General Safety Tips & Advice
This section looks at some other safety considerations to take into account when foraging over and above the Golden Rules. These include dangerous country roads, farm animals, allergies, the potential for stings, prickles and insect bites, forest safety and The Countryside Code.
Country roads tend to be quite dangerous for pedestrians as they are often high-speed areas with poor visibility due to blind bends and roadside hedgrows or trees that can hide pedestrians quite effectvely. Many country roads also lack pavements or crossings, making them even more dangerous, especially for children and dogs. Many forage spots tend to be well-away from roads, but occasionally, woodland areas do come within close proximity to a road, and some countryside trails may even use a section of road as part of the trail. It is always best to avoid country roads if at all possible, especially when foraging with children. You can check for roads prior to a forage using ordinance surveys, Google Maps, or other public information websites. If a road is unavoidable, it goes without saying that you should take extra care when nearby, or when crossing.
Cattle and Livestock
Whilst often considered to be docile creatures, cattle can become aggressive if they feel threatened, especially during the spring if they have calfs with them, or if dogs are present. According to the HSE, over the past 5 years, 4 Members of the public have been killed by cattle in the UK and 65 were injured, some seriously. The best ways to stay safe around cattle is to follow the Countryside Code (see below), and try to do the following:
- Keep an eye on how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves.
- Avoid getting between cows and their calves and be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
- Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
- Keep your dog close, on a short lead, and under effective control.
- Close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
Allergies & Reactions
Allergies, such as hayfever, can be a pain for sufferers, especially as Summer is a prime season for foraging, but other allergies can be more severe. If you or your children have a history of severe allergic reactions it is a very good idea to understand what plant families trigger your reactions and do extra research relating to this before eating them. Some commonly-foraged plant families, such as the Asteraceae (Daisy Family) and the Apiaceae (Carrot Family) are notorious for triggering people's allergies, so it is extra important that you avoid these, or any other relevant species, if you are sufferer. Some mushrooms are also well-known for causing gastric upsets and reactions in some people and not others, but I have not included these on this website to be safe. If you have allergy medication, including for emergencies, always make sure you bring this with you on a forage to ensure you keep safe whilst out in the wilderness.
Plant Stings and Prickles
A number of plant species in the UK are toxic, can sting or prickle, or cause unpleasant reactions, such as blisters, when handled. The most frequent stinger is the Common Nettle, which also happens to be a good edible! Rose Thorns can also cause infections if they become lodged in your skin or fingernails, so be careful when collecting petals or hips. Blackberries and Raspberries also have sharp thorns that can give a nasty prickle. The easiest method of protection is a thin pair of garening gloves. Giant Hogweed, a member of the Apiaceae family (a family which is recommended to be avoided on this website for the novice forager), is often confused with Common Hogweed and can cause blisters and sunlight sensitivity in some people. Other plants that are toxic if ingested include Mistletoe, Daffodils, Bluebells, Snowberries, Chrysanthemums and Yew. More information about some of these, particularly those that can be confused with commonly-foraged items, can be found in the Things to Avoid section of the website.
Insect Bites and Stings
A number of insects in the UK can bite or sting. Whilst most of these are pretty harmless, some can be quite painful, leading to redness and swelling and, in certain people, allergic reactions. The main culprits include The Stingers: Wasps, Hornets, Bees & Ants; The Biters: Horseflies, Flowerbugs, Spiders, Ticks, Mosquitos, Midges & Gnats; and The Irritator: The Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar. The bites of Ticks and the irritable hairs of the Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar in particular can lead to some serious health conditions. It is always a good idea to carry insect repellent and a tick-tool for removing ticks from the body and not to disturb or aggravate any the above-mentioned insects you find. More information about these bugs can be found below.
Although forests are generally quite safe, there are a few hazards that we need to be aware of. As managed plantations, many forests will often have Forestry Commission (or private) operatives doing timber work. These work areas will often contain heavy machinery and timber wagons, so should certainly be avoided. Whilst individual fallen logs and stumps are generally quite safe to climb and have fun on, Log piles, in contrast, are extremely dangerous, as they can sometimes be unstable and liable to collapse or fall, trapping and injuring little people in the process. These should always be avoided. Finally, pine needles and moss can often hide bogs and holes, so take care when foraging and test areas for good footing with a stick!
The Countryside Code
The Countryside Code is a Government initiative designed to help you understand your rights and responsibilities when out in the countryside. The main points of the Countryside Code are:
- Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors.
- Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available.
- Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home.
- Keep dogs under effective control.
- Plan ahead and be prepared
- Follow advice and local signs.
Insect Bites & Stings
Information about all of the UK's common biting and stinging insects can be found here:
Information about ticks, their habitats and how to remove them can be found at:
Information about safety in the forest can be found at:
The Countryside Code
A free, downloadable PDF version of The Countryside Code can be found at: