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What does ethical foraging look like?

We love foraging! We love how it connects us to our local environment, makes us reflect on where our food comes from and introduces us to new and interesting ingredients. But as with any activity that involves taking from nature, it’s important to be aware of how your behaviour impacts the ecosystem. As we head into prime foraging season, here’s some things to consider if you’re heading out for a foray.

Look for abundance. Especially towards the start and end of the foraging year, it’s important to make sure there’s plenty of whatever it is you’re picking to ensure you’re having a minimal impact on the ecosystem you’re in. This includes avoiding rare species - we’re looking at you, lion’s mane.

Reduce waste. There’s nothing sadder than finding something delicious in the wild only to let it go bad once you get home. Planning ahead for when and how you’ll be preparing your harvest helps with this! Pickling, fermenting or dehydrating are all great ways to get joy out of your edible finds for longer.

Leave some behind. Other creatures will likely rely on the plants you’ve found for survival so only gather what you can actually use and leave plenty behind. Avoid harvesting too much from lots of young plants to allow them time to establish. The only exception to this is invasive species like three-cornered leek, where it’s actively a good thing for you to take the whole lot.

Harvest mindfully. This might mean taking one wild garlic leaf from every other plant in a patch, rather than taking all the leaves from one plant. This allows the plant to grow back in time and complete its life cycle. Avoid digging up bulbs and roots where possible, and be aware that it is illegal to do so with the permission of the landowner.

Respect the space. It goes without saying that we should be leaving natural spaces the same as, or better than, we found them. But it’s also important to not disturb vegetation or wildlife - tread lightly and stick to established paths where possible. Never forage in protected areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Know your harvest. Be thorough when checking characteristics and make sure you are confident before eating anything. If you are unsure, you can often figure out an accurate ID by just taking photographs, and looking under any mushroom caps with a small handheld mirror, rather than picking mushrooms to take home. If you need to, just take one home for ID purposes and leave the rest to do their thing.

Foraging is a joyful and rewarding way to connect with nature. By being mindful of how we approach this practice we can preserve both the practice itself and the spaces we harvest from for future generations to enjoy.

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