Foraging Safely with Kids: Other Safety Considerations
Hello Outdoor Mums!
Following on from my last blog post about the Four Golden Rules of foraging safely with kids, I thought it important to briefly talk about some other safety considerations that parents should think about before heading out to the wilds with their little cherubs. Some of these may already be very familiar to you (like road safety), but others may be a bit new (like Tick safety). Hopefully this little guide can help you stay safe whilst out foraging in different environments.
Other Safety Considerations:
Country roads tend to be quite dangerous for pedestrians as they are often high-speed areas with poor visibility due to blind bends and roadside hedgrows or trees that can hide pedestrians quite effectively. Many country roads also lack pavements or crossings, making them even more dangerous, especially for children and dogs. Many forage spots tend to be well-away from roads, but occasionally, woodland areas do come within close proximity to a road, and some countryside trails may even use a section of road as part of the trail. It is always best to avoid country roads if at all possible, especially when foraging with children. You can check for roads prior to a forage using ordinance surveys, Google Maps, or other public information websites. If a road is unavoidable, it goes without saying that you should take extra care when nearby, or when crossing.
Cattle and Livestock
Whilst often considered to be docile creatures, cattle can become aggressive if they feel threatened, especially during the spring if they have calfs with them, or if dogs are present. According to the HSE, over the past 5 years, 4 Members of the public have been killed by cattle in the UK and 65 were injured, some seriously. The best ways to stay safe around cattle is to follow the Countryside Code (see below), and try to do the following:
Keep an eye on how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves.
Avoid getting between cows and their calves and be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
Keep your dog close, on a short lead, and under effective control.
Close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
Allergies & Reactions
Allergies, such as hayfever, can be a pain for sufferers, especially as Summer is a prime season for foraging, but other allergies can be more severe. If you or your children have a history of severe allergic reactions it is a very good idea to understand what plant families trigger your reactions and do extra research relating to this before handling or eating them. Some commonly-foraged plant families, such as the Asteraceae (Daisy Family) and the Apiaceae (Carrot Family) are notorious for triggering people's allergies, so it is extra important that you avoid these, or any other relevant species, if you are sufferer. Some mushrooms are also well-known for causing gastric upsets and reactions in some people and not others, but I have not included these in this blog series, or on The Grizzly Forager website, to be safe. If you have allergy medication, including for emergencies, always make sure you bring this with you on a forage to ensure you keep safe whilst out in the wilderness.
Plant Stings and Prickles
A number of plant species in the UK are toxic, can sting or prickle, or cause unpleasant reactions, such as blisters, when handled. The most frequent stinger is the Common Nettle, which also happens to be a good edible! Rose Thorns can also cause infections if they become lodged in your skin or fingernails, so be careful when collecting petals or hips. Blackberries and Raspberries also have sharp thorns that can give a nasty prickle. The easiest method of protection is a thin pair of garening gloves. Giant Hogweed, a member of the Apiaceae family, is often confused with Common Hogweed and can cause severe blisters and sunlight sensitivity in some people. Another hazardous plant, although quite rare in the wild, is Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus), also known as Monkshood. This plant, with very beautiful purple flowers, is member of the Delphinium tribe and contains a potent toxin that can be absorbed through the skin. Other plants that are toxic if ingested include Mistletoe, Daffodils, Bluebells, Snowberries, Chrysanthemums and Yew. More information about some of these, particularly those that can be confused with commonly-foraged items, can be found in the Things to Avoid section of the The Grizzly Forager website.
Insect Bites and Stings
A number of insects in the UK can bite or sting. Whilst most of these are pretty harmless, some can be quite painful, leading to redness and swelling, and, in certain people, allergic reactions. The main culprits include The Stingers: Wasps, Hornets, Bees & Ants; The Biters: Horseflies, Flowerbugs, Spiders, Ticks, Mosquitos, Midges & Gnats; and The Irritator: The Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar. The bites of Ticks and the irritable hairs of the Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar in particular can lead to some serious health conditions. It is always a good idea to carry insect repellent and a tick-tool for removing ticks from the body and not to disturb or aggravate any the above-mentioned insects you find.
