Foraging for wild food

mushroom illustration

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.


Wild strawberry (taken from


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.


Orange birch boletus (taken from


Common puffball (taken from

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 –


  • 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


  • 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


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The importance of orchards….

Kea plums and their orchards are a wonderfully distinctive feature of the upper Fal estuary. Not only culturally and historically important, these spaces are a haven for a wide variety of wildlife. Over the last 50 years, most of the orchards around the river have disappeared with only a small area around the Coombe and Cowlan122ds creeks surviving.

Here at Trelissick we have started planting a 3 acre community orchard at Tregew, just above Lamouth Creek and next to the historic Roundwood Quay. It will consist of Kea and other local Cornish varieties of plum and apple. These year we intend to plant around 20 more trees!

The fields at Tregew were taken out of intensive agricultural production by the National Trust in 2008 and have since been managed as a grassland meadow for the benefit of local wildlife, as well as for reducing soil erosion and run-off into the estuary. The area has reverted rapidly over the past 6 years and now supports a vast range of wildlife, from barn owls to burnet moths. It is also a sanctuary for Britain’s smallest mammal; the harvest mouse, now a rare sight throughout the country, owing to habitat loss.


One of the first six Kea plum trees we have planted

Tregew community orchard will not only support our wildlife by preserving these traditional varieties of local fruit trees, but will see the return of the orchard as an important community resource, as it once was, many years ago.

The orchard will be a space to relax, play and learn, and should become a communal asset for the whole parish. It will offer a place for quiet contemplation and a centre for local festivities, such as wassailing, as well as a great opportunity to come together and share new skills and stories.



Orchards and their importance for wildlife:

Traditional fruit orchards, whilst being of artificial origin, have often escaped the intensification of agriculture and are therefore an important haven for a wide range of wildlife.

A number of these species that frequent orchards are conservation priorities under the national Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) – these include dormouse, lesser spotted woodpecker, great crested newt, noble chafer, orchard tooth fungus and mistletoe marble moth.


An apple in the mature orchard on the estate

The number of traditional orchards has declined drastically in recent years, making the conservation of remaining orchards a high priority. In recognition of this fact and their importance to wildlife, orchards themselves have been designated a national priority BAP habitat.

Small orchards can contain just as many species as large ones depending on the continuity of habitat within the greater landscape. If a certain area contains enough suitable sites then wildlife can expand and move freely between one site and another. This is one of the reasons why it is incredibly important that we retain and expand upon the historical network of orchards along the upper Fal estuary.


Traditional orchards often naturally contain a mosaic of smaller habitats such as the cavities within older fruit trees, scrub, fallen dead wood, hedgerows, un-improved grassland and ponds. Much orchard wildlife depends upon this mosaic, such as beetles that live as larvae in dead wood and emerge to feed as adults on the flowers of tall herbs or the many bumblebee species’ which help pollinate fruit trees and need tussocky grassland for nesting and hedgerows or scrub to hibernate under for the winter.

This is just a small overview of a rich and complex habitat with a special cultural and historical relevance within the countryside that surrounds Trelissick but hopefully it serves as a suggestion of the wonderful potential of our new orchard project over at Tregew.

How can you get involved?

Your support in building the success of Tregew community orchard is vital and there are many ways in which you can get involved:

  • Volunteer with the ranger team to help deliver the practical aspects such as planting and managing of the orchard.
  • Come along to organised volunteer days to share or learn new skills, covering all aspects of orchards, from grafting and pruning to chutney or cider making.
  • Sign up to our mailing list to receive news and updates regarding the project.
  • Sponsor the propagation, planting, establishment and upkeep of one of our fruit trees and help safeguard a very special piece of Cornish heritage. 

