Picking Wild Fruit from Hedgerows – The Rules

Picking wild fruit from hedgerows, or foraging as it’s known, is a past-time I’m sure we can all remember from our childhood.

The time honoured favourite fruit for picking has always been blackberries and as they are due to ripen later this month I thought I would set out some un-written rules for picking wild fruit.

There is an astonishing assortment of wild fruit if you know what you’re looking for, like blackberries, black currants, sloes, brambles, wild plums, cherry plums, bullaces, elderberries or apples and there are recipes to suit every taste.

Why not try a simple recipe like my no patience blackcurrant jelly.

Unfortunately these days many children grow up only recognising fruit if it’s in plastic wrapping, if they recognise it at all.

It’s such a shame, going home with tummy ache from eating more fruit than you take home, with clothes covered in juice and lacerated arms was half the fun of a family day out in August … is it time for euthenasia when you start to sound like your Granny?!

We grow an assortment of wild fruit in our hedgerows around the farm to encourage wildlife and I love to see a family parking the car and “sneaking” up to the hedgerows to pick fruit … I think the fear of an angry farmer catching you is half the fun, it brings your childhood flooding back.

However there are times I’m tempted to go and give someone a piece of my mind … hence my unwritten rules:

1. Most land owners don’t want strangers knocking every day asking permission to pick fruit. A general rule is to feel free to pick from the outside of hedgerows but if you want to enter fields or gardens then ask permission.

2. Wild fruit also feeds wildlife so never take all the fruit from a bush or tree.

3. Only take what you need and leave some fruit to ripen for other foragers.

4. Don’t let bored children or dogs disturb grazing animals.

5. Don’t break branches just to get at that juicy fat berry at the top.

6. If you have permission to enter fields always close gates behind you, going in and coming out.

7. Never leave litter or empty carrier bags in or around hedgerows.

8. Take an extra bag and give something back to nature, by picking up any litter you find in the hedgerow.

If you follow these few simple rules you are always welcome to come and forage around our land.

If you’re not sure when to go foraging the Fruit Expert has a good quick guide to when to harvest fruit and you will find wild fruit among the lists.

For your enjoyment I’ve added a link to a skit written by Miles Kington in the Independent in 2006. If you’ve never read it trust me and go have a read, it’s really funny (perhaps because it’s absurdly close to the truth). The article is called How to safely pick wild fruit, the New Labour way.

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43 Responses to “Picking Wild Fruit from Hedgerows – The Rules”

  1. steve from buy rabbit cage (1 comments.) Says:

    i live in london where theirs loads of blackberries bush’s about, i’ve been telling my kids for months about when i used to pick them, and the other day they shocked me by comming home with a bag dripping of blackberries, its up to us as parents to get them out and back into the great outdoors.
    steve@buy rabbit cage´s last blog ..Is it healthier to keep dwarf lops inside or outside? My ComLuv Profile

  2. Maggie from Wheatland farm eco lodges and cottage, Devon (7 comments.) Says:

    I like those – especially no. 8!

    I’m looking forward to a bumper crop of blackberries from around our eco lodges and nature reserve this year – but then I’m afraid we really are going to have to do some serious bramble strimming this autumn…

    I guess it can wait until after the dormice have fattened themselves up though.

  3. Sally Says:

    Very pleased to hear your kids went blackberrying Steve. Yes it’s up to us to get the kids away from playstations and out into the fresh air again … I wonder how many kids don’t know what a blackberry bush looks like?

  4. Brent from What Day (1 comments.) Says:

    Usually the only wild fruit I can find is blackberries. Thanks for the useful tips tho!

  5. Susan Says:

    My daughter and I went blackberry picking this morning, from a hedge along a quiet(ish) road. We were accosted by an irate farmer who accused us of stealing his blackberries and when I started to apolgise he said that he would “come and dig up your potatoes”. Then he drove off.

  6. Sally Says:

    Hi Susan

    What a shame your local farmer feels this way (assuming you were on the outside of the hedgerow). Even if the hedgerow is on the side of a road it is still the personal property of the land owner but it’s very rare farmers get irate about such things.

    As for it being the same as digging up potatoes in your garden, well I had to laugh. I could agree if you were picking or digging up planted crops but blackberries have been growing in our hedgerows for centuries and farmers rarely “plant” them in hedgerows for the fruit crop. Brambles were traditionally planted in hedgerows as an aid to keeping livestock from pushing through the hedge and escaping, the berries were simply an added bonus.

