Commercial use of wild and traditionally managed plants in the UK

Harvesting clubrush

In 2001 Kew embarked on survey to explore the extent that Britain's wild plants and fungi are used in commerce. The project lasted four years in partnership with the Countryside Agency, English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales.

During this time, Kew researchers have unearthed thriving rural economies all over Britain that use wild plants as their raw materials. More than 130 plants and fungi were assessed in industries such as food and drink, leather tanning, construction and agriculture. From oak bark tanning to club rush matting, and nettle cheeses to sloe gin,

Kew tracked these economies, their methods of harvest and production, and economic, social and ecological importance. Our key findings were that the main threats to commercial use are conflicts between landowners and harvesters, competition from synthetic substitutes and foreign imports, and lack of marketing. Most harvesting is sustainable and some could be expanded, for example through the creating of reedbeds that meet both the demand for thatching material and the objectives of UK biodiversity action plans.

Charcoal burningAbove all, it's the people that make this project so intriguing. Some using age-old skills passed down from generation to generation to supply traditional markets while others, in true entrepreneurial spirit, have created new markets for innovative products. In many ways they are from different poles, yet they share a common philosophy in being highly motivated with a passion for the sustainability of their trade and the plants upon which they are based.

This work has been published in the book Britain's Wild Harvest. It is written by researchers Hew Prendergast and Helen Sanderson who traveled the length and breadth of Britain to meet and photograph the harvesters and producers of Britain's wild plant products.

During the research, Kew submitted a report to the Countryside Agency outlining the raw facts and figures. You can download a copy here.

The authors also contributed to the Plant Diversity Challenge in writing the UK's response to Target 13 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.