The legalities of foraging are governed by three main pieces of legistaltion, The Theft Act, 1968, The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and the Countryside Rights of Way Act, 2004. In practice the application of of these laws often depends upon the circumstances and the agenda’s of those involved and even seemingly clear violations of the law do not always play out in the courts as one might expect. For example, Bridgette Tee-Hillman was arrested in 2002 for picking chanterelle mushrooms in the New Forest. Openly admitting that the mushrooms were for sale to restaurants it may have been expected that the Forestry Commission had an open and shut case. However, after a case costing over 1 million pounds the judge threw it out of court, calling it a waste of public money. Mrs Tee-Hillman then took a civil suit against the Forestry Commission over her right to forage on common land and won herself a licence to pick mushrooms in the New Forest for life. Click Here for the full news item. In the end I have found that most landowners are happy to give permission to forage if approached in a respectful manner. For those of you who wish to equip themselves with a more thorough knowledge of the legistaltion that applies to foraging the Acts are cited below.
The Theft Act 1968, for England and Wales, states that:
“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.”
The Wildlife and Countryside, (WAC) Act, 1981, which covers Britain, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier. Uproot is defined as to dig up or otherwise remove the plant from the land on which it is growing, whether or not it actually has roots; and, for the purposes of the legislation, the term plant includes algae, lichens and fungi as well the true plants mosses, liverworts and vascular plants. Similar general protection is given to all plants in Northern Ireland, under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.
The Countryside Rights of Way, (CROW) Act, 2000 that has brought unrestricted access to designated areas of the countryside for ramblers has at the same time made the actions of foragers illegal by effectively prohibiting the removal of any part of plants or mushrooms.
Click here to read a recent BBC news article on foraging and the law.