I confess, I’ve just been caught red handed, carrier bag open with a trail of ripe damsons spilling behind me. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what possessed me ‘guvner’ is about to tumble apologetically out of my lips and then I realise that… actually I’m not 12 any more, I’m 40, and I’m not sorry at all. In fact, it’s that guilty pleasure of knowing that I’m foraging nature’s free spoils which gives me such a great sense of illicit pleasure! Just the mere mention of the word ‘scrumping’ tends to bring a big smile to my face.
At this time of year, the hedgerows are dripping with fruit, nuts and seeds as the autumn days start to draw in. There are blackberries, plums, damsons, sloes, cherries, elderberries, cobnuts, greengages, bullaces, apples, pears and much more, just tumbling off the trees. It’s a time of year when nature truly shows its abundance, as it helps all the various bugs and beasts to prepare for a long winter – ourselves included.
It saddens me slightly to see so much free food going to waste (and it has to be said, I do like my food!!), so there are times when I just can’t stop myself scrumping, and then when I’ve had my fill of fruit cakes and coulis’, distributing these forbidden fruits to friends and family. Many people often don’t know that they are allowed to take the fruit from the trees and hedges in public places, or they don’t know which fruits are edible, and so you often see splattered masses of squashed and wasted fruit lying on the ground as if in some kind of autumn fruits murder scene.
I know the fact that there is so much free food in the hedgerows is heralding the start of autumn – which for me is always slightly tinged with sadness at the replacement of long, warm, summers evenings, with short days and frost on my windows. However, one of the best things about scrumping is knowing that the rich damson jam that I’m now pouring into jars, and the bramble whisky that’s mellowing in my larder, will be there to bring back delicious memories of sunnier times when I open them on a cold rainy day in winter.
In the mean time I’ll make sure that I save some of my scrumpings for the birds, and then I’ll take pleasure in kicking off my shoes and devouring my apple and plum crumble as I watch them enjoying scrumping too.
I checked with WildCall, the Sussex Wildlife Trust information service, for their advice on collecting fruit and they said ‘Under Common Law everyone has a right to collect the fruit of plants, providing that you are not trespassing on private property and that the plant is not specifically protected for example if it is on a SSSI. Also this law assumes that you are collecting the berries for personal use rather than for sale or commercial use.
Picking wild food can be a fun and tasty outdoor activity that we can all take part in. But please remember to forage responsibly and leave plenty fruit for others to enjoy, including wildlife! Many birds and mammals will already be trying to fatten themselves up on berries and nuts ready for winter, we wouldn’t want to deprive them.‘