The importance of foraging. It has become fashionable in recent years for conservation minded people to criticise the act of foraging. “It’s rapeing the countryside”, “there are gangs of commercial foragers pillaging our forests” and so on. Look but don’t touch is their mantra. I have grown up with this mantra for over forty years but far seeing a blossoming of nature around me there has been a steady, if not rapid decline. We have all heard the dire warnings from the likes of David Attenborough and Chris Packham. The State of Nature Report highlighted how much we have lost in the last 100 years or so (but mostly in the last forty years). 80% of woodland, 90% of lowland meadows, 95% of heathland, 70% of flying insects and so on.
The increasing spread of urbanisation is disconnecting the public from nature. The “look don’t touch” mantra even more so. On top of this, the idea of SSSI’s and nature reserves creates the impression that the rest of nature is unimportant. Only these special places are worthy of the utmost care.
We need to reconnect people with nature. It is all around us if we only stop and look. Foraging is one of the best ways to reconnect. It makes you aware of the nature on your doorstep. It makes you value the ordinary. Some of the best and most nutritious plants to forage are the much demonised weeds of gardens – nettles, dandelions, cleavers, plantain and chickweed. These are not in anyway endangered but when you start to forage your local patch becomes a valuable resource which you want to thrive.
When you let these plants grow you create your very own “wilderness”. You learn that these “weeds” are not just a tasty food for you but a valuable resource for a whole host of wildlife – bees, butterflies, beetles, spiders, birds, small mammals and even slugs and snails.
To put it bluntly, foraging teaches you to appreciate the importance of every bit of nature, not just the rare and endangered. Where do the mushrooms come into this I hear you ask? Here is an interview I did for the East Anglian Daily Times about mushroom foraging and the importance of fungi in all ecosystems.