If you would like to join our mailing list for updates, volunteer open days and courses, please send your e-mail address to

Tregew Community Orchard is also on Facebook at:





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Besom brooms, Witches’ brooms and broomsquires….. it must be Halloween

Many of you will already be familiar with our Halloween activities in the countryside at Trelissick. Each year, in the copse if weather permits, we put a slight twist on the theme of the witches’ broom and make traditional besom brooms with the children who come along to the estate.

The ranger team try very hard to make each event we put on as relevant to our everyday work as we possibly can. It is very important to us that we use artistic and creative ways to interpret our woodland management for an audience that may not usually take an interest in such areas, especially young people – it is our hope that these events plant a seed, however subconscious or subtle, of understanding, appreciation and respect for our beautiful British woodlands and the rich history, both natural and anthropological, that is irrevocably tied to it, within the minds of those who attend. The following blog post shines a light on the humble besom broom and demonstrates this simple item’s ties to the history of traditional woodland management.

besom broom


The word ‘besom’ derives from the Old English ‘besma’, meaning ‘bundle of twigs’, specifically in the form of a broom for sweeping. Although that word itself is taken from the Old High German ‘besmo’, also meaning brush. The word even appears in the bible, in ancient Hebrew language, where it means ‘sweeper’ or ‘the sweeping away’ of the utter ruin, of Babylon. Locally, the place-name Bissoe is believed to derive from the Cornish word besow, meaning birch trees.  So, as you can see, besom brooms are ancient, appear across many cultures and countries and remain unchanged for thousands of years….


Besom brooms are a traditional form of produce from woodland coppice,  made using the plant broom (hence the modern name for a besom), birch and heather.

Historically they were made by a craftsman called a broomsquire and the materials were often cut from areas of heathland with the birch and heather cut on rotation each year to allow materials to re-grow.

Boxall the broomsquire:

The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Tales of the old woodlanders’, included here because it a fantastic and evocative snap-shot of an old way of life and a more traditional method of countryside management:

William Boxall of Hammer Vale, on the borders of Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, died at the age of ninety-one in the early 1920’s, when he was one of four broomsquires living in the village. His broom-shops were rough, open-fronted sheds on the common and he made his brooms from either birch or heather. His nephew, Ernest W. Boxall, looking back in the early 1950’s, remembered helping with the heather harvest towards the end of August as a boy. ‘For me, that meant a day on Bramshott Common and I usually spent it hunting for mushrooms; the flavour of the heather-grown mushroom is far superior to that of the meadow variety.’

boxall broomsquire

The birch would be cut from local copses ‘when the catkins were still on them’ and the long, feathery twigs would be stored until winter. They were trimmed with a curved knife by an expert woman, who sliced them to just over a yard long. She judged the length by eye, consistently within an eighth of an inch.

The raw material, whether birch or heather, was bundled into broomheads, tightened by a leather thong and then bound with two withies cut from willows growing by a garden stream – a stream in which the bundles would then be soaked for several days. Then they were trimmed with a sharp axe and fitted with handles made from pointed birch or hazel saplings, which had been shaved with a two handed tool. The handles were fixed in place with a wooden peg.

The finished brooms were gathered into dozens (thirteen to the dozen) and piled high in an enormous wain hired from a local farmer in the early spring. For the next few weeks, Uncle William would be on the road, selling his bundles of brooms to country houses, stables and stores as far away as Kent and Wiltshire. When stocks were low he would send a telegram to his mother, who dispatched fresh supplies from Liphook station. ‘A telegram sent at ten o’ clock in the morning brought a fresh supply within twenty four hours without fail,’ Ernest remembered. Oh, the good old days!

Why do we manage the birch at Trelissick?

The birch we are using this Halloween was cut as part of the ongoing woodland management at Roundwood on the Trelissick estate. Here, the ranger team are creating and managing an area of characteristic Cornish oak woodland with a heathland understory – this mosaic of habitat is very specific to Cornwall and, as a result, supports a characteristic set of species associated with estuarine woodland in the county.

