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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Gathering of Nontimber Forest Products in Scotland

[photo:] Bramble blackberry plan. (Photo by Diane Earl). Research Issue

An estimated one-quarter of Scotland’s population collects nontimber forest products such as mushrooms and other edibles, medicinal plants, and craft items. We are studying the social, cultural, economic and environmental characteristics of nontimber forest products (NTFP) gatherers, their practices, and their perceptions.

Our Research

In 2004, we conducted interviews with 42 NTFP gatherers from rural, suburban, and urban areas of Scotland. Almost all gathered NTFPs in the company of friends and family on a regular basis. They represented small-scale domestic users, rather than large-scale commercial gatherers.

Participants reported collecting NTFPs from 173 vascular plant and fungal species. Edibles were the most common use followed by craft uses, particularly basket making and wool dyeing. Medicinal uses accounted for only 18 products.

Gatherers and members of their households consumed or used a majority of the harvested items but gifts to family and friends were also common. All of the income generated from NTFPs that was discussed by our interviewees took place in the informal cash economy.
However, sale of value-added goods such as crafts and jams was a significant activity for some gatherers.

Gatherers drew on multiple sources of information to find and make use of NTFPs. Most were introduced to the activity by a parent or grandparent and many had taught their own children. Many gatherers also consulted field guides and popular books to expand or confirm their knowledge. Gathering generally took place in conjunction with other activities and was strongly associated with a regular regime of walking. Searching for NTFPs made collectors keen observers of the passage of seasons, the activities of wildlife, and changes in the landscape.

Most collectors expressed pleasure with the trend toward planting more deciduous species on public lands. They wanted to see more areas managed in this way. They also noted that recreational infrastructure such as signs and pathways made them feel welcome on public lands. In general, their encounters with land managers were positive. They reported that there had been little change in their ability to access NTFPs over the years.

Concern about the sustainability of NTFP harvesting was low among gatherers. They believed that the amounts they harvested did not have a significant impact on species populations. Nevertheless, many expressed strong concerns about resource conservation in general and they used what they considered environmentally appropriate practices.

In subsequent research, we analyzed legal and practical issues related to gathering. Scottish law provides a universal right of access (with sensible restriction) through the Land Reform Act of 2003 – in other words, there is no such thing as trespassing. However, the Act explicitly excludes commercial gathering from the right of access. Since the majority of commercial activity, particularly in the wild mushroom industry, occurs without the permission of the landowner, most commercial gathering is illegal.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act also makes it an offence to uproot or destroy any wild plant without the permission of the landowner. This could serve as the basis for legal action to protect localized plant populations and/or the interests of landowners. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, some protected species cannot be gathered, disturbed, sold, or possessed, either with or without landowner consent.

Expected Outcomes

Results from this research have several implications for forest policy and management. Scottish NTFPs come from a variety of habitats, pointing to the desirability of managing for a diverse landscape.  Gatherers expressed particular appreciation for mature, mixed species woodlands and there are opportunities to plant species that produce some of the more commonly harvested NTFPs. Cultivation of good relations between forest managers and collectors could reveal other creative NTFP-related opportunities.

There is a strong woodland culture in contemporary Scotland. Some gatherers consider the activity fundamental to their personal identity as human beings, as Scots, as members of their family, or as individuals. Growing interest in NTFPs as revenue sources could lead to developments that complement or collide with current gatherers’ values.

While customary practices generally allow good access to NTFPs, the National Forestry Commission bylaws prohibit gathering, even while some Forestry Commission locations operate wild fungus forays and NTFP-related activities. The implications of national legislation such as the Land Reform Act of 2003 are unclear. Consequently, contemporary gathering in Scotland rests on rather tenuous legal footing.

Research Results

Dyke, Alison; Emery, Marla R. 2010. NTFPs in Scotland: Changing attitudes to access rights in a reforesting land.  In: Laird, Sarah A.; McLain, Rebecca J.; Wynberg, Rachel P., eds. Wild product governance: Finding policies that work for non-timber forest products. London: Earthscan: 135-154.

Emery, Marla; Martin, Suzanne; Dyke, Alison. 2006. Wild harvests from Scottish woodlands: Social, cultural and economic values of contemporary non-timber forest products. Forestry Commission, Edinburgh. 40 pp.

Martin, Suzanne; Emery, Marla; Dyke, Alison  2005.  Wild harvests from Scottish woodlands: an exploration of the health and well-being of non-timber forest products collection and use.   In: Gallis, C. Proceedings, First Europen Cost E39 Conference: Forests, Trees, Health, and Well-being. Thessaloniki, Greece: National Agriculture Research, Forest Research Institute: 2-12.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Marla Emery, Research Geographer, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Alison Dyke, Independent Scholar and Expert on NTFPs
  • Suzanne Martin, Social Scientist, Forest Research, Scotland

Last Modified: 10/18/2010