I’m often asked about the legalities of collecting and using edible plants in the UK. The law is actually fairly straightforward but before setting out to gather wild food you should know what you’re doing and where you stand legally. Here are some reminders:
The number one thing to remember when foraging is your safety. You should always be 100% positive that you’ve correctly identified anything before you consider eating it. If in doubt, don’t do it. There’s always another day.
Some survival sources recommend taste tests to determine if something is going to harm you. Unless your name is Rambo and your chopper has been downed in a remote jungle it just isn’t worth the risk! Do you really need to eat anything this much?
In the UK two laws apply to foraging – the 1981 Wildlife and countryside act and the 1978 Theft act.
The 1981 wildlife and countryside act makes collecting any wild plants or fungi on a National Nature Reserve (NNR) or Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) illegal. In addition a number of plants are protected under schedule 8 of the act making it illegal to collect them without a license. The act also makes it illegal to uproot any plant without the landowners permission.
The 1978 Theft act makes the commercial collecting of wild plants or fungi illegal without the owners permission. It is not illegal to collect for personal use.
This means in essence that it’s legal to collect fungi and the above ground parts of plants not scheduled in the 1981 W&CA anywhere where you have access (and in practice it’s not outlawed by local byelaws).
Don’t take more than you need.
Only take from spots where the species is abundant.
Don’t overpick a single area.
Don’t pick locally rare or endangered plants (even if not scheduled in 1981 W&CA).
Uprooting a plant will obviously kill it.
Think about wildlife before collecting anything – they need it more than you do.