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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Can we 'live off the land' just from wild food's in the UK?

Living off the land is more than just the occasional foraging outing for a few fungi some elder flowers and sweet chestnuts. The phrase 'Living off the land' to me means much more than that, that in actual fact you would provide all your food from the land. This demands much more in time, energy, skill and commitment than collecting the occasional bit of wild food. But is it possible to 'live off the land' in the UK today?

A selection of wild soups, nettle (back) and alexander (front), the issue is that these soups were not made entirely from foraged ingredients; seasoning and cream, and in the case of the alexander soup potatoes, were all ingredients from the kitchen. 
The whole population of the UK certainly couldn't live off the land, before agriculture when the inhabitants of the British Isles would have lived a hunter gatherer lifestyle there would have been  a few thousand people roaming these islands moving from one seasonal glut to another, taking advantage of hazel nuts in autumn, birds eggs in spring, and other animals and plants as the seasons and availability dictated. But now with a population of around 60 million those resources would never support that number of people, instead we rely on agriculture both from within the country and imports to provide our food, even ingredients which could be foraged and found wild. There is no way that our naturally occurring 'wild' flora and fauna could be sustainably harvested to feed the population of the UK if they were to try to live off the land.   

A brief autumn foraging session yielded a basket full of shaggy ink caps, but how long would this feed you for? and how much time would you need to spend foraging to feed your whole family?

Even on an individual basis the laws which we now have which govern access, animal welfare, wildlife and countryside issues, hunting and fishing etc.. make it impossible to move around the country to take advantage of wild food with the freedom that would have been allowed in the hunter gatherer era. Without this access we can't always take advantage of the woods where the hazelnuts grow if they are owned by someone else or shoot the deer that would feed a family for a week because we don't have a firearms licence or the permission to shoot it. So in short, no I don't think we can live off the land in the UK, certainly not as a society anyway, maybe individuals with the right knowledge and skill but even that would be very difficult bearing in mind the restrictions now placed on the methods we use to hunt and the ownership and authorisation to use land and pick or uproot plants.

Three Chinese Water Deer culled as part of the management of an invasive species on agricultural land. These are excellent wild food and something that our hunter gatherer ancestors would have been completely unfamiliar with as they were'nt introduced to the British Isles until the 1890's.

I would love to think that we could live off the land but realistically I don't think it possible in the UK at the moment. 

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