourself with these species and do not pick them as this will cause permanent damage to the ecosystem. Britain’s wild plants are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), which makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant. Check the law before you forage or make sure to go with an experienced forager.