Our other consideration in this area is archaeology – Roundwood is home to a very important Iron Age/Romano-British promontory fort, designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is one of the very few estuarine encampments still present within Europe and you can still explore and enjoy its well defined inner outer and inner ramparts. Birch, a vigorous pioneer species, would quickly take over the diminutive heathland areas and obscure the archaeology if it wasn’t managed effectively. As a creative solution, we cut birch from this area each October and use it to create a product for our Halloween event – besom brooms!

Witches’ brooms in nature:

The natural ‘witches’ brooms’ that can often be seen up in birch trees are actually a gall, which can be defined as an abnormal growth reaction of a plant in response to an intrusive organism, such as a fungus. The fungus is question with birch is of the Taphrina species which finds its way into the buds and bark of the tree. In spring, the new shoots and leaves emerge already infected.


To many, these growths are an interesting and appealing curiosity but they can also be of significant ecological importance – the ‘brooms’ are often inhabited by a variety of organisms apart from those that initially caused the growth, such as invertebrates and even squirrels. Several species of moth are also specific to certain types of witches’ brooms, depending upon them for food and shelter for their larvae. Next time you see one, think of these riches suspended above our heads….

Hopefully this information provides a valuable context and background for our countryside Halloween event, to be held this Saturday 24th October at Trelissick. Happy Halloween!

-The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford

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The Burning Man 2015

Last Saturday 19th September, our annual Burning Man event took place on the beach at Trelissick. The Man, as always, was the creation of Dave Hart, who will be know to many of you through the free green woodworking classes that he runs in the park each Saturday.

It was a perfect, still and dry evening to carry out what is fast becoming an end of summer tradition on the estate. A big crowd turned out to watch as the 30ft giant was set ablaze using flaming arrows! The results, as you can see from the gallery below, were a dramatic way to mark the changing of the season…..

Many of these photos were taken by photographer, Jim Donahue, who has kindly given us permission to use them on our blog. You can visit his website and see more photos from The Burning Man at:

Many thanks Jim!

  • The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford
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The onset of Autumn

September is here and summer, such as it was, seems to be shifting into autumn with bracing, misty mornings, the earlier encroachment of evening and the faintest suggestion of leaves beginning to rust.


Mostly ready, some for later: blackberries in Pill Lane

Blackberries are abundant this autumn, with seemingly every hedgerow full to bursting with the sweet little fruit. The Kea plums which are traditionally grown along the creeks around Trelissick are almost ripe enough to pick with many destined to be made into the famous local jam. The apples in the orchard at Pill Farm are not far away and all around, above our heads, are haw berries, damsons, cherry plums and sloes…


Haw berries at Pill Farm



Parasol mushroom near the park at Trelissick

Keep your eyes peeled, when walking the estate for fungi that have fruited, either in the woodlands or out in open field such as the parkland or over at Tregew – there are some magnificent specimens to be spotted, like this impressive parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) which can often be seen through until November.

In the shade of the woods, if you are observant, you may spy a ‘chicken of the woods’ (Laetiporus sulphureus) bonded to a branch or trunk. These distinctive, orange fungi are very beautiful but, if you see one, please do not remove it from the tree. This act damages the mycelium, killing the parent fungus and meaning this wonderful organism will no longer occur in the area….

Chicken of the woods

Chicken of the woods at Roundwood


Dave Hart, our green woodworker, is often industrious during the first weeks of September. It’s at this time he constructs ‘The Burning Man’ – a 30ft goliath made of ash poles and willow and stuffed with bamboo (for a highly explosive effect). Attendees of his Saturday woodworking club can participate in this construction and then watch, on the evening of 19th September, as we allow the tide to rise up around him and then set it all on fire!

Preparing to lift 2Beach lift 10

The Burning Man symbolizes a subtle change in our work out in the countryside at Trelissick. We shift focus from maintaining the footpaths and fields for the intense visitor numbers during the school summer holidays and instead turn toward planning our woodland management which will be carried out over the coming winter months.

