The Wild Flower Society Code of Conduct

for the conservation and enjoyment of wild plants

This code of conduct is taken from the BSBI .pdf document which can be downloaded here:

Download BSBI Code of Conduct 2017

The Wild Flower Society has agreed that its published code of conduct should be the same as that of The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. This updated code was created in 2017 by Sarah Whild and Fred Rumsey in consultation with colleagues from Joint Nature Conservancy Committee and Natural England. It is a suggested guide for those who wish to explore the wild plants of countryside but is not a legal document.

Summary of the Main Points of the Code of Conduct

  • Yes, you can usually pick a few wild flowers for study and/or enjoyment, if none of the following caveats apply (but take only 1 in 20)
  • The same applies for foraging (for yourself) – only take 1 in 20
  • Uprooting any plant is illegal unless you have the landowner’s permission
  • Some plants are specifically protected by law and cannot be picked or disturbed unless you have the appropriate licence (see Schedule 8 at the back)
  • On legally protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, there may be a blanket ban on picking any vegetation
  • Some non-native invasive plant species cannot be introduced into the wild except by licence (see Schedule 9), so do not introduce any species into the wild
  • When picking wild flowers or foraging, be mindful of the consequences of your action on other wildlife (some birds need berries for winter survival – do you?)

Who is this guide aimed at?

  • Are you a forager?
  • A plant photographer?
  • Do you like a walk in the countryside to look at wild flowers?
  • Do you lead wildlife walks?
  • Are you a plant recorder?
  • Are you a natural history/ biology teacher or trainer?

Then this guide is for you

There are laws protecting ALL wild plants, but by following the guidelines in this Code you should be able to enjoy wild flowers and plants, stay on the right side of the law AND pick wild flowers and fruits responsibly.

Generally, uprooting is harmful, but picking with care and in moderation usually does little damage and can help to enthuse and engender an appreciation of wild plants, which in turn benefits their conservation. In some cases, however, picking can be harmful and may even be illegal.

This Code is written specifically for vascular plants (flowering plants and ferns, horsetails, clubmosses and quillworts). There are codes produced by The British Mycological Society for collecting wild mushrooms and other fungi; the British Lichen Society for collecting lichens; the British Bryological Society for mosses and liverworts. However, the legal interpretation below applies to all plants, lichens and fungi.

Wild plants and the law

All wild plants are given some protection under the laws of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This leaflet summarises the relevant legislation in the UK, but does not attempt to cover that of the Republic of Ireland, The Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which covers England, Scotland and Wales, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier. Uproot is defined as to ‘dig up or otherwise remove the plant from the land on which it is growing’, whether or not it actually has roots; and, for the purposes of the legislation, the term ‘plant’ includes algae, lichens and fungi as well as bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), and vascular plants. Similar general protection is given to all plants in Northern Ireland, under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

All plants growing wild are the legal property of somebody: under the Theft Act, 1968, it is an offence to uproot plants for commercial purposes without authorisation (by the land owner/occupier). This protection is in addition to that offered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Plants in Protected Areas

A variety of statutory designations is used for sites of high nature conservation interest, including National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in Britain and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland. Owners and occupiers may be prosecuted if they destroy plants growing in these sites, or remove plant material, unless they have first consulted the statutory conservation agencies (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland). However, since the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006), it is now an offence for all third parties to damage features of importance on SSSIs – so anyone collecting plants on a SSSI may be acting illegally unless there is a consent in place for their activity.

It is illegal to pick, uproot or remove plants where by-laws forbidding these activities are in operation, for example on some Local Nature Reserves, Ministry of Defence property or National Trust land.

Specially protected plants

Both the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order contain a list (Schedule 8) of plants, which are specially protected against intentional picking, uprooting, and destruction (unless a licence is obtained from the relevant authorities, or the damage is a result of a lawful activity and could not reasonably have been avoided). These plants are also protected against sale. In addition, there are two species (native Bluebell in Britain and Primrose in Northern Ireland) that are listed for protection only against sale. All parts of the plant are protected, including seeds and spores. Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is reviewed every five years.

International protection

Certain internationally rare wild plants are given legal protection throughout the European Union, as a result of the ‘Habitats’ Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). Regulations apply to all stages in the biological cycle of these plants, so seeds and spores are protected as well as mature specimens. All these species are also included in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We must wait to see how Brexit affects these Directives, but currently they are implemented through our domestic statutes. Some wild plants are protected against international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The only UK species to which CITES applies are all orchids. It should be noted that this applies not only to fresh specimens but to herbarium material too, so do check if a CITES permit is required if you are sending herbarium material over international borders.

