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Is Picking Wild Flowers Legal in the UK?

picking flower legal

Ah, summer. The birds are singing in the trees, children are happily playing in the sunshine and parks, grassy verges and open spaces across the country have found themselves covered in a rich carpet of beautiful flowers. Wouldn’t it be lovely to stop for a moment to gather a posey of flowers or plait them into a crown as you sit back and enjoy the weather?

Be careful – you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law, as two little girls did in 2011 after picking a bunch of flowers while on a walk with their parents. The children and their parents were reprimanded by the police after a concerned local called the emergency service to report the girls (aged four and seven) for picking daffodils in a park in Dorset. Last year, a video went viral on social media after father David Taylor filmed a police officer who had spoken to him after his ten and five year old were found picking flowers from a grass verge.

So, how can you avoid being led away in handcuffs next time you’re out and about?

Thankfully, the rules and regulations regarding picking flowers in the UK are fairly straightforward, and are enforced by sets of guidelines and codes of conducts to make sure people are well informed before picking flowers.

The laws regarding flower picking falls under two categories – legislation which is part of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and that which is under the Theft Act of 1968. The main difference is the distinctions made between picking flowers which are growing wild and picking flowers which have been purposely planted or cultivated.

According  to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is illegal to…

  • “Uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” – This means, literally, that it’s illegal to “dig up” a wild plant (that doesn’t belong to you). Picking any part of the plant is legal so long as you don’t uproot the entire plant.
  • Pick flowers from a special conservation site or reserve. This includes National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Trust properties.
  • Pick any flower that is “highly threatened”. Across the UK, there are several plants, flowers and fungi which are illegal to pick or sell due to their scarcity. The full list can be found here, and includes flowers such as wild gladiolus, some kinds of orchids, fen violets and sea knotgrass.
  • Pick with intention to sell or advertise to sell bluebells or tree lungwort. (It is, however, legal to pick these plants if you do not intend to sell them).

According to the Theft Act of 1968 it is illegal to…

  • Pick cultivated flowers in public parks or gardens as well as plants and flowers growing on land which is maintained by the council (for example roundabouts and grass verges).

In general, the picking of wildflowers is not illegal, so long as you don’t uproot the whole plant, do so with intention to sell them for profit or accidentally pick a plant found on the list of endangered species. Picking flowers that have been grown and cultivated by private bodies, local organisations or councils however is illegal, although you’re extremely unlikely to find yourself behind bars if you do.

The Countryside Code

The Countryside Code, which was introduced to encourage people to enjoy the countryside responsibly, says that “Protecting the natural environment means, taking special care not to damage, destroy, or remove features such as rocks, plants and, trees.” The rule of thumb when exploring outside is often “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints”.

Plantlife UK, the country’s largest conservation charity, sparked some controversy earlier this year when they announced their newest campaign, The Great British Wildflower Hunt. Designed to get children more interested in Britain’s wild flowers, the Hunt encourages children and families to seek out wildflowers and let the trust know what sort of flowers they’ve encountered on their travels. Alongside the programme, Plantlife UK released their own Code of Conduct for finding and picking wildflowers, with rules like “Never pick flowers from nature reserves or any other protected sites” and “Only pick a small handful of flowers for personal use”. The full list can be found on the Wildflower Hunt website.

The campaign, however, left several other conservation organisations (including beekeeping groups) unhappy with the decision to encourage children to pick wildflowers. These groups were concerned that people will be confused by the guidelines set out by Plantlife UK and pick far more flowers than is sustainable or dig them up altogether.

Plantlife UK responded by saying that they encourage flower pickers to only pick flowers when they are growing in abundance, and include the “one-in-twenty” rule in their guide. This means that out of every twenty flowers you find, you should only pick one, leaving the rest. Chief executive Marian Spain described The Great British Wildflower Hunt as a “little bit of a risk”, knowing that there would likely be backlash from other organisations, but ultimately concluded that getting children more invested in the world around them would have the highest impact on future conservation schemes.

So, what can I pick next time I visit the park?

  • Don’t pick any flowers which have been planted and cultivated on privately or council-owned land (for example daffodils on a grass verge)
  • Don’t pick flowers from someone else’s garden.
  • Don’t pick flowers from areas of scientific interest, nature reserves or National Trust land.
  • Don’t dig up flowers.
  • You can pick any flowers which are not privately owned or critically endangered
  • You should only pick one flower out of every twenty
  • You should pick flowers from patches where there are lots of flowers, leaving plenty for others to enjoy.
  • You should take photographs of any flowers that you cannot identify instead of picking them so you can figure out what they are later.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

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