    That’s a problem with farmers I’m afraid, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. We want public support for farming and the countryside but many farmers also want the public to stay well away … we can’t have it both ways.

    If you’re ever in Cumbria please feel free to bring your daughter to our farm and you can pick anything that’s ripe at that time of year.

  7. Karole Howard (1 comments.) Says:

    Great blog and I am so pleased you mentioned NOT to take all the fruit as it is there to feed the wildlife as well as us. Have just found a good source of sloe berries so am going to try my hand at making sloe gin for the first time. Wish me luck!

  8. Sally Says:

    Good luck with the sloe gin Karole, remember to buy strong gin, keep them in a dark place and turn the bottles every day.

  9. Mary from Locksmith Bromley (1 comments.) Says:

    These berries grow in my local woods I was completley un-aware that you could eat them, or make all these interesting things out of them, and its nice to see people caring for our wildlife in the UK, i will post back soon and let you all know how i got on.

    Thanks again.


  10. Sally Says:

    Hi Mary

    I hope you harvested some wild fruit and we would love to hear what you did with them.

  11. Vic Bagnelle Says:

    We have picked sloes and made sloe gin for many years, but recently we have moved on to sloe vodka, plum vodka, and now yellow and purple bullace in gin and vodka. It is getting harder to find the sites and keep them secret!!

  12. Emma Anderson (1 comments.) Says:

    Great advice. I have two items on my Northumberland Naturalist blog, one describing making rownberry jelly, the other describing making rose-hip and apple jelly, both using road-side gathered berries and hips.

    I will make your blog one of my regulars to visit. I like it a lot.
    Emma Anderson´s last blog ..Otterburn My ComLuv Profile

  13. Sally Says:

    Hi Emma, welcome. I checked out your blog and think it’s great, well done.

  14. Ben from Mobile Spa (1 comments.) Says:

    Obviously you should know what berry you pick before you eat them. Don’t want anyone getting poisoned now don’t we?

  15. Dug (2 comments.) Says:

    This is great advice.

    I took my six year-old son blackberry and elderberry picking last weekend. We left is a little late in the season and harvesting was slow. However, we still managed to harvest a couple of pounds of each.

    I am eyeing up the rosehips and sloes next. Rosehip wine and sloe gin are definitely on the cards.
    Dug´s last blog ..Whitley Neill ginMy ComLuv Profile

  16. t a phelps Says:

    Re picking wild fruit, etc. The following passages are taken from pp. 326/7 of ‘The Shell Country Book’ (1962). This was one of the well-known Shell Guides, which were commissioned by the (multinational) Shell UK oil company (and which would have therefore been scrutinised by highly-qualified legal eagles, who would have carefully vetted the books before publication). The passages themselves were written by W. J. Weston, author of ‘Law and the Countryman’, ‘Law of Joint-Stock Companies’, ‘Questions in Mercantile Law’, etc, etc.

    Under the heading ‘TRESPASS’, Weston states that ‘the threat on the notice board ‘Trespassers Will be Prosecuted’ is a wooden lie : for a trespass is not a crime…A trespass becomes a crime only when an offence attends upon it, when for instance the unsanctioned entry is in search of game, or when there is malicious damage to crops’. The following heading, ‘WHOSE MUSHROOMS ARE THEY?’ states that : ‘The occupier notes, and his wrath kindles, that the trespasser has gathered a goodly amount of mushrooms or blackberries or primroses. These, the natural products of the soil, had no owner till the trespasser gathered them; the gathering made the trespasser the owner… The occupier cannot demand the mushrooms, nor can the trespasser be prosecuted for stealing them : ‘It is’, said one judgment, ‘no offence to take mushrooms, blackberries, or wild plants of any kind, or to trespass to find them ; and “Trespassers Will be Prosecuted” is a threat as empty as ever it was unless actual damage is maliciously committed’. It would be otherwise if the trespasser pulled up a turnip, one item of a cultivated crop ; that would be stealing, and stealing does not transfer ownership’.

    Since the publication of this book, we have had the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which forbids you to pick, uproot, or destroy any wild plant listed under Schedule 8 of this Act (i. e . certain protected species) or, in Scotland, to take any seed or spore from such plants. It is also an offence to offer any part or whole of such protected species for sale. But remember : a fundamental point of Common Law is very much in danger of being lost here, over a basic right to collect these foods.

