As the foraging season draws to a close, the National Trust has developed a position statement for foraging on our property. The gathering of wild food (plant/fungi/animal) from the countryside and seashore has a long tradition in the UK and can be a good way to make use of natural resources. The popularity of foraging has increased in recent years, inspired by celebrity chefs, commercial interest and the influence of foraging cultures from continental Europe, especially relating to fungi.
Collecting wild food can also be an inspiring way to connect people with the coast, countryside and the natural world and to help people understand the importance of nature. As Richard Mabey wrote in the introduction to his classic book ‘Food for Free’:
‘ I know there may be some people who will object to this book on the grounds that it may encourage further depletions of our dwindling wild life. I believe the exact opposite is true. One of the major problems in conservation today is not how to keep people insulated from nature but how to help them engage more closely with it, so that they can appreciate its value and vulnerability and the way it needs to be reconciled with those of humans…. Far from encouraging rural vandalism it helps to deepen the respect for the interdependence of all living things.’
True foraging, then, is not based on exploitation, but on reaching a sustainable relationship with the natural world.
The key messages within the statement are as follows:
The National trust supports the use of its properties for foraging for abundant species of wild food for personal use . Good foraging will remind us that we are part of nature, make us appreciate nature more, and tame our instincts to over-exploit nature.
Foraging activities must be based on the principle of sustainability. We must protect vulnerable species and habitats, and ensure that foraging takes place in a safe and sustainable way.
We are deeply concerned about the widespread gathering of fungi, particularly from SSSI land (ASSI in Northern Ireland), and will seek to reduce, regulate or prevent such activities.
To help us achieve all this we are supporting the creation of an independent Guild of Foragers and are working with other organisations to develop national codes of good practice for foraging.
In the rare circumstances where we believe it appropriate to have commercial foraging we will issue a specific license, at an appropriate fee, and ensure through careful monitoring that there is no undue impact on wild food populations. Ideally, monies so raised will be used to give something back to the land.
We will work closely with foragers, wildlife organisations and other land owners to find an agreed way forward in this important area. We may revise this positions statement in line with future developments.
Principles of safe and sustainable foraging developed by the National Trust:
The National Trust has a responsibility to protect wild species on its land and wants to make sure that foraging can take place sustainably, both for the species being collected and other species that might depend upon them (e.g. some 1000 species of invertebrate depend on, or are strongly associated with, fungi).
We are working with other organisations to develop a code of practice for safe and sustainable foraging which will adopt the following principles:
- Only pick what will definitely be used – don’t waste wildlife
- Take your field guide to the plants/animals – not the plants/animals to your field guide
- Only pick what you know – be aware of and avoid poisonous species
- Only pick what is abundant – know and avoid rare or vulnerable species
- Only pick what is legal – know your protected species and sites. If you are unsure, here is a list of rare and vulnerable fungi species – http://www.britmycolsoc.org.uk/files/2013/3537/5755/RDL_of_Threatened_British_Fungi.pdf
- Don’t uproot fungi or damage their structures below ground and be careful not to damage populations when collecting roots/bulbs etc. from common plants
- Don’t over-collect or over-strip foliage or flowers – only collect from plentiful populations, allow the plants/fungi to survive
- Scatter trimmings or offcuts discreetly in the area where they were collected
- Allow mushrooms to release spores – do not pick them until the cap has opened and leave those that are past their best
- Always stick to the Countryside Code (for England and Wales) – Respect, Protect and Enjoy https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code/the-countryside-code
- Keep to public rights of way and open access land unless you have the landowner’s permission to go elsewhere
- Never forage without consent on a National Nature Reserve or Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – it may be illegal and can be damaging. If the National Trust agrees to your proposed activities, it may have to obtain consent from you from the statutory body (Natural England etc.)
- Always seek permission for commercial foraging on any land unless you own it.
Many of you who forage for wild food will already know and practice a great deal of what is outlined within this statement, but for those who are just starting to take an interest, hopefully this document will help you on your way!
-The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford