Yes it is legal, provided you aren’t picking blackberries to sell or for any commercial purpose. There is a ‘Theft Act’ which may help to make this a little clearer for anyone tempted to venture onto land, which they don’t own, to pick a bucket of blackberries with a view to making a few jars of jam. Provided this is for your own use, there shouldn’t be a problem.
The ‘Theft Act’ states this:
“ A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or 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/she does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose.”
In the UK you may find that there are by-laws which prohibit, what’s known as ‘foraging’. By-laws will be passed and enforced by councils and the main agencies that are out there. These will include the National Trust and Natural England. If such restrictions are in place, then, there will be clearly displayed notices.
If you do find yourself in the position of being prosecuted for taking blackberries, or any other fruit, no consideration is given to the value of what has been taken. There will, apparently, be a fixed fine for the breach of the specific law.
This applies in England and Wales. There is the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which allows the picking of wild fruits provided it isn’t for commercial use.
In the USA it will depend on which State you’re in, and, possibly which part of that state. Some districts in the United States have a policy known as the ‘usufruct policy’. Usufruct comes from the latin, Uti fructus, the literal meaning being “use the fruit”.
When something is deemed to be held in usufruct, then, anyone can take the value of it and use it but, this is only for a temporary period. The term has been used as a legal right to have use of stated items since the 1600s.
There appears to be some confusion over whether this is a law or some other enforceable code of conduct policy. From what I can understand, it’s open to interpretation. The general understanding is the you can gather fruit that doesn’t belong to you as long as you don’t cause damage, thus inconveniencing the owner in any way.
You need to establish whether the usufruct law or policy is being applied in the area where you want to gather fruits. If it isn’t, then, and you can’t find out from anyone what the situation is then you have to assume that if you gather fruit, then you may be in trouble with the owner.
What’s the best way to go about this?
If you see, what appears to be, an abundance of wild fruit that’s likely to be going to waste, then there is an easy and safe route that you can take. It’s the simplest approach of all. Just go and ask the owner. Most people are good about these things and it shows a measure of respect when people ask politely. This should work out well in most parts of the world, although you must be ready for those that will object to anything.
Can I pick blackberries on the roadside?
I’ve been looking around to find out what the legal situation is regarding doing this. Where I’ve asked, no one can be bothered with the question. I would suggest that, if you don’t see a sign up saying “ Thou shalt not pick blackberries here!”, then, go ahead and do it.
Take precautions if you see a bountiful crop on any roadside. Wear high-visibility, reflective clothing. And be aware that drivers on the road won’t be expecting to see anyone reaching into a road hedge after a crop.
The only concern that you may have is the potential pollution issues. Road traffic tends to emit a menu of, potentially, harmful components. These become airborne when released from the exhaust system of most vehicles.
Logic tells us that any fruits that grow, to maturity, in the hedgerows beside busy roads are bound to be contaminated by the whole range of heavy metals that we keep hearing about. These, of course, start with lead but there are others including titanium and palladium.
You may be impressed to know that the presence of palladium is being blamed on the advent of catalytic converters. These are intended to filter the gasses that are emitted from engines that burn fossil fuels. The aim is to reduce the level of toxic gasses being released into the environment.
A trial has been done to compare commercially grown blackberries with wild fruit growing on the side of a busy road. The result appears to be that blackberries collected from along the side of a busy road, contain heavy metals that are well below any levels that are considered to be dangerous to human health.
Interestingly, a sample of commercially grown blackberries showed higher levels of lead and copper compared to samples collected from rural roadside bushes.
What about blackberries from a neighbour’s bush that overhangs into your garden?
In law, it’s an offense to take, and keep, blackberries or any other fruit in this situation without the owner’s consent. This will depend on how well you get on with your neighbour. If there is a significant amount of fruit involved, and, hopefully a bountiful surplus, it should be possible to come to an arrangement that will suit all parties.
When foraging don’t take it all
There are many codes of conduct that are in place to benefit everyone. These include unwritten rules which basically come down to common sense. If everyone behaved sensibly there wouldn’t be any need for any laws.
When you see an opportunity of a bounty of blackberries, mushrooms or wild apples, and all is clear that you can start picking, think about the next guy. Leave some for others and that includes the wild life.
So, to sum up, there is no law against picking blackberries anywhere as long as:
- You are not doing it for commercial gain.
- There are no clear signs stating that picking blackberries is prohibited.
- The usufruct policy is in place that allows you to gather fruit as long as you don’t cause damage or inconvenience.
- You use common sense and don’t strip the bushes bare.
Finally, there is something else that’s come to light while looking into the subject of picking blackberries. You won’t be aware of it while you are busy, harvesting, but there is a problem that lurks in the countryside that everyone should be aware of. This the ‘tick’. Ticks are tiny spiders that hide in the vegetation waiting for you to come along. When you reach into a blackberry bush, there is a risk that a tick will attach itself to your arm and climb aboard.
They are so small that you may not feel them crawling on your skin. They tend to move very slowly. An experienced country-dweller will often sense when a tick is on the arm; there is a very faint tickle from the movement.
You need to be vigilant. It is possible to see them on clean white skin. Be on the lookout for a tiny, flat and shiny black insect crawling between the hairs on your arm.
It’s important that you know about the tick because they are known to carry a disease called lyme disease which can be very debilitating. There is a risk that they spread lyme disease when they bite, which they do to extract your blood, on which they feed. The subject of ticks and the hazard that they can cause, requires a whole, detailed post on its own.