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Is it still ok to forage for food?


PIck and mix: foraging for wild garlic. Photograph: Murdo Macleod


Powered by article titled “Is it still ok to forage for food?” was written by Lucy Siegle, for The Observer on Sunday 23rd February 2014 08.30 UTC

The right to forage is not as protected as the right to roam, partly because we’re weird about parks. If you want to use a green space for exercise, recreation or even as a quasi-spiritual retreat then please, fill your boots! Go crazy! We’re all over the idea of parks as great civic amenities. But if you view the same green spaces as a great open-air supermarket for fungi, dandelions, fruit, berries and forest staples, such as firewood and stuff for making baskets, then get ready for the cold shoulder.

There can be good reasons for this. Access has sometimes been rescinded on health and safety grounds – a couple of years ago the Charter of the Forest from 1217 that allowed the collection of firewood was repealed in many managed woodlands. Also, park management sometimes argues that foragers overharvest and upset delicate ecosystems. Epping Forest recently took 15 mushroomers to court when fungi were removed from a designated Site of Special Interest.

In south London’s Brockwell Park it’s the local community group – rather than management – that has pleaded with greedy foragers to stop pilfering large amounts of berries and to limit themselves to spoils from the community-run greenhouse. We’ve talked about responsible foraging here before. Fergus Drennan, whose year-long challenge to eat 100% foraged food ends in May, remains a great voice of reason.

But, overall, foragers are getting a raw deal. In Gathering “Wild” Food in the City, a new US study, academics found huge diversity among foragers and the products they gathered. They conclude that the gathering of public produce needs to be taken seriously by those who plan and manage urban green spaces. Foragers do not clean out entire ecosystems and move on like some corporate behemoth, they connect, they often replant and supplement – they make green spaces greener. And the report identifies inbuilt prejudice in the parks system.

In which case you can’t be a forager without being an activist. Who manages the parks and green spaces you use? Ask them where they stand on foraging and the vogue for more wild planting; instead of “keep off the grass” signs we now have bee hives in some public spaces.

Foraging isn’t easy – you need to be expert at identifying not just vegetation but sources of pollution. But it’s too important to be written off on council-headed notepaper.

Green crush

Thanks to years of Grand Designs we’re all familiar with the heartbreak of housebuilding. We’re happy to report that just before the rains began, volunteers and apprentices were able to make the Waste House in Brighton watertight. The project, involving hundreds of young people from Brighton, is now on the home straight. The house is entirely constructed from “rubbish”. This ranges from the predictable – second-hand timber and thrown-away bricks – to the positively strange – 20,000 used toothbrushes collected from Gatwick airport to go into wall casettes. No material is too humble to be used by the architect Duncan Baker-Brown (a former Observer Ethical Award winner), who subscribes to the view that there’s “No such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place.”

Greenspeak: bike furniture {baik f3:nit∫ar} noun

Cumbersome things, bikes. Some people transform the bike in the hall into a planter or book shelf. Now taken one stage further, recycled bike parts are in demand to construct new pieces. A literal interpretation of upcycling.

If you have an ethical dilemma, email Lucy at © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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