    (Mr) T. A. Phelps

  17. dug (2 comments.) Says:

    This weekend we managed to harvest enough sloes to make kick-off four litres of sloe gin. Should be ready just in time for Christmas.

    T A Phelps offers some sage advice on trespass. We were move-on by a farmer, but we were polite and did as he asked. It is interesting to know that harvesting wild foods transfers possession.
    dug´s last blog ..Sloe ginMy ComLuv Profile

  18. t a phelps Says:

    In furtherance of my recent posting on the legal position on trespassing for purposes of foraging, I shall add the following sections from the Theft Act (1968)

    Section (3)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.
    · For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.

    Section 8 Robbery.
    (1)A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force.
    (2)A person guilty of robbery, or of an assault with intent to rob, shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for life.

    From this, it will be seen that anyone – including the owner – who takes (either by force or by intimidation) what you have legally foraged (for private use) whilst on private land is guilty of robbery, the maximum penalty for which is life imprisonment.

  19. t a phelps Says:

    Perhaps I should add a necessary note of caution here, and say that I am unclear about where the law stands with regard to fruits, foliage, etc, on bushes and trees which are part of a hedgerow (and which was therefore planted either by the owner, or by one of his predecessors) and which does not, presumably, merit the term ‘wild’ (unlike blackberry bushes in the selfsame hedgerow, which were NOT planted). Whatever the event, it would appear that this entire area must now be properly clarified and publicised, to avoid unnecessary problems arising among public and landowners alike.

  20. rippa Says:

    Just to clarify then – If I spotted a blackberry in the middle of a suburban garden, could I stroll in and pick fruit and be completely legal indoing so?

  21. rippa Says:

    I’ve just done a little more research on this interesting subject… In England, trespass is against the law. It is mostly a civil offence (criminal in the case of MOD sites, railyards, power stations etc.). Landowners can sue, regardless of whether or not damage is done, and they can seek an injunction against repeat trespassers. This all came into effect in 1994 to guard against raves. So in truth you are not likely to be done for picking wild fruit, but you could be sued for it!

  22. t a phelps Says:

    I see nothing to justify ‘Rippa’s’ comments, at least with regard to mere foraging. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) is aimed at hunting activities (pro and anti), raves, squatters etc – not simply foraging – and states the following:
    (1)If the senior police officer present at the scene reasonably believes that two or more persons are trespassing on land and are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, that reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave and—
    (a)that any of those persons has caused damage to the land or to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his, or
    (b)that those persons have between them six or more vehicles on the land, (etc)

    Since foragers on private land have no intention of ‘residing there for any period’ the provisions of this Act are obviously inapplicable to them. End of story.

  23. Sally Says:

    Naturenet have some good information on this subject …


  24. t a phelps Says:

    On the contrary, the information given in Naturenet is both confused and confusing (and I have emailed them to say so too). For example, it states of the Theft Act (1968) that ‘Related to this Act there is is right to collect the “Four F’s”, fruit, flowers, foliage and fungi, so long as it is for personal use, and not for sale or commercial gain. This does not mean that people can enter land unlawfully to do so, but in areas where they can lawfully be, for example on a country park, or walking along a right of way, they are entitled to collect and take away the Four Fs for such purposes.’ However, as I have pointed out, a person who DOES trespass on private land to forage, commits no offence by doing so, and cannot be prosecuted either (unless bye-laws have been passed to prevent this, as in Epping Forest, for example).

  25. Sally Says:

    I found nothing confusing about their information. What you are saying is that trespass is neither a criminal nor civil offence, which is clearly incorrect and misleading to readers. Trespass is a civil offence, for which the private land owner could sue the trespasser. Also if someone walked through my land helping themselves to flowers from my wild flower garden or apples from my trees they would be commiting the criminal offence of theft.

    Indeed the law is an ass and what used to be a serious criminal offence has now been reduced to landowners having to pay thousands and taking months to have the immigrant worker removed from their coal shed.

    I think common sense and decency has to prevail .. if you (generally speaking, not you personally) ask permission to forage on my land you will find a cup of tea on the aga when you finish but if you turn up with a ‘sod you’ attitude then you had best make damn sure you do no damage, take nothing I can claim ownership to or allow any animals to escape from their enclosures.

