What I Love About Where I Live: Nature Reserves (and Foraging)

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If I could name one thing that I am the most in love with about England, it would be the land.  As I have mentioned many times, one of our simplest pleasures is going for a drive in the country that surrounds us. It’s just beautiful, despite the fact that most of it is privately owned farmland. But there are also SO many special places all around us that are under the care of the National Wildlife Trust. These places are very, very special, and incredibly accessible.
We had two afternoons of bliss enjoying our local reserves– the first one was during our Fungi Foray at Knettishall Heath on Sunday. The next day, Jeff had the day off, and we visited Lackford Lakes, which is only about 20 minutes away from us. This piece of land used to be a gravel pit before it was donated to the National Trust. It was restored, and has become a rich nature reserve with meadows, woodland, reed beds, streams and pond, attracting a very diverse bird population. We visited at this time of the year last autumn, and enjoyed eating tons of blackberries. Jeff and I brought a basket this time, to bring some home. (Another thing I love about the reserves here is that foraging is absolutely permitted, if not encouraged!)

Honestly, we didn’t cover a whole lot of territory, since there were ripe blackberries everywhere we turned. We picked about six to eight cups-worth.
We also found a more limited selection of elderberries! These were extremely easy to pick, as we could just snap off the stems full of shiny, round fruit jewels.

It was an extremely pleasant afternoon, quietly picking berries and listening to the ducks cackling and hundreds of birds twittering. Being in a place like that is incredibly therapeutic, nurturing to my spirit, and I don’t take the easy access for granted.

I noticed that there are also a ton of rosehips ripening. They weren’t ready to pick yet, but we will have to go back in a week or two for those.

When we came home, I made a cough syrup/ winter tonic with the elderberries, cooking them down with fresh ginger, cinnamon and cloves, then adding some raw Suffolk honey. We used to pay a fortune for elderberry syrup in Portland, and it is incredibly satisfying to make our own medicine at home.

As for the blackberries, I cooked them down, and I am working on brewing a lacto-fermented beverage, similar to old-school ginger beer. That should be ready in about a week– I’ll let you know how it turns out!

I am already counting down until the weekend, when we can either go back to one of the beautiful places we visited this weekend, or find a new nature reserve to check out. I often wonder if people who grew up here have any idea just how lucky they are… Do you think they do?

Do you have a nature reserve or other wild escape nearby?

This post has been shared at Small Footprint Family’s Friday Sustainable Living Linkup and Fill Those Jars Fridays, Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays, Butter Believer’s Sunday School, and Fresh Eggs Daily’s Farm Girl Blog Fest.)

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31 Responses to What I Love About Where I Live: Nature Reserves (and Foraging)

  1. Rocio October 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Beautiful pictures! The former-gravel pit blew my mind. It looks so lush and green now. I wish the U.S. was more committed to restoring former industrial zones, especially in the West and the Northeast. Yes, I think many Brits know how lucky they are but they’re usually the ones that make an effort to get out of the city and go exploring. I remember when I was in Oxford walking around the countryside with sheep and cattle, farmers would usually not say hello but as soon as I asked about their animals or land, they would open up. Sadly I don’t live near a nature preserve at the moment (although I will when I move back to the US in December). Yet, there are so many preserved and restored buildings where I live. Again, great post! And the mushroom pics in the previous one–absolutely darling!

    • Rocio October 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

      Wow, just realized how nutty my last sentence sounded. Yes, I believe fungi and vegetables can be darling! I coo at fennel!

    • Ariana Mullins October 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Rocio– I share your love of little plants. I distinctly remember my best teacher in high school, who taught my biology, anatomy, and medical science classes, actually cooing over a baby fern, and how absolutely beautiful and adorable it was. His enthusiasm for nature was so contagious!

      Where I live, it seems that most people get out and enjoy nature on a very regular basis, and I value that very much about English culture. I think I just wonder if they know how special that is…

  2. greatdana October 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    We have blackberries everywhere, it’s a shame I did NOT picking any this summer. 🙁 Your nature preserve looks so peaceful! I love the elderberry medicine. What do you use if for mostly? The common cold?

    • Ariana Mullins October 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

      Dana, we used to buy elderberry syrup for colds and respiratory infections. Before we cut out gluten and other grains, Amelia was extremely prone to coughs and chest infections (but that’s all, she has literally never thrown up in the last five years!) I used the elderberry to help her immune system, and it’s supposed to be good for staving off the flu all winter. We’ll see!

  3. Ale October 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Gorgeous! ha, people that grew up there are probably dreaming about moving to NYC or Sydney… because that’s so ‘exciting and different’ 🙂 I think best we can do is to just try to find beauty wherever we happen to be.

    • Ariana Mullins October 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

      I think you’re probably right– we naturally long for what is unfamiliar, thinking we might be missing something!

  4. Abby October 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Beautiful pictures! I long to live in England….and the countryside is one of the reasons.

    • Ariana Mullins October 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

      Yes, I never get over how beautiful it all is. I hope I never do.

