Responsible Foraging

Thinning abundant bog myrtle leaves on Islay with wild brewer Pascal Bauder

As foraging grows in popularity, foragers are becoming increasingly aware of, and challenged around, the potential environmental impact of gathering wild foods. This is a reasonable concern, and Foraging within the law can fall some way short of responsible foraging. Respect for nature and consideration of others – animal or human – that may use wild food resources is fundamental to sustainable gathering.

Take a deep dive into the science and ethics of sustainable and considerate mushroom foraging here

Commercial harvesting – especially of wild mushrooms – is gaining a lot of unfavourable coverage nowadays. Many such reports are knee-jerk, simplistic and poorly researched tabloid scaremongering. Most foragers are passionate about their quarry and recognise that their interests and those of  the edible species are indistinguishable. Habitat loss, not foragers thinning abundance, poses a much greater threat to diversity. But that is not to say we should grow complacent about ill-considered foraging practices.

Having made money from foraging in the past, both as a seasonal sideline and full time job, I have now chosen not to sell any wild food. I find foraging to feed my family, share with friends and occasionally exchange bumper crops with businesses, to be  better suited to my needs, interests and boredom threshold! This does not mean that I object in principle to the responsible, considered commercial use of wild ingredients, and I regularly work with business in this capacity to help them source responsibly from the wild.

Below are some key guidelines on the principles and practice of safe, considerate foraging. These are adapted from the guiding principles of The Association of Foragers (to which all members must commit). I developed these principles for the Association with fellow foraging teachers Miles Irving and Monica Wilde, and believe they give a clear framework upon which to approach and practice foraging – whether for personal or commercial reasons. You will note that they are in no way apologetic for foraging, recognising it as a powerful tool of reconnection, rather than than something we should feel guilty or defensive about. These principles have since been adopted and promoted by conservation organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage.

1. Principles
1.1 Foraging can play an important role supporting, promoting and defending the health of all plants, fungi, algae, animals (including humans) and the habitats/environments in which they exist.

1.2 Foragers recognise the ecological interconnectivity of all species and seek to spread knowledge, understanding and best foraging practice in a move towards more diverse and resilient food systems and land use.

1.3 Foragers are  ‘a part of nature’ rather than ‘apart from nature’, and support nature by engaging with it in practical, sensitive and meaningful ways.

2. Towards Best Foraging Practice
2.1 Foragers share the same objective of Article 1 of the internationally ratified Convention on Biodiversity (1992):
The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources‘.

2.2 Foraging takes place safely and within the law, with the intention of finding best foraging practice through shared experience, research and collaboration.

2.3 Each individual species that is foraged and each location in which foraging takes place requires its own set of skills. In this respect it is impractical and undesirable to seek or impose a comprehensive set of rules.

2.4 By developing intimate and practical connection with the natural world, foragers undertake to observe how species respond to harvesting methods. Where a harvesting method is beneficial or neutral to a species/location/ecosystem they share that knowledge among interested parties and other foragers. Similarly, in the event of a particular harvesting technique proving detrimental to a species and/or location, they alter their practice accordingly and share that knowledge among interested parties and other foragers.

2.5 Foragers welcome and engage in constructive, evidence-based discussion and dialogue on general principles, specific species and distinct locations with all interested parties.

3. Safety
3.1 Foragers should be 100% confident in their identification, and the edibility and possible interactions of the species they have identified, before eating any species. If they are not sure, they should seek further knowledge/advice and err on the side of safety.

3.2 Foragers will take reasonable measures to understand and pass on relevant information on species edibility and allergy advice to anyone who might eat what they have foraged.

4. Legality 
4.1 Foragers undertake to know and abide by the relevant laws of the country in which they are foraging.

See Foraging and the Law for UK legalities.

5. Considerate Foraging
5.1 The interests of foragers and the species that they forage are aligned, and foraging should always be carried out in ways that do not compromise future species populations or the biological communities of which they are a part.

5.2 Further to ecological considerations, foragers also consider other interested parties (including other foragers) that may value a species/location. Where possible they seek to open dialogue, collaborate and advance understanding of species/locations, with a view to finding best practice.

5.4 Species should be harvested using techniques that do not cause permanent or irrevocable damage to them, their future survival and the environments in which they exist

5.5 Foragers are respectful, encouraging and supportive of other foragers, seeking compromise where foraging activities overlap.

5.6 Where foragers see foraging practices that they know from experience and/or scientific research to be harmful, they will respectfully challenge that behaviour through discussion and dialogue.

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  • Norris McLean says:

    Hi I am keen to know where I can collect the odd razor clam to cook for my children who are really keen on seafood. Is Luce bay ok to do this? I will of course only pick a few every now and again.
    Your web site is s great tool to keep people informed in the very much ancient and drying art of foraging.

    • mark says:

      Thanks Norris, I’m glad you like the site. Foraging was a dying (and drying!) art, but is enjoying a huge resurgence at the moment which will only gather pace as food prices shoot up and more people realise that local, seasonal, fresh, organic and wild is what makes great food!
      I have never collected razor clams in Luce Bay, which is not to say that they are not there – they almost certainly will be in some areas. All I can advise is to wait for a very low tide (a couple of days after full moon, normally early evening) and have a go. There are plenty of tips on the Spoot Clams seasonal notes page.
      It is my policy not to tell people precise locations for foraging specific things. Most wildfoods can cope with steady, gentle harvesting, but if everyone went to the same place, they would soon be under pressure. Also, the most pleasure I get from foraging is when I discover something new myself – by research, trial and error, and pot luck. I hope it doesn’t sound patronising to say I have no wish to deny this pleasure to people – even when they think they would like to be told exactly where to go!
      I am planning a couple of guided coastal forays in the spring (see foraging events programme) where I would hope to find some spoots and plenty more besides – maybe you could come along to one and get a ‘feel’ for it?

      Happy hunting, and please let me know if you strike gold!


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