  26. Rippa Says:

    Sally has it right – that is both the legal position and the correct moral one I think. The law actually states that (in England) nothing of value has to be taken for a landowner to sue a trespasser – it is the deemed value to the trespasser that can used as a value to sue. The reality is no one will sue for a few blackberries, but the law does provide for that option as they would not be collected if they had no value. But I’ll go with the permission and a cup of tea!

  27. t a phelps Says:

    I would ask both Sally and Rippa to kindly quote sources for their assertions. According to Sally, I’d better ‘make damn sure’ that I do no damage, take nothing to which she can claim ownership (which includes any wild fruit, fungi, foliage or (unprotected)flowers) or to enact malicious damage of any kind; the implication being that if I DO observe these requirements, then I shall commit no offence by foraging without her permission. As I’ve said before, we’d better leave the ‘moral’ question out of it (as it merely serves only to add further confusion) and try to establish what is the legal position on this thorny question. I shall, of course, be perfectly happy to admit that I am wrong in my assertions, but thus far at least, have seen nothing that will require me to do so.

  28. t a phelps Says:

    Further to Rippa’s comment that she has ‘done a little more research’ on the matter of repeated trespass, I have also done a little further research myself on the area of taking legal action against such repeated trespass, and précis the following from http://www.trespasslaw.co.uk/index.html

    If someone chooses to trespass on your land on a regular basis, then the courts can provide Injunctive Relief. This is an order made by the courts against such a trespasser, limiting them from repeating such trespass. Once such an injunction has been issued, any further trespass then becomes a criminal offence (contempt of court) and is subject to fines and in extreme situations, custodial sentencing. Such an action must be seriously considered, however, as the courts are not too keen on dealing with trespass issues – it is viewed as petty in most instances. The court will often show its disdain by not awarding any legal costs to the applicant, leaving the applicant out of pocket to the tune of their legal fees, and the trespasser down only nominal damages – pounds and pence. It is therefore imperative to ensure the case for seeking an injunction is based upon sound legal reasoning. You would need to perform a so-called ‘sanity test’ of your proposed court action, ensuring minimal capital risk while maximising the validity of a claim.

    From this, it will be seen that the business of legally preventing repeated trespass for foraging is likely to be a costly, protracted, and probably rather pointless exercise anyway, at least if the trespasser has caused no malicious damage in the process of doing so.

  29. Sally Says:

    Can you please point out where I say or imply “(which includes any wild fruit, fungi, foliage or (unprotected)flowers)”? What I very specifically said is “flowers from my wild flower garden or apples from my trees” and I would very much like to hear how you would establish which trees or flowers on my land are cultivated and which are not.

    You are also incorrect in summing up what I was saying “the implication being that if I DO observe these requirements, then I shall commit no offence by foraging without her permission”. If you DO observe all of the restrictions placed on right of access under CROW then you are merely committing the civil offence of trespass but you are still committing an offence.

    Whilst you are correct that the cost and time involved with suing you for trespass would make it prohibitive, this is a far cry from stating there is no offence of trespass. If you look at the restrictions in the link above (the government legislation website) you will see “may engage in the activity on the land on that occasion without committing an offence or trespassing on the land“. Also from the CPS website is the section on tresspass and nuisance on land. I think these make it very clear that trespass does exist as an offence, albeit under civil law but without any real remedy for the landowner.

  30. t a phelps Says:

    All of which wearisome to-ing and fro-ing merely serves to indicate the need for some proper clarification of these issues. I have sent a copy of my initial posting to DEFRA for their comments, and am to anticipate a reply before November 6th. I shall await their response with interest, and when I get it, I shall post their findings as necessary.

  31. Sally Says:

    I look forward to hearing what they say.

    Another issue which needs clarification is what constitutes “reasonable force” to remove trespassers, who refuse to leave when asked to … what does reasonable force mean in this case?

    Luckily I have never come across a belligerent rambler and have found all visitors to and through our farm to be very respectful and simply enjoying the beautiful countryside … although I do wish they would stop giving carrots to the horses.

  32. t a phelps Says:

    The ‘reasonable force’ issue is one which I shall happily back away from. Halsbury’s Statues cite the instance of a householder who found a burglar just about to enter his bedroom after placing a ladder against the wall. When the householder pushed the ladder away, the burglar’s back was damaged as a result, and he successfully sued for assault. I was told by a policeman that I could use a baseball bat to defend myself against an intruder, but I rather doubt that this would be acceptable, somehow. Another ‘grey area’, it would appear.

