wild plants and the law


Because ‘gathering’ or foraging is an essential part of primitive living I thought it would be useful to give some useful guidelines on wild ‘things’ and the law. This will vary hugely from country to country so check out your local laws and customs. This posting is very much UK specific.

The protection of wild plants is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its amendments. To view this Act please click here

Of particular interest are the following sections and schedules of the Act:

  • Part 1 – Section 1-8 Protection of Birds
  • Part 1 – Section 9-12 Protection of Animals
  • Part 1 – Section 13 Protection of Wild Plants – Specifically Schedule 8
Section 13
Part 1 (a) intentional picking, uprooting or destruction of plants on Schedule 8
Part 1 (b) unauthorised intentional uprooting of any wild plant not included in Schedule 8
Part 2 (a) selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale, any plant (live or dead, part or derivative) on Schedule 8
Part 2 (b) advertising for buying or selling such things

Bluffers guide to foraging (use with caution!)

  • If you are on private land, without explicit or implicit permission from the owner then you are trespassing – for whatever reason.  However this is not a criminal offence but a civil offence – you can be sued but not prosecuted. Where implicit permission is given (ie National Trust Land) then you are okay. If you are on a public right of way (PROW) then you are also okay.
  • The fundamental law governing foraging is the common law right to collect the ‘four ‘f’s – fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage’.  However there are two caveats  1) that the material picked is for personal use, not commercial gain, and (2) that it is growing wild (ie: not farmed or purposely grown). This fundamental law is enshrined in the 1968 Theft Act.

A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks
flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not
(although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it
for reward, or for sale or other commercial purpose’

  • What this is saying is that even if someone is trespassing they are not stealing. There are of course exceptions. On some land this right has been withdrawn with a byelaw forbidding the collection of any plant, fungus or animal (eg; National Trust land, SSSi etc). However – as with the first bullet point – you can still be ‘done’ for trespass.
  • Land given access rights under the Countryside and Rights Of Way (CROW) Act of 2000 confers no right to collect wild food. The act states that a person is not entitled to be on the land if he ‘…..intentionally removes, damages or destroys any plant, shrub, tree or root or any part of a plant, shrub, tree or root.’ Therefore there little you other than walk such land.
  • Conservation law is covered by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Actwhich states that ‘….if any person ….not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant…he shall be guilty of an offence.’ Certain plants mentioned in the 1981 act are on the ‘schedule 8’ list and it is illegal to damage them in any way. Similarly there are laws protecting the picking of plants not on Schedule 8 that are protected by a conservation status such as SSSi.
  • When a site is registered as an SSSI, a list is drawn up of species which made it interesting in the first place and it is illegal to damage any of these organisms. Also published with the declaration of the site is a list of ‘operations likely to damage’the SSSI. These activities are not necessarily banned, but consultation with, and permission from, Natural England is required. Within the list is a catch all along the lines of ‘removal of or damage to any plant, fungus or animal’.

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