How to forage at Leigh Woods

A picnic lunch including wild garlic leaves

Foraging for abundant species of wild food for personal use at Leigh Woods is great. There is a long tradition of taking a walk and munching on nature’s larder as we go in the UK.

Foraging for fun reminds us that we are part of nature and makes us appreciate nature more, and hopefully tames our instincts to over-exploit nature. However our proximity the city has left the site open to exploitation from commercial pickers and foragers who forget what makes Leigh Woods so special.

It is important to remember that as well as a place used for centuries by Bristolians as a place to escape the city, relax, and explore, Leigh Woods is also a diverse and species rich woodland. It is home to an array of plants and animals and recognised internationally as an important habitat for wildlife.

Foraging at Leigh Woods

Anyone who knows and loves the woodland here will be familiar with the carpets of bluebells, scent of wild garlic and unusal shapes of fungi popping up from dead wood all about the place. We are also lucky to have holly and yew with their bight red berries across the site, perfect for Christmas decorations. 

There is nothing more satisfying than plucking a fat juicy blackberry from a bramble bush or finding that perfect fresh wood sorrel leaf, and popping it in your mouth for a tasty treat along your way.

We support this kind of exploring with all the senses, which most of our visitors enjoy here. Apart from anything else it is great fun! However taking more than you plan to use at home is considered commercial picking and this is illegal under the Theft Act of 1968. Foraging activities must be based on the principle of sustainability. We must protect vulnerable species and habitats, and ensure that foraging takes place in a safe and sustainable way. 

Fungi

Fungi can be found at Leigh Woods all year round but the real show is in the autumn. The reason we have so much and in such variety here is because we work hard to ensure 20-100m3 of dead wood per hectare of woodland. This could be in the form of standing dead wood, fallen trees and stumps, but also smaller pieces which are sometimes tempting to be taken home as fire wood.

We ask people not to have ground fires when on a visit here to ensure our dead wood supplies remain high for fungi and invertebrates to live in, on and from.

The National Trust is supporting the creation of an independent Guild of Foragers and are working with other organisations to develop national codes of good practice for foraging.

Top tips on how to be a good forager

Leigh Woods is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so it is particularly important to be extra mindful when removing anything from the site.

What

  • Only pick what will you will definitely use – don’t waste wildlife
  • Take your field guide to the plants - not the plants to your field guide
  • Only pick what you know – be aware of and avoid poisonous species
  • Only pick what is abundant – know and avoid rare or vulnerable species
  • Only pick what is legal – know your protected species and sites

How

  • Don’t uproot fungi or damage their structures below ground
  • Don’t over-collect or over-strip foliage or flowers – only collect from plentiful populations, allow the plants / fungi to survive
  • Scatter trimmings or offcuts discretely in the area where they were collected
  • Allow mushrooms to release spores – do not pick them until the cap has opened and leave those that are past their best
  • Always stick to the Countryside Code (for England & Wales) – Respect, Protect and Enjoy

Where

  • Keep to public rights of way or open access land unless you have the landowner’s permission to go elsewhere
  • Never forage without consent on a National Nature Reserve or SSSI (ASSI in NI) – it may be illegal and can be damaging.  If the Trust agrees to your proposed activities, it may have to obtain consent for you from the statutory body (Natural England, etc.)
  • Always seek permission for commercial foraging on any land unless you own it

Foraging without appropriate consent can breach wildlife legislation: Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010 in England & Wales (similar provisions apply in Northern Ireland), the Theft Act 1968 (covering foraging for commercial gain) and National Trust byelaws. 

You can find the current list of rare and vulnerable species by following these links: 

Threatened British Fungi

Conservation Designations for UK Plants and Animals

Close up of Bristol Whitebeam

Wildlife in Leigh Woods

Leigh Woods is a great place to discover wildlife.