Advice about common biting / stinging insects can be found here.
Advice for how to prevent tick bites and find and remove ticks from the body can be found here.
Although shy and elusive, Britain's only venomous snake, The European Adder, can sometimes be encountered in rural parts of the UK. We are lucky enough to have an Adder Habitat Sanctuary attached to the side of our property, so we do see quite a few! Although they are not generally aggressive, spending most of their time hiding in logs and dry stone walls, they can deliver a painful bite if threatened. If you are lucky enough to see one of these incredible reptiles, stay calm and quiet, keep your distance, and count your blessings that you've encountered one of the most amazing reptiles in the British Isles!
Although forests are generally quite safe, there are a few hazards that we need to be aware of. As managed plantations, many forests will often have Forestry Commission (or private) operatives doing timber work. These work areas will often contain heavy machinery and timber wagons, so should certainly be avoided. Whilst individual fallen logs and stumps are generally quite safe to climb and have fun on, Log piles, in contrast, are extremely dangerous, as they can sometimes be unstable and liable to collapse or fall, trapping and injuring little people in the process. These should always be avoided. Finally, pine needles and moss can often hide bogs and holes, so take care when foraging and test areas for good footing with a stick! Further information about safety in managed forests can be found here.
Follow The Countryside Code
The Countryside Code is a Government initiative designed to help you understand your rights and responsibilities when out in the countryside. The main points of the Countryside Code are:
Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors.
Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available.
Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home.
Keep dogs under effective control.
Plan ahead and be prepared
Follow advice and local signs.
A free, downloadable PDF version of The Countryside Code can be found here:
Waterways can be an excellent place to forage, with rich fertile banks and some pretty distinctive aquatic wild foods to be gathered and enjoyed, too. They do however, come with some unique dangers that need to be assessed appropriately, especially if foraging there with children. This section looks at the risks associated with waterway foraging and how to keep you and your family safe at these diverse and beautiful locations.
Avoiding Deep Water
It is important to remember from the outset that waterway foraging should never require you to enter, or indeed, wade, into deep water - there really is no need, as most plants will be found either on fertile banks, or in very shallow water. Wellies (and maybe waders for the kids) are usually all you'll need to enjoy the waterways in your area. Taking this approach will avoid the higher risks associated with deep waterways, such as fast-moving currents and extremely cold temperatures that can potentially lead to serious injury, breathing difficulties, and even death. That being said, as a forager, you may accidentally fall into deep water, for example from the bank of a reservoir, and this is discussed in more detail in Reservoir & Canal Safety, below.
Slippery When Wet
Entering shallow waterways for a forage is always great fun, especially for children, and allows you to access areas that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to. Arthur and I regularly forage in a shallow reservoir run-off, and the diversity of wild plants there is simply wonderful. Sometimes, entering a shallow waterway is also essential, particularly if you need to cross a stream or ford to continue along your foraging route. It goes without saying that the combination of water and smooth, eroded riverbed rocks, create the perfect conditions for slips and trips, particularly if the water is murky, reducing your visibility. It's therefore always a good idea to wear stout wellies (as well as waterproof trousers if you have them) whenever you forage, just in case. It is important to remember that the gripping abilities of wellies and boots are always diminished in the prescence of water, so always take care of your footing and aid your balance using walking poles or sticks, wherever you can.
Rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs vary in depth from week to week, depending on rainfall levels and other factors such snow melt run-off in the hills. This sometimes makes depth perception difficult, as it's not always possible to see how high the water level is, even if you go there regularly. Deeper water creates a faster flow and a stronger pull, particularly in rivers, and therefore increases the likelihood of being swept of your feet when entering. Even if you're only going for a paddle-based forage in your wellies, or crossing a ford or stream, always test the depth of waterways with sticks or a walking pole to make sure that the water isn't too fast-flowing or deep for your wellies before entering. This is even more important if you plan on letting your children have a paddle or a splash, too. The prescence of murky water, large rocks, or uneven sections of river bed can also create sudden, unseen drops into deeper water, so always take care and supervise your children accordingly. Jumping into water is never recommended, particularly if the depth of the waterway is unknown.
