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  • Writer's pictureZoë Hughes

Guidance for safe foraging of wild food in the UK

Foraging for wild food is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature, while learning about the plants and animals that make up our natural world. It can also be an excellent source of free, fresh food – if you know what you're doing. Before venturing into the wilds on your foraging mission check out this guide to learn how to gather foods safely.

What Does Foraging Mean?

Foraging is to search for and obtain food sources or medicinal plants in the wild. Both humans and animals forage. For humans, foraging means collecting foods provided by nature through the gathering of plants and small animals, birds, and crustaceans; scavenging animals killed by other predators; and hunting. For 95% of our time on Earth, humans have sustained themselves by foraging, that is by hunting, gathering and fishing for food from the natural environment.

Blackthorn bush with fruit known as sloes
Blackthorn bush with fruit known as sloes

Foraging is a mode of subsistence defined by its reliance on wild plants and animal food resources already available in the environment. Humans are not the only creatures who forage; many animal spend their days foraging too. However, what is different about human foraging is that humans, by means of our ability to communicate verbally, accumulated knowledge, passed it on to younger generations, and worked together. Foraging can be a fun, free activity that helps reconnect with nature and is a valuable survival skill.

Guidance for Foraging Safety

Foraging can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity, allowing you to connect with nature and learn about wild food, fruits, nuts, seeds, and fungi. However, it is essential to follow safety measures and guidelines to ensure a sustainable and responsible experience. Here is an in-depth guide on safety measures to take while foraging in the UK:

  1. Identification: Always make sure you know exactly what you are picking. Use a guidebook or join a guided foraging walk led by an expert to help you identify edible plants and avoid harmful ones. See our events page for guided foraging walks on the Isle of Arran.

  2. Forage responsibly: Stick to paths and avoid trampling or damaging the areas you are collecting from. Pick leaves or berries with care, in moderation, and avoid damaging plant roots.

  3. Legal considerations: Foraging is legal in the UK, but you must avoid National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. See our blog post on which areas are legal to foraging in on Arran.

  4. Sustainability: Take no more than you plan to consume. Do not forage for commercial purposes, and avoid over-picking, especially in areas important for conservation or habitats of rare or vulnerable species.

  5. Clean areas: Only pick from clean areas, avoiding places subject to pollution such as roadsides, agricultural land, and industrial sites.

  6. Leave no trace: Minimise damage and do not disturb the habitat. Take care not to trample down or damage surrounding vegetation when foraging. Bring any rubbish home with you.

  7. Cross-reference: Use field guides to identify plants and make sure to cross-reference. If in doubt, leave it out.

  8. Respect wildlife: Wild food is vital for the survival of the UK’s wildlife. Forage responsibly and ensure that your actions do not negatively impact the local ecosystem.

By following these safety measures and guidelines, you can enjoy a fulfilling and responsible foraging experience in the UK, while also preserving the natural environment for future generations.

Why is Foraging Important?

Foraging is important because it allows organisms to obtain the energy they need to survive, grow, and reproduce. Both animals and humans can be foragers, hunting for prey or gathering wild food. Foraging can also have cultural and spiritual significance, connecting people to their environment and traditions. Additionally, wild plants are often highly nutritious and can provide health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Foraging ecology is an important area of study that helps us understand how animals obtain food and how this affects their survival and reproduction.

What to Wear for Foraging

Wearing practical clothes is very important while foraging. You will usually need to wear waterproof clothing, unless you’re certain it won't rain. To avoid nasty encounters with biting insects it is best to wear long trousers and long-sleeves. Tucking your trousers into your socks can prevent ticks from attaching to your skin. Some people like to bring gloves for gathering anything that might be prickly, such as nettles, rosehips, sloes or blackberries.

Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Closed-toe shoes are best, such as hiking boots or wellies. Make sure your shoes have enough grip for walking on muddy or slippery ground, and avoid open-toed sandals, as these can be hazardous in the countryside. Finally, a hat can be useful to protect you from the sun and keep moisture off your face when it rains.

Foraging is a great way to reconnect with nature and obtain free, fresh food sources. However, it is important to follow safety measures and guidelines to ensure a sustainable and responsible experience. Respect the environment and take no more than you plan to consume so that others may benefit from the natural bounty.


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