Urban foraging - ethical?
- 8 Nov 06, 02:47 PM
We hear a great deal about how we should buy food locally as a way of reducing “food miles”, that is, the distance our food has to travel before it reaches our plates. So what could be more ethical than picking fruit from trees on the streets around my house?
The Ethical producer, Sara, confiscated my car back in April so I’ve had the opportunity to watch the local fruit trees blossom and the fruit ripen on the boughs. I’ve seen the apples swell to maturity, the wine-dark grapes take on their yeasty bloom and the figs blush purple. Yet nature’s bounty has remained untouched.
So are Ethical men and women like me allowed to reap this rich harvest? Read on...
I consulted various friends and colleagues about the ethics of what I have dubbed, in the spirit of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, “urban foraging”. They were unanimous: picking fruit that overhangs a public right of way is not scrumping, it is decidedly ethical and almost certainly legal.
But budding film-makers beware: “almost certainly legal” is not enough for Newsnight. More investigation was needed.
I turned to BTCV – the organization formerly known as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. It publishes an invaluable reference work: “Hedging”. I was shocked to find that the law on picking fruit from overhanging branches could not be clearer: “A neighbour has no legal right to any fruit on overhanging branches.” Which I guess makes me and my two young daughters criminals.
It seems harsh, given that the law relating to hedges is much more generous. “The owner or tenant of any land is entitled to cut off branches which overhang or roots which penetrate from his neighbour's hedge, as long as he does it on his side of the boundary.” Although the cuttings do remain the property of the hedge owner.
So is the law right? Should fruit that overhangs a public road be left to rot on the tree because its owner cannot be bothered to pick it? Should I be arrested for stealing those figs and – more heinously – drawing my children into my life of crime?
And if you’re a neighbour who recognizes their fig tree, medlar bush or grape vine do feel free to pop round for a cup of tea or a glass of wine when you serve me with your writ.