Introduction of alien plants

It is an offence, without a licence, to plant or cause to grow in the wild any plant listed on Schedule 9 (ii) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, or on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order. These schedules list alien plants that may pose a threat to our native flora. In April 2010 the list of species on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act was extended considerably (see list under Schedule 9 at the end of this document).

Picking and collecting IF NOT protected by law

This section provides guidance for people who wish to pick plants for pleasure, pursue botanical studies, collect specimens for educational purposes or gather wild food for individual or family use. It does not address commercial gathering of plant material. The aim is to promote the conservation of wild plants, whilst encouraging the enjoyment of the countryside. This means that picking is acceptable in some cases, but in other circumstances plants are better left for others to enjoy. If in doubt always follow the ‘one in twenty rule’ unless the plants are covered by any legislation. If there are twenty, it is reasonable to take one. If you wish to take two, there should be forty, etc and do not uproot.

Rare and threatened plants not on protected  Schedules or sites

Information on plants in danger of extinction nationally or locally is published in national Red Data Lists and Books, and County Rare Plant Registers. Rare plants are not necessarily protected by law, but none of them should be picked for pleasure. If you are not a specialist it may be difficult to know which they are: a good rule of thumb is that if a plant looks unusual, or if there is very little of it, resist the temptation to pick it. Pick only those plants with which you are familiar and which you know are widespread and plentiful in the area. Most specimens can be reliably identified from good quality photographs of flowers and vegetative features and this should be the default for any unknown species present in small numbers but if you need to take a specimen for identification, follow all of the preceding advice. For any plant, try to follow the ‘one in twenty’ rule – for every one you pick, there should be twenty present. Lists of rare and threatened species can be obtained from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, or viewed on its website.

Botanical collecting

Collecting small amounts of plant material for identification purposes, for private herbaria, for research or as voucher specimens is usually acceptable, except in the case of protected or rare species. Indeed, collecting is often necessary if botanical expertise is to be developed and passed on across generations via herbaria. If a plant can be named in the field take the field guide to it, not vice versa. If a specimen really is needed, remove the minimum quantity of material for identification, and also take a photo. It is worth knowing what part of the plant is needed for identification purposes. When collecting specimens for identification or research bear in mind whether the most could be made of your dead plant by making it available to local and national public herbaria; if so careful selection, processing and curation would be valuable and collection of duplicates may be appropriate.

Where and how much to pick

Be careful not to trespass when picking plants and never take material from a nature reserve or protected site without permission and formal consent if necessary. Take flowers and foliage only from large patches of the plant.

  • Always pick in moderation so that plenty is left for others to enjoy (always observe the one in twenty rule).
  • Do not pick flowers such as poppies as they will wilt before you get them home.
  • Be careful not to damage other vegetation when picking flowers.
  • If permission has been not been obtained from the landowner or occupier, gathering fruit, foliage etc must be restricted to the minimum needed for personal use and must not be used for commercial gain.
  • Follow the ‘one in twenty’ rule.

Educational and training groups

Teachers and leaders of field meetings are reminded that it is their responsibility to obtain permission from landowners, ensure that groups comply with the law and follow these guidelines. A large group of people can unwittingly do considerable damage, so be careful. Unrestricted collecting by enthusiastic students may endanger local plant populations so do make it clear to your group to follow your guidance on what and how much to collect.

Non-commercial gathering of berries, nuts and mushrooms for the table is a traditional use of the countryside and probably does no harm to the plant, providing it is carried out in moderation and the plant is common. However, many plants and fungi are poisonous, so never eat anything unless you are sure that it is safe to do so. Collecting wild flower seed for private gardening must also be done sparingly and only common species should be gathered. The British Mycological Society has produced a separate code for the conservation of fungi, together with guidance for those who collect mushrooms to eat.

Fruits, seeds and fungi

Please take care before photographing plants, as ‘gardening’ before taking photographs can expose a plant to grazing, or you might inadvertently remove rarer plants or alter the microclimate of the plant you are photographing. Try not to crush vegetation too much and please have regard for mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi growing around your target plant.


Please take care before photographing plants, as ‘gardening’ before taking photographs can expose a plant to grazing, or you might inadvertently remove rarer plants or alter the microclimate of the plant you are photographing. Try not to crush vegetation too much and please have regard for mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi growing around your target plant.

Safeguarding habitats

Please take special care when visiting fragile habitats, such as dune slacks, tufa (calcium-encrusted wet spring vegetation), raised bogs and other uncommon and vulnerable plant communities. Inform your BSBI Vice-County Recorder (contact details are available on the BSBI website), your local Wildlife Trust, or the relevant statutory conservation agency about new finds, as they can help to safeguard the plants and their habitats. Respect requests from conservation bodies or landowners not to visit particular sites at certain times of year.

