Urban Growing

Meet Steve England: wild food educator and sustainable foraging advocate

By Nicola Deschamps

Nicola Deschamps

In our latest feature, penned by Nicola Deschamps, we delve into the world of sustainable foraging with wild food educator Steve England.

Steve England is an award-winning wild food educator and owner of Steve England Outdoor Learning offering wildlife, foraging and outdoor education courses. Born and raised in Bristol, Steve began at a young age to explore his local countryside, immersing himself in the study of wild foods and foraging techniques. Years of hands-on experience have given Steve an extensive knowledge of researching, collecting, and preserving edible plants from the fields, woods, and hedgerows of Bristol. His goal is to inspire others with a love for foraging and exploring the natural world.

Steve is a passionate advocate of sustainable foraging, and he shares his knowledge through wild food foraging courses held in Stoke Park Estate. Together with his dedicated team of two, Steve inspires people to reconnect with nature by teaching them how to identify and gather wild plants in a way that preserves their habitats and allows the plants to regrow.

Image by SE Outdoor Learning

Learning the importance of safe and sustainable foraging is a key part of the course. Known as the 4 Fs of foraging, participants gather fruit, foliage, flora, and fungus. It is important to pick only certain parts of the plants and in moderate amounts for personal use, and not for commercial purposes to avoid over-harvesting. This helps protect and preserve natural resources for future generations. Steve emphasises the need to avoid damaging plants or disturbing wildlife.

It is crucial to distinguish between edible and poisonous plants as some of them can look similar. For example, wild parsley, which is quite tasty, resembles deadly hemlock. It is important to be aware of the natural process of ‘sap swapping’ whereby harmless plants growing near poisonous ones may become contaminated via the fungal mycelium network. Taking the time to verify the identity of a plant or fungus is essential. Patience and discipline are vital qualities for foraging.

Image by SE Outdoor Learning

In addition to the knowledge gained from a foraging course, reference books that display high-quality photographs can aid in identifying plants. When foraging, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing, especially sturdy footwear, to stay warm and comfortable. Keeping a record using a notepad and pen is a good idea, as is bringing a camera to take photos to create a visual guide. It’s also recommended to bring a sturdy cloth bag to collect the plants or fungi found.

Foraging is not just an educational activity to learn about local plants and sustainable food sourcing; it also offers several physical and mental health benefits too. Spending time outdoors, walking, talking, and sharing a meal made from foraged plants allows participants to enjoy what they’ve foraged, benefit from physical activity, meet like-minded people, and build their confidence and community spirit.

Foraging is best during spring and summer when a wider variety of edible plants and fungi are available, but with some expertise, it is possible to forage throughout the year. Steve offers a wide range of wild food and foraging courses.

Go to the Food Standards Agency website for safe foraging tips and to learn more about common land rules.

Read Nicola Deschamps’ previous article for Bristol Good Food 2030 about community compost collective Bristol Living Soil.

Nicola Deschamps (ANutr) is a nutritionist, author and editor: targeteditorial.co.uk.

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