What is foraged food? When it comes to what you can eat in the wild; what plants you can eat, there is the notion that it is everybody’s natural right. That our ‘permission’ to do so is passed down from a higher — perhaps the ultimate — authority. After all, there is a passage in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, that reads:
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you, it shall be for meat (1:29).
In reality, off grid living in Scotland has more personal freedoms when it comes to foraging than England and Wales. This is because the Scottish government incorporated the ages-old notion that there is a universal right to roam wherever one might wish, as long as they behave sensibly and respectfully. This notion is protected by Scotland’s own Land Reform Act 2003.
Meanwhile in England, in 2017 the Bristol Council actually tried to block anyone from picking anything within city limits. The resulting dispute between pro-foragers and the Council led to the ‘Blackberry Wars’ (as the tabloids called it). The pro-foragers prevailed and the proposals were dropped.
And in 2016 the Forest Commission announced what many interpreted to be a mushroom picking ban in New Forest, Hampshire. The Commission placed signs in the car parks warning foragers not to pick any mushrooms. This outraged the foragers, who threatened legal action and complained that confiscating mushrooms might constitute theft. The Forest Commission backed down and the warning signs are gone; replaced by polite notices asking for abstention against foraging.
In England and Wales, the spirit of our time seems to be a slow withdrawal of the rights to forage, along with discouraging the practice and even making it seem like it is illegal when it isn’t. The chances are the law will be on your side, even if hidden under a veil of secrecy. But if you do plan working out how to find food in the wilderness, make sure to take some time to understand your area and any rules or dangers. Although you will have to stretch back as far as the nineteenth-century to hear three tragic cases of mushroom pickers being shot at by farmers (two of them died). As recently as 1911, a Mr William Miller from Croydon was sentenced to four days’ hard labour for damaging a gorse bush while out blackberry-picking.