Introducing plants to the wild

As mentioned above, it is an offence to introduce to the wild any seeds, propagules or mature plants of a ‘Schedule 9’ species. There are many other alien species that are invasive and can be detrimental to our native flora, so alien plants should never be introduced to the wild. Aquatic plants such as Curly Waterweed Lagarosiphon major and New Zealand Pigmyweed Crassula helmsii may be particularly damaging, so do not tip unwanted material from aquaria into streams or ponds, or throw garden waste over your fence. Even introducing or planting out native plants can be unwise, as it may blur natural patterns of distribution, so the simple rule is: if in doubt, don’t plant it out.

Enjoying plants abroad

Wild plants and their habitats around the world are threatened. Remember to follow the principles of this code when visiting other countries. Make sure that you are familiar with the nature protection laws of your host country and check whether it is permissible to bring specimens back – please do not assume that you can. Please be aware of CITES, especially with respect to all orchids and to bulbs, and be aware that any plant material taken over international borders can have biosecurity implications, as pests and diseases may be inadvertently imported or exported.

Statutory agencies responsible for plant conservation

Vascular plants protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as amended

By law, you may neither uproot nor pick any of these rare plants:

Latin name Common name
Ajuga chamaepitys  Ground-pine
Alisma gramineum  Ribbon-leaved Water-plantain
Allium sphaerocephalon  Round-headed Leek
Althaea hirsuta  Rough Marsh-mallow
Alyssum alyssoides  Small Alison
Apium repens (Helosciadium repens) Creeping Marshwort
Arabis alpina  Alpine Rock-cress
Arabis scabra  Bristol Rock-cress
Arenaria norvegica  Norwegian Sandwort
Artemisia campestris  Field Wormwood
Atriplex pedunculata  Stalked Orache
Bupleurum baldense  Small Hare’s-ear
Bupleurum falcatum  Sickle-leaved Hare’s-ear
Carex depauperata  Starved Wood-sedge
Centaurium tenuiflorum  Slender Centaury
Cephalanthera rubra  Red Helleborine
Chenopodium vulvaria  Stinking Goosefoot
Cicerbita alpina  Alpine Sow-thistle
Clinopodium menthifolium  Wood Calamint
Coincya wrightii  Lundy Cabbage
Corrigiola litoralis  Strapwort
Cotoneaster cambricus  Wild Cotoneaster
Crassula aquatica  Pigmyweed
Crepis foetida  Stinking Hawk’s-beard
Cynoglossum germanicum  Green Hound’s-tongue
Cyperus fuscus  Brown Galingale
Cypripedium calceolus  Lady’s-slipper
Cystopteris dickieana  Dickie’s Bladder-fern
Damasonium alisma  Starfruit
Dianthus armeria  1 Deptford Pink
Dianthus gratianopolitanus  Cheddar Pink
Diapensia lapponica  Diapensia
Eleocharis parvula  Dwarf Spike-rush
Epipogium aphyllum  Ghost Orchid
Equisetum ramosissimum  Branched Horsetail
Erigeron borealis  Alpine Fleabane
Eriophorum gracile  Slender Cottongrass
Eryngium campestre  Field Eryngo
Filago lutescens  Red-tipped Cudweed
Filago pyramidata  Broad-leaved Cudweed
Fumaria reuteri  Martin’s Ramping-fumitory
Gagea bohemica  Early Star-of-Bethlehem
Gentiana nivalis  AlpineGentian 
Gentiana verna  Spring Gentian
Gentianella anglica  Early Gentian
Gentianella ciliata  Fringed Gentian
Gentianella uliginosa  Dune Gentian
Gladiolus illyricus  Wild Gladiolus
Gnaphalium luteoalbum (Laphangium luteoalbum)  Jersey Cudweed
Hieracium attenuatifolium  Weak-leaved Hawkweed
Hieracium northroense  Northroe Hawkweed
Hieracium zetlandicum  Shetland Hawkweed
Himantoglossum hircinum  Lizard Orchid
Homogyne alpina  Purple Colt’s-foot
Hyacinthoides non-scripta 2  Bluebell
Lactuca saligna  Least Lettuce
Leersia oryzoides  Cut-grass
Limosella australis  Welsh Mudwort
Liparis loeselii  Fen Orchid
Lloydia serotina (Gagea serotina) Snowdon Lily
Luronium natans  Floating Water-plantain
Lychnis alpina (Silene alpina) Alpine Catchfly
Lythrum hyssopifolium  Grass-poly
Melampyrum arvense  Field Cow-wheat
Mentha pulegium  Pennyroyal
Minuartia stricta  Teesdale Sandwort
Najas flexilis  Slender Naiad
Najas marina  Holly-leaved Naiad
Ononis reclinata  Small Restharrow
Ophioglossum lusitanicum  Least Adder’s-tongue
Ophrys fuciflora  Late Spider-orchid
Ophrys sphegodes   Early Spider-orchid
Orchis militaris  Military Orchid
Orchis simia  Monkey Orchid
Orobanche artemisiae-campe Oxtongue Broomrape
Orobanche caryophyllacea  Bedstraw Broomrape
Orobanche reticulata  Thistle Broomrape
Petroraghia nanteuilii  Childing Pink
Phyllodoce caerulea  Blue Heath
Phyteuma spicatum  Spiked Rampion
Polygonatum verticillatum  Whorled Solomon’s-seal
Polygonum maritimum  Sea Knotgrass
Potentilla rupestris  Rock Cinquefoil
Pulicaria vulgaris  Small Fleabane
Pyrus cordata  Plymouth Pear
Ranunculus ophioglossifolius  Adder’s-tongue Spearwort
Rhinanthus angustifolius  Greater Yellow-rattle
Romulea columnae  Sand Crocus
Rumex rupestris  Shore Dock
Salvia pratensis  Meadow Clary
Saxifraga cernua  Drooping Saxifrage
Saxifraga cespitosa  Tufted Saxifrage
Saxifraga hirculus  Yellow Marsh-saxifrage
Schoenoplectus triqueter   Triangular Club-rush
Scleranthus perennis  Perennial Knawel
Scorzonera humilis  Viper’s-grass
Selinum carvifolia  Cambridge Milk-parsley
Senecio paludosus  Fen Ragwort
Stachys alpina  Limestone Woundwort
Stachys germanica  Downy Woundwort
Tephroseris integrifolia subsp maritima South Stack Fleawort
Teucrium botrys  Cut-leaved Germander
Teucrium scordium  Water Germander
Thlaspi perfoliatum  Perfoliate Penny-cress
Trichomanes speciosum  Killarney Fern
Veronica spicata  Spiked Speedwell
Veronica triphyllos  Fingered Speedwell
Viola persicifolia  Fen Violet
Woodsia alpina  Alpine Woodsia
Woodsia ilvensis  Oblong Woodsia