Arthur loves rivers and waterways - he loves to paddle, jump and splash, as well as forage, but he always does so under close, direct supervision. We learnt this lesson the hard way - during an early Summer forage last year, Arthur ran ahead of us towards a forest ford. We called for him to come back, before chasing after him, but in only a few seconds, he'd managed to run out across the ford, slip and fall. Luckily, the fords in the area are designed for pedestrian crossing, so the water was only a few inches deep, but it still managed to fill his waders all the way to the top with icy-cold Northumbrian water and shake him up quite badly. We got to him in only a matter of seconds, but that was enough time for the accident to happen. The water was so cold, we had to strip him off and wrap him in my jacket. We were very lucky, as it could've been much worse. Supervision around waterways is absolutely essential.
Reservoir & Canal Safety
As beautiful man-made bodies of water, reservoirs and canals are very popular tourist spots, as well as excellent places for foraging. The main hazard associated with these is accidentally falling in (or deliberately jumping in!), and doing so could have a range of dangerours consequences. Firstly, getting out again may not be so easy. Many canals and reservoirs have steep, man-made banks to hold as much water as possible, this can make climbing out quite difficult if you do fall, or indeed, jump in. You would also quickly discover how very cold the water can get. They may look very enticing on a hot summer's day, but the low temperature of the water can cause the body to enter cold-shock, or even hypothermia, which draws blood away from your muscles to protect your internal organs. This can lead to drowning, even if you're a good swimmer. In addition, submerged debris and litter can cause injury, or reeds, and other plant life can get tangled around your limbs, preventing escape. The best way of keeping safe is to avoid any steep banks, and instead, sticking to open, flat and easily accesssible areas to forage, preferrably with defined footpaths and handrails for safety.
Hazard Perception & Foraging
Reading all of the above, it may appear that foraging is a super-dangerous activity, but that isn't really accurate! With the exception of one or two points above, most of these are standard hazards and risks that you and your children would face when you go for a walk anywhere - from crossing roads and fields, to finding nettles or wasps in a park, to paddling or strolling along a river or canal - you've faced all of these before and certainly lived to tell the tale. Foraging takes you to those same places, the only difference is your attention may be somewhere else, like in field guides, or on searching for mushrooms, so it's important to regularly take stock of your surroundings and mitigate the risks accordingly (Golden Rule #3). Next time, we'll look at Foraging Responsibly, and have a look at some basic wild food finds we can start exploring straight way.
The Grizzly Forager is a free education resource site designed to encourage and teach parents how to confidently and safely forage with their kids. It's filled with step-by-step instructions, safety notes, activities, and useful hints and tips for engaging children with nature and wild food, accompanied by beautiful and inspirational real-world photographs of the Author's children in nature.
Created by experienced forager-dad, safety expert, and professional photographer, John, the site contains detailed information for over 85 wild foods that are safe, child-friendly, and easy to identify, with separate sections for edible Plants and Flowers, Mushrooms, Fruits, Berries and Nuts, and Tree Sap. There's also an extensive Recipe section, that contains a range of simple dishes, from condiments, pickles and sauces, to starters, mains and desserts, all made with the wild-food finds on the site.
If you want to learn how to safely forage with your kids, immerse them in the beauty of the natural world, help them develop essential transferable skills, and watch them learn and grow into happy, conscientious, nature-loving wildlings, then this is certainly the website for you - a definitive guide to foraging with children unlike any other freely available resource.
📖 A Definitive Guide to Foraging with Children
🆔 Detailed ID Notes for over 85 Wild Foods
🚸 Easy to Follow Child Safety Section
📅 A Foraging Calendar
🍲 Extensive Recipe Section
🎨 Wild Nature Activities for Kids
📷 Beautiful, Real-World Photographs
💸 Completely Free to Access and Use!