  5. Nikki Wall October 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    It isn’t permissible to pick on all nature reserves and it isn’t necessarily encouraged. We went on a fungi walk on Sunday and were told on no uncertain terms that we must not pick on site. Ditto when I went on a wildflower walk (we were told we weren’t supposed to pick any blackberries or things like that *Sigh*)

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11584156 and https://dartmoor-nationaltrust.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/foraging-law-and-common-sense.html – there is a ‘common sense’ clause that should come in here – I was discussing this with a friend re. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and a reserve local to me and we both agreed that it was a shame to see blackberries (and many other things) rot on the plants because visitors are not allowed to pick.

    There are plenty of places to go picking round here, though, although I haven’t done much this year with such a small baby. Last year we picked various different apples, plums, damsons, rosehips, elderberries, blackberries, etc. This year I’ve only done a very small amount, although I hope to still be able to get some rosehips to make syrup with.

    • Ariana Mullins October 10, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Nikki, I read both of those articles– very interesting! We were never told not to pick anything on our fungi walk, but it was understood, that we shouldn’t be greedy. I think the same thing goes for the National Trust properties here, from the conversations I’ve had with locals. It’s “Sure, you can pick– just leave some for the birds, too!” When we were picking berries at Lackford Lakes, people smiled at us and grabbed some themselves. I see people here going for walks on the greenways with baskets and clippers. I wonder if there is a difference in attitude between areas in England?

      So, do you pick from hedgerows on private property? I’ve seen that done, but I just don’t know what the norms are. Thank you for bringing your “local’s” knowledge into the conversation!

    • Nikki Wall October 11, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      I think some places are more zealous than others and I also think it depends on where you are in the country. A friend of mine was on a guided walk at the aforementioned reserve and was told that the berries from the guelder rose aren’t edible. She says that surely he knows that they can be used to make jelly and she took a rather dim view that she was given incorrect information to disuade her from picking (when there were enough reminders about not picking on site).

      Years ago, before I de-registered my eldest boys, the school they attended had raspberries growing at the front (on the verges of some grass amongst a rather scrabbly hedge). We used to pick some and people would look at us as if we were mad.

      More recently I’ve picked cherries from some trees along the outer fence of one of the schools in this village and one day some boys asked what I was doing, because didn’t I know that the ‘berries’ I was picking were poisonous. I replied that they certainly were not, they were cherries, like the ones you get from the shop, but that these ones were still on the tree. They told me that they’d be told by the school that they were poisonous.

      I suppose the school were trying to discourage them from picking them, but really, why would you lie to children about something like that? Or, perhaps (and quite likely) whoever told them didn’t recognise them as cherries either.

      I pick from the hedgerows bordering public rights of way – paths and parks. I know of one place that used to be an orchard (what must be a very long time ago) as has apples, pears and plums (some of those trees look very old!) and is public. There are also places where crab apples are planted on grassed areas of villages etc and as far as I know there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be picked (save for leaving some for the birds).

      Another thing that may be worth doing is, where you see an apple tree (for example) in someone’s garden where the fruit is just dropping to the ground and rotting, ask if they mind that you go and pick, you may just be doing them a favour.

      A couple of houses ago there was an apple tree in our neighbour’s garden. He was fairly crippled with arthritis and by himself (although a home help came in to clean, etc) and was unable to do anything with it, so we asked if we might pick them. I then made various jellies and apple purees, pies, crumbles, etc and would bring him some round so he could enjoy some of the fruit from his tree.

      This year I got some apples from freecycle as a lady had posted saying that her tree was heavily laden this year and she just didn’t have the time to deal with it all. I was given two carrier bags full of apples from her and she said she was pleased to know that they were going to someone who would do something with them (rather than waste them). They went to making apple, lavender and blackberry and apple jellies 🙂

    • Hazel October 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

      Nikki, I’d bet on the children being told the cherries were poisonous through ignorance rather than a deliberate lie.

      I work in a school and have already been shocked at (well educated) parents and staff being unable to identify basic plants and trees, including a dandelion before it flowered. This is in a village school and the member of staff who couldn’t find dandelion leaves was born and bred in the village. (One teacher’s excuse is that she’s from London. Yes, but they still have dandelions!)
      A couple of weeks ago a member of staff waved a small branch at me and said I was likely to know- what were these berries? There was concern because a child had been eating them on the playing field. Two teachers were with the child concerned, asking him about them, and how many he’d had. They were elderberries.
      This isn’t a dig at teaching staff, by the way. I run a Rainbow Guide unit and we do a couple of nature rambles a year. Parents (a mixture of local and ‘new’ people and a range of jobs from lawyer to school dinner lady) with us are amazed by my wealth of knowledge as I identify elder bushes *with no flowers on*, sycamore, hawthorn, plantain. I know, should be a botanist. They can confidently identify a ‘conker tree’ and an ‘acorn tree’.
      It’s not seen as relevant information and if you can’t tell one plant from another the thought of eating any part of it is not even in contemplation. Locals here would rather buy their blackberries from Sainsbury’s or even the PYO farm.

