Foraging and the law

The right to forage has been enshrined in British law since at least the 13th century. See Daniel Butler’s excellent article on the legalities – Has Foraging Gone Too Far?

Gathering Wild Plants – 1968 Theft Act

Section 4, subsection (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.

Source: 1968 Theft Act

Uprooting Wild Plants – Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Section 13 of the Act states:

1.) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a) intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or

(b) not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule, he shall be guilty of an offence.

2.) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a) sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild plant included in Schedule 8, or any part of, or anything derived from, such a plant; or

(b) publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things, he shall be guilty of an offence.

3.) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of any act made unlawful by that subsection if he shows that the act was an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.

(4) In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (2)(a), the plant in question shall be presumed to have been a wild plant unless the contrary is shown.

Source: Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Harvesting Seaweed

To collect seaweed from the shore and seabed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is necessary to obtain permission from the relevant landowner.

The foreshore is the land area between Mean High Water (MHW) and Mean Low Water (MLW).


The Crown Estate manages the seabed and about half the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

With the remaining being owned by:

The Crown Estate owns most of the seabed out to 12 nautical miles.

“Seaweed collection for personal use, in small quantities does not require a licence. However, we would recommend that anyone doing so takes account of the environmental sensitivities of collecting anything from the wild.”

SOURCE: Crown Estate


Under the public right to fish in tidal waters, floating seaweed can be collected at high water.

However, when the tide is out, this right does not extend to the collection of seaweed from the shore.

To collect seaweed from the shore, the landowner’s permission is always required. This includes the collection of drift seaweed as well as attached seaweed.

Many coastal areas have protected statuses, such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

To collect seaweed from designated sites, the landowner (for SSSIs) or the applicant (for SACs, SPAs and MCZs) would need permission from Natural England.

SOURCE: Natural England 

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