Plants on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985

Latin name Common name
Adoxa moschatellina Moschatel
Ajuga pyramidalis Pyramidal Bugle
Andromeda polifolia Bog-rosemary
Calamagrostis stricta Narrow Small-reed
Carex magellanica Tall Bog-sedge
Carex pauciflora Few-flowered Sedge
Centaurium littorale Seaside Centaury
Cirsium heterophyllum Melancholy Thistle
Dactylorhiza traunsteinerioides Narrow-leaved Marsh-orchid
Dryas octopetala Mountain Avens
Elatine hydropiper Eight-stamened Waterwort
Eleocharis parvula Dwarf Spike-rush
Epipactis palustris Marsh Helleborine
Epipactis phyllanthes Green-flowered Helleborine
Erica vagans Cornish Heath
Erigeron acer Blue Fleabane
Frangula alnus Alder Buckthorn
Geranium sylvaticum Wood Crane's-bill
Gymnocarpium dryopteris Oak Fern
Hammarbya palludosa Bog Orchid
Hierochloe odorata Holy-grass
Hordelymus europaeus Wood Barley
Hottonia palustris Water-violet
Hypochaeris glabra Smooth Cat's-ear
Lathyrus palustris Marsh Pea
Limonium binnervosum s.l. Rock Sea-lavender
Limosella aquatica Mudwort
Melampyrum sylvaticum Small Cow-wheat
Mentha pulegium Pennyroyal
Mertensia maritima Oysterplant
Monotropa hypopitys (Hippopitys monotropa) Yellow Bird's-nest
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's-nest Orchid
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid
Orchis (Anacamptis) morio Green-winged Orchid
Orobanche hederae Ivy Broomrape
Orthillia secunda Serrated Wintergreen
Pilularia globilfera Pillwort
Polystichum lonchitis Holly Fern
Primula veris Cowslip
Primula vulgaris Primrose
Pseudorchis albida Small-white Orchid
Ranunculus fluitans River Water-crowfoot
Rubus chamaemorus Cloudberry
Saussurea alpina Alpine Saw-wort
Saxifraga aizoides Yellow Saxifrage
Saxifraga oppositifolia Purple Saxifrage
Silene acaulis Moss campion
Sisyrinchium bermudiana Blue-eyed Grass
Spiranthes romanzoffiana Irish Lady's-tresses
Stachy (Betonica) officinalis Betony
Teesdalia nudicaulis Sherpherd's Cress
Trollius europaeus Globe-flower
Viola persicifolia (V.stagnina) Fen Violet