  33. t a phelps Says:

    Sorry, that should of course read ‘Halsbury’s Statutes’!

  34. t a phelps Says:

    Alas, my long-awaited response from DEFRA arrived today, and states that they do not offer legal advice. This being so, I shall rest my case on the legality of foraging on private land upon the following statements:

    1. ‘The occupier notes, and his wrath kindles, that the trespasser has gathered a goodly amount of mushrooms or blackberries or primroses. These, the natural products of the soil, had no owner till the trespasser gathered them; the gathering made the trespasser the owner… The occupier cannot demand the mushrooms, nor can the trespasser be prosecuted for stealing them : ‘It is’, said one judgment, ‘no offence to take mushrooms, blackberries, or wild plants of any kind, or to trespass to find them’. (Shell Country Book (1962) p.326)

    2. Theft Act (1968) Section (3) : 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.
    For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.

    From these statements I shall conclude a) that it is not legally necessary to ask permission to forage on private land for any mushrooms, fruit, foliage, or flowers (save those protected by the Wildlife Act, 1981 ) which are growing wild there : b) that if you do, you do not steal them from the owner of the land, since the gathering then makes the trespasser the owner : and c) that if the owner then attempts to take them back, whether by force or by threats, he then commits the criminal act of robbery. Thus far at least, I have seen nothing to fundamentally alter these conclusions. I rest my case.

  35. Sally Says:

    Of course in my laymans view, as the law does not provide a satifactory remedy to the civil offence of trespass, there is a simple solution. We have blackberries, sloe’s, elderberries, rosehips, etc growing in our hedgerows .. if we purchase some of these plants (keeping the recipts for future reference), plant them in the hedgerows and put manure under the hedgerows each year we can show that the food produced is a crop which we cultivated (using the hedgerow as protection for the plants) and intended to harvest .. the taking of the crops would surely then be theft.

  36. Rippa Says:

    I thought the law was pretty clear but also pretty unhelpful – namely that it is a civil offense to tresspass but a hassle to do much about it. Sally’s remedy is correct but probably a bit much for most. A bit of respect – ask permission to gather stuff and everyone will be happy I suspect.

  37. Sally Says:

    You’re quite right Rippa .. just shows how far I’m prepared to go to make a point LOL

  38. andy Says:

    this christmas i gave our close friends hampers of jams, bramble jelly, chutney, home made wine, damson ketchup and sweets and biscuits made by my wife.some of the fruit i grew on my allotment and some i picked from hedgerows.we have been informed by our friends that its the best christmas present that they ever had and are looking forward to next christmas with drooling lips.also we missed christmas shopping crowds which was a bonus.

  39. Sally Says:

    Hi Andy

    Gosh I wish I was your friend, what a fab Xmas hamper.

  40. andy Says:

    hi Sally
    i am planing even better hampers this year with lots more foraging and im working out what im going to grow on my allotment as i type. put in some loganberries and honeyberries last year so i should get alot of berries off them this year.
    regards this trespassing to forage i just pick from the road side , around weston were we live there are loads of places to gather wild goodies.
    theres nothing to beat going out on a sunny afternoon and picking wild goodies and coming home sticking the kettle on and turning your hand picked produce in to chutney, jam and wine ready to try or put back for the all important gift hampers….

  41. Sally Says:

    Hi Andy

    I know what you mean, you get such a sense of satisfaction from using foraged produce to make your own food and how much better than grabbing some crappy present from a shelf in a supermarket.

    Respect is the key to foraging I find, if people treat our land and us with respect then help yourself … just leave some for wildlife and other foragers.

  42. andy Says:

    hi sally
    i only pick a bit from each area ,if you take to much there is, like you say , not enough for our wildlife friends and raping the countryside does not seem right when mother nature is giving us so much wonderful natural goodies.

  43. elvera from greenhouses(new comment) Says:

    My family and I went camping on a farm in West Sussex late last summer, the kids thoroughly enjoyed playing in the fields where the sheep were roaming and collecting eggs every morning. We went on long walks and on one of them got to pick sloe berries and blackberries When we got home, we made an apple and blackberry crumble. And, of course sloe gin in time for Christmas.
    elvera@greenhouses´s last blog ..My ComLuv Profile

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