    • Nikki Wall October 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      I think you’re probably right, Hazel. I’m no botanist either and I consider myself to be rather ignorant of plant species on the whole (after all there are so very many of them!) but I am still amazed how many people just aren’t interested in what’s around them and cannot name even a dandelion 🙁 A tree, is a tree, is a tree. I sometimes wonder what it is that some people *see* when they look at a landscape.

      We live in a village too (albeit a very large one) and allotments are very popular here (and, indeed, gardens were large in the older part of the village to enable growing, although many are being sold off now) but I fear that whilst the older generation are aware of the wealth of ‘wild’ food to be had around the village, many younger people are not and are just not interested (after all, why bother when you can buy it in a supermarket and if you can’t buy it in a supermarket then it probably isn’t safe *sigh*)

    • Ariana Mullins October 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      Nikki and Hazel, I am a little surprised that the situation with knowing the surrounding wildlife here is so weak. I know that’s the case in the USA, but I think I assumed that because people here have so much exposure to wild lands, there would be a proportionate amount of knowledge/ learning. But when I do think about it, it makes sense. At my daughter’s old (state) school, they rarely even spent time outdoors, and were extremely risk-averse, as you mention. At her new school (Montessori) there is a wildlife club that she participates in, and they even have a “learning forest.” This is really comforting to me, as I just can’t imagine a childhood without lots of time and education out in nature. I have talked lately as we’ve been out foraging to the occasional elderly person that comes by. It sounds like foraging and the knowledge of native edibles is dying out, as the younger generations just don’t do it. More for us, I guess, but it is a huge loss for everyone.

  6. Kristen October 11, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    I love how England offers such easy access to nature and foraging. Like you, one of the things I just love about England are the country drives. Even if you have no destination, you feel relaxed after, and wow, the scenery! Just stunning! I’ve never lived in the UK, but visited quite a bit because I have friends who live there. I am always so sad to leave. I also love how much English people seem to appreciate nature and take advantage of it. It seems any time it’s nice enough they are out picnicking, hiking, or taking country walks. Love that.

    On another note, I’m interested in this elderberry syrup. I live in Florida, so I don’t think we have elderberries here…? Can you make the winter syrup with any other fruit or berry? I love the idea of it being a natural medicine versus something from the store that’s filled with chemicals. I REALLY enjoy your natural/homeopathic posts. I like to make things using natural ingredients when I can (scrubs, lotions, candles, etc.), so I really love reading about those things on your blog. Keep em coming! 🙂


    • Nikki Wall October 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

      Do you have rosehips in Florida? A really good syrup to make is rosehip syrup – chock full of vitamin C for winter snuffles (erm, not that I suppose you get much of the winter snuffles in Florida…)

    • Ariana Mullins October 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Hi Kristen, I second Nikki’s suggestion for using rosehips. Here’s a nice recipe for a winter rosehip tea: https://www.nourishingdays.com/2012/10/a-pot-of-herbal-tea-for-the-common-cold-recipe-tulsi-rose-hip-tea/
      And I KNOW you have oranges!

      I’m glad you like the natural health posts. I will do more of them– it’s something I’ve always been interested in, and I grew up with my mom making lots of herbal tinctures and home remedies. I love making my own medicine, and I think it’s really empowering!

      And I agree with you that people in the UK are really good about going out and enjoying nature as recreation. I really, really love that.

    • Kristen October 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

      Hi Nikki,

      Yes we have rose hips, but I don’t think they are abundant, or at least, I’ve no idea where to find them. I think I may be able to get them from our local herbal shop as I know one of my favorite teas from there has rose hips in it – delicious! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Kristen October 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm #


      That tea looks great! Even if I didn’t have a cold, I might want it! And yes, we do have lots of oranges. I even have a big calamondin tree in my back yard, but I only know of a few things to do with them… make calamondinade or use the juice in hand scrubs. I’ll definitely look forward to more natural health posts! 🙂


  7. Neo-Homesteading October 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Looks like so much fun! I wish I could find all of those wild beauties around here. I know blackberries are supposed to grow wild around here but I have wandered pretty far out into the woods with no luck.

    • Ariana Mullins October 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Oh, I’m so surprised to hear that you can’t find blackberries in your area in PA! We had them growing wild everywhere in Oregon, but they were always picked over– people there are really into foraged food, so it’s nothing like the abundance we find here.

  8. Lyza @ Chic Shades of Green October 20, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    I think I found some elderberries in my yard! I’m not quite sure they are. I wish somebody could tell me, so that I don’t inadvertently poison my family! Anyway, they look like the picture you have. I just made some elderberry syrup from dried elderberries the other day.

  9. Kendahl @ Our Nourishing Roots April 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    This looks like so much fun. There aren’t many places to go foraging where I live in Arizona, but I do remember squandering this opportunity when I used to live in Michigan. I wish I would have known what I know now!

  10. Stephanie April 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    I found your post because someone shared it on Facebook. We have a few nature type parks near us. You are not supposed to pick stuff. It sounds nice to be able to go out and forage. I wish I had the knowledge of what to look for, I would like to try the elderberry syrup. Since this is an old post I have to see how your stuff came out and what you did with the rosehips if you.got them.


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