This September we also welcome two habitat management specialists to the ranger team – Peter and Parker.  These two piglets live on the estate and belong to lead ranger Neil cheeky pigStevenson, who has been grazing pigs in the woodland at Trelissick for the last 15 years.

The porcine duo are natural woodland animals and thrive in the plantations around the farm and wider estate. They do a fantastic job clearing brambles and other invasive plants from the woodland understory, turning over the soil and opening up the ground for the colonization of wild flowers. Unlike other grazing animals, pigs do not eat or destroy tree seedlings but clear space for natural woodland regeneration. Their dung provides perfect habitat for a proliferation of insects which, in turn, encourages and feeds the woodland bats we have on the property, including the very rare barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus).

Peter and Parker are perfect for engaging school groups and providing an introduction to traditional woodland management techniques as well as being great characters that we all enjoy seeing around the farm. Pigs also make great stress relievers; their large ears ideal for telling them all your worries at the end of long, hard day.


  • The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford


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July at Trelissick

Summer is a busy time at Trelissick – everything is growing vigorously, with the hedgerows and footpaths in constant need of attention to keep our visitors from being ensnared by encroaching brambles and branches. We have a strong policy in the countryside of cutting quite late to allow the wild flowers enough time to seed. This means we do not deplete the seed bank or prioritise tidiness over sustaining the beautiful and important abundance of wild flowers and plants that are so essential to support the diversity of British wildlife. It also means we have our hands full come July….

IMG_1358The beginning of the month saw the long-awaited re-surfacing of the ferry landing, where the Enterprise Boats offer visitors the chance to enter the estate from the river. It now boasts a much-improved, new tarmac surface, just in time for the summer holidays.


The ranger team have constructed a new gateway onto the beach using granite from a local quarry as part of the long-term repair of the sea wall after the severe winter of two years ago. The gap in the wall in front of the boat-shelter has long been used to access the beach and so we thought it was time to make it official, safer and more aesthetically pleasing.

IMG_1357 IMG_1356


European Hornet [Vespa crabro]

On the wildlife front, there have been many Hornets [Vespa crabro] spotted all over the estate so far this summer. These magnificent members of the wasp family are undeserving of their ferocious reputation and are actually very docile unless strongly provoked. Keep an eye out and enjoy them whilst they are about!


Hornet Longhorn Beetle [Leptura aurulenta]




Talking of Hornets – down on the boat-shelter at the bottom of the park we spotted a close lookalike – the Hornet Longhorn Beetle. This is a nationally scarce species, primarily found in the Southern counties of Britain, with a sizeable proportion of our national population found in Cornwall. The larvae of these striking beetles develop in the dead or decaying wood of broadleaved trees, especially Oak, although it is also associated with Ash, Beech, Birch, Horse Chestnut, Willow and Walnut. Adult beetles emerge in June/July and can be seen, frequently flying, until August or September. Trelissick boasts a known population of these beetles and other fascinating invertebrates owing largely to our policy of leaving as much dead wood as possible in situation rather than removing it from the site.

A pod of Common Dolphins were seen in the river off Trelissick in mid-July, near King Harry Reach. Unfortunately these amazing animals were later stranded further out towards Falmouth, at Mylor. The Dolphins were successfully re-floated and all but one was saved by a fantastic team consisting of members of the public and BDMLR [British Divers Marine Life Rescue]. The Marine Strandings Network are appealing for any witnesses, information, photos or videos so please send in any info to:

– The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford

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June at Trelissick

The countryside team of rangers and volunteers have been busy over the last month with a variety of different projects:


New chestnut railings on the South woodland walk

The railings running down the steps from the South woodland walk, toward the King Harry Ferry, have recently been replaced with a sturdy new set. This ‘post and rail’ style fencing was milled out of chestnut from the woods over at Turnaware, across the river. These are the first of several sets to be replaced around the estate in the coming months.

