27 May 2015

F ... F ... F ... F ...

Mating Flies on Naturally Dyed Cloth
The natural dye mania continues.

I've been raiding local parks for greenery: Buttercups, Butterbur, Hawthorn and Willow, to name a few.

It is quite a furtive operation. There is the initial reconnaissance sweep of an area, head down, suddenly stopping at seemingly random places to fondle a plant. Then there is the brandishing of garden pruners and determined gathering of armfuls of leaves. Followed by the stomp back home through suburban streets with rustling plastic bags stuffed with weeds.

Each outing is an exercise in embarrassment. What do other park users think I'm doing? Once when I was picking up autumn leaves a woman came up to me. When I said I was going to use them for natural dyeing her face suddenly lightened as understanding dawned. 'You're a teacher, aren't you?' she said. I nodded in agreement and she went off reassured she had slotted me into a socially acceptable role.

I think I'll use that explanation if  I'm asked again. I did try to describe to two men walking their Staffies what I was going to do with the bag of dandelions I was carrying, but it got horribly complicated and they went away with the idea I was a fashion designer.

Regardless of needing a succinct justification of what I'm doing, there is a worry that taking 'wild' plants from parks is not allowed. True, it is mostly weeds that I target, but sometimes its leaves from a tree, or municipal flowers.

I do worry that someone might challenge me about the ethics of the practice. It can't be denied that I'm destroying or damaging the plants and this impacts on their surrounding ecosystems. If I'm taking flowers from a plant it wont develop its normal amount of seeds or berries. I've eyed up elderflower flowers, but would it be wrong to prevent the development of elderberries?

Even the harvesting of ugly weeds deprives insects of food sources for their larvae. And I'm always fishing out insects and spiders from the hot water the plants eventually get simmered in.

It's a concern.

Hawthorn Flowers Simmering in Dye Pot

One of the reasons for going on the foraging walk last week was to ask about the legalities, if not the ethics, of taking plants from the 'wild'. Foraging is after all what I'm doing, even though I don't eat the result.

The leader of the walk said it is legal to forage as long as it's for your own use and not for commercial gain.

But then he would do wouldn't he? I think he was referring to foraging in the countryside, but my stomping ground is urban parks. Who owns the parks? Aren't there byelaws about the acceptable uses of parks?

I've done some Googling on the legal aspects, but it is confusing. Here are my findings:

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 covers access to open land. In this there is a list of what you are not permitted to do while you are exercising your right to roam. You are not allowed to light fires, or walk about with an animal other than a dog, or bathe in non-tidal water for example. Picking plants is also restricted:

l)  intentionally removes, damages or destroys any plant, shrub, tree or root or any part of a plant, shrub, tree or root

However, I think this Act is talking about larger pieces of land like moorlands, forests and nature reserves.  Under this act those gorse flowers I picked from Southwold Common were strictly speaking stolen. Oops.

Maybe issues of access aren't relevant to urban, council owned parks.

And yet, parks aren't common land, which is a very restricted legal concept.  A council can prevent people, or an individual person, from going into a park. Those dandelions I pick belong to Manchester Council, or whatever NGO type of organisation they can fob them off to.

Under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act you have to have permission to mess about with plants.  So although it is safe to assume I am allowed  into a park I don't really have permission to take away their plants because I haven't asked.

What is stopping the local police from whisking me off to the cells (apart from having better things to do) is Common Law. This is 'derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes.'  Customarily then people are allowed to pick the Four F's:  fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage.

This is with the understanding that it is picked for personal use and not going to be sold on.

The 1968 Theft Act:
"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 ... steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward, or for sale or other commercial purpose’

I can relax then. The foraging man was right.

If anyone says I can't nip the tops off those nettles I can reply that I do have a right to them, because this madness is my own personal affair.

Now I've just got to get the ethics worked out, and I'll tackle the political considerations some other time.

Foraged tulip petals and associated fauna