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Friday, 8 August 2014

If We Can't Live Off The Land Nowadays What Has Changed?

One of the issues I raised in my last 'Living off the land' article when trying to answer the question  "Can we 'live off the land' just from wild food in the UK?" was the changes in the law over the years which have meant people have less access to the countryside and less freedom to hunt, and forage. However in the grand scheme of things this is a very small, almost insignificant, obstacle to people being able to 'live off the land'.

In fact we now have more access to the countryside than we did 60 or 70 years ago. Remember that before the National Parks Act 1949 there was no open access to upland areas, and the CROW (Countryside and Rights of Way) Act 2000 has given improved access more recently.

Bowden Bridge mass trespass plaque 2007
This Plaque commemorates the mass trespass on Kinder Scout which was a very significant event in opening up the British Countryside.
Picture Courtesy of; Marcin Floryan [GFDLCC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

While access laws may still restrict certain specialist activities such as shooting and may deny you the right to uproot wild plants (and there are certainly good reasons for restricting these things) by far the biggest factor which limits the amount of foraging carried out in the UK is a lack of knowledge and possibly also a lack of interest. Those who are interested in foraging manage to forage and find wild food on roadside verges, in their gardens (for example in my garden right now you can find nettles, black berries, hairy bitter cress and fuschia berries), in parks and public places but many people just wouldn't recognise what is and isn't edible and I would guess that for the majority the fact that there is a use for just about every plant they walk past does not occur to them purely because they have no interest, why would they you can get everything from a supermarket right?

Berries from a Fuschia bush, quite a subtle flavour but very pleasant, my daughter loves them. 

Even in the 20th Century (especially in times of war) people in the UK would have made a great deal of use of foods such as blackberries, crab apples, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts, dandelions and nettles. But now except perhaps for traditional blackberry picking very few of our wild foods are used. I think the fact that we can get everything and more that we needs or want easily from a shop has not only taken away the dependence that we once would have had on wild foods, but it has also made us lazy; can we be bothered to go out and dig up burdock roots when it is much easier to stick some frozen chips in the oven?

Burdock roots being cleaned after harvesting. 
So maybe that's my answer; maybe we (as individuals not as a society as I said in my last 'Living off the land' post it would be impossible for the whole population of the UK to live from the land as hunter gatherers) can live off the land (at least to a greater extent than we do now) but we just can't be bothered?

Bear in mind also that to provide all your food by foraging would be a massive time consuming undertaking, to fill all your requirements for food from foraging and hunting would be a full time job. For example last week I shot a roe buck, a fallow buck, four rabbits and a pigeon but the time it took when you bear in mind the travelling, stalking, sitting in high seats, dragging carcasses, graloching, skinning etc.. amounts to about 20 hours and that was a very good result it's not uncommon for me to return from a stalk having never even unslung the rifle from my shoulder. Although that provided a lot of meat, that when preserved could last several weeks, you need a lot more than meat in your diet and to live off the land permanently you would need to dedicate all your time (or at least most of it) to hunting, fishing and foraging and let's face it even if all your food was free you would still have other expenses.

ANNOUNCEMENT; having had a fairly successful week of foraging last week I am going to be starting a new element to this blog; ForagersDiary. In it I will share recipes for foraged foods and instruction on how to identify, prepare and use wild foods. For those of you who use pinterest there is also a board where you can find all the recipes and how to's which will appear in the 'ForagersDiary';            


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