Many will have noticed that the copse in the centre of the park has now been completely fenced off. This area is used as our woodland activity centre: it is home to our Saturday green woodworking club and offers a fantastic setting for children’s educational activities, barefoot walking and family learning groups. Because of the way we enjoy and benefit from this woodland, along with an apparent rise in dog walkers using the countryside at Trelissick, we have decided to make the copse a dog-free area. For a little more information on this decision, please see the earlier blog article: Dogs in the copse

The horse loggers have returned this past June to haul out the remainder of the timber from last winter’s forestry work. They have been using a horse and harness to extract Ash stems, coppiced to allow the Oaks in that area the space and resources to grow on and become mature standard trees.


Jimbo, the heavy horse, extracting timber using an Amish harness

Oaks that had been badly damaged by Grey Squirrels were also ‘pollarded‘ to reinvigorate the tree and stimulate new and healthy growth. Coppicing the Ash in this manner opens up the woodland canopy, allowing more light to stimulate the growth of wildflowers, subsequently providing nectar for insects and, in turn, food for woodland birds such as Black Caps. Several individual Ash trees were retained to produce fine timber for use in 50-60 years time.

Wildlife sightings have been plentiful as the weather is warming up; many fledglings can be seen flitting about the woodland walks and parkland, often under a watchful maternal eye.


The majestic Red Kite

Red Kites are a bird of prey that has seldom been seen over the last few years but large numbers have been spotted over West Cornwall this summer. A pair was spotted soaring high above the park mid-way through June – an unmistakeable bird with a red-brown body, forked tail and noticeably angled wings. Red Kites were saved from national extinction by one of the world’s longest protection programmes and successfully re-introduced into England and Scotland. These birds have been rarely seen over the last few years, this being only the second known sighting on the estate.


Hummingbird hawkmoth [photo courtesy of butterfly]

Over at Tregew, on the far side of Lamouth Creek, we are encouraging visitors to keep their dogs on leads so as not to disturb ground nesting skylarks that are known to use the fields in this area. Skylarks are one of our classic British songbirds and have experienced a severe decline over recent years owing to changes in farming practices. It is important that we respect their nesting sites in order to give them a fighting chance in the local area.

Meanwhile, over at Pill Farm, where the ranger team is based, there have been Red Mason bees spotted nesting in the office wall, Hornets buzzing around the yard and even a Hummingbird Hawk Moth was spotted in the lane leading out to the farm.

Painted Lady butterflies have been spotted in the park with the UK braced for its once in a decade mass influx of these incredible insects. The orange and black butterflies migrate to Britain from Southern Europe as part of the longest butterfly migration in the world.


Painted lady butterfly photographed in front of the house at Trelissick

This butterfly is a common sight throughout the summer in gardens and around the countryside where its caterpillars rely on thistles as a food-plant. However, approximately once every ten years, the insects arrive en masse and we enjoy what is known a ‘Painted Lady summer’.

The last such event was in 2009 when 11 million butterflies were recorded across the UK.  Since that year, recorded numbers have been below what is expected and, as a result, Butterfly Conservation are asking for the public to record sightings of the butterfly to help chart the progress of any potential immigration during the summer. We have decided to include an excerpt from an article by Butterfly Conservation about the migration – just because it is so amazing!

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording explained: “The Painted Lady migration is one of the real wonders of the natural world. “Travelling up to 1km up in the sky and at speeds of up to 30 miles-per-hour these small fragile-seeming creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year, even though none of the individual butterflies has ever made the trip before.” The Painted Lady undertakes a phenomenal 9,000 mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle each year – almost double the length of the of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America. Research using citizen science sightings from the 2009 migration revealed that the whole journey is not undertaken by individual butterflies but in a series of steps by up to six successive generations.

Painted Lady and Hummingbird Hawk Moth sightings can be sent to Butterfly Conservation at: Migrant watch

– The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford

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