Plants included in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981)

These are plants which cannot be planted or otherwise caused to grow in Great Britain (Revised 2010)

Latin name Common name
Allium paradoxum Few-flowered Leek
Allium triquetrum Three-cornered Garlic
Azolla filiculoides Water Fern
Cabomba caroliniana Fanwort (Carolina Water-Shield)
Carpobrotus edulis Hottentot Fig
Cotoneaster bullatus Cotoneaster, Hollyberry
Cotoneaster horizontalis Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster integrifolius Cotoneaster, Entire-leaved
Cotoneaster microphyllus Cotoneaster, Small-leaved
Cotoneaster simonsii Cotoneaster, Himalayan
Crassula helmsii New Zealand Pigmyweed
Crocosmia × crocosmiiflora Montbretia
Disphyma crassifolium Purple Dewplant
Eichhornia crassipes Water Hyacinth
Elodea (all species) Waterweeds
Fallopia japonica (Reynoutria japonica) Japanese Knotweed
Fallopia japonica × Fallopia sachalinensis Hybrid Knotweed
Reynoutria sachalinensis Giant Knotweed
Gunnera tinctoria Giant Rhubarb
Heracleum mantegazzianum Giant Hogweed
Hydrocotyle ranunculoides Floating Pennywort
Impatiens glandulifera Himalayan Balsam
Lagarosiphon major Curly Waterweed
Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum Variegated Yellow Archangel
Ludwigia grandiflora Water Primrose
Ludwigia peploides Floating Water Primrose
Ludwigia uruguayensis Water Primrose
Myriophyllum aquaticum Parrot’s Feather
Parthenocissus inserta False Virginia Creeper
Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia Creeper
Pistia stratiotes Water Lettuce
Rhododendron luteum Yellow Azalea
Rhododendron ponticum Rhododendron
Rhododendron ponticum × R. maximum Rhododendron
Rosa rugosa Japanese Rose
Sagittaria latifolia Duck Potato
Salvinia molesta Giant Salvinia
Smyrnium perfoliatum Perfoliate Alexanders

Republic of Ireland

No attempt has been made here to explain how Irish law differs from Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect to wildlife protection. The relevant legislation in Ireland is the Wildlife Act, 1976 and Statutory Instruments are issued under this Act. The relevant Government Department is called The Department of Arts, Culture & Gaeltacht and copies of the relevant legislation are obtainable from the Government Publications Office, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2. The latest list of protected species in the Republic of Ireland under the Republic of Ireland Flora Protection Order 2015 are listed below.

Latin name Common name
Acinos arvensis Basil Thyme
Allium schoenoprasum Chives
Alopecurus aequalis Orange Foxtail
Arenaria ciliata Fringed Sandwort
Arthrocnemum perenne Perennial Glasswort
Asparagus officinalis Wild Asparagus
Asplenium obovatum subsp. lanceolatum Lanceolate Spleenwort
Asplenium septentrionale Forked Spleenwort
Astragalus danicus Purple Milk Vetch
Calamagrostis epigejos Wood Small-reed
Callitriche truncata Short-leaved Water-Starwort
Cardamine impatiens Narrow-leaved Bitter Cress
Cardaminopsis petraea Northern Rockcress
Carex depauperata Starved Wood-sedge
Carex divisa Divided Sedge
Centaurium pulchellum Lesser Centaury
Cephalanthera longifolia Narrow-leaved Helleborine
Colchicum autumnale Autumn Crocus
Cryptogramma crispa Parsley Fern
Deschampsia setacea Bog Hair-grass
Epilobium alsinifolium Chickweed Willowherb
Equisetum × moorei Moore’s Horsetail
Eriophorum gracile Slender Cotton Grass
Galeopsis angustifolia Red Hemp Nettle
Groenlandia densa Opposite-leaved Pondweed
Gymnocarpium robertianum Limestone Fern
Hammarbya paludosa Bog Orchid
Helianthemum nummularium Common Rockrose
Hordeum secalinum Meadow Barley
Hydrilla verticillata Irish Hydrilla
Hypericum canadense Canadian St. John’s-wort
Hypericum hirsutum Hairy St. John’s-wort
Inula salicina Irish Fleabane

Some of the Latin names in the above lists may now be out-of-date. A few have been corrected with new names in brackets. The most up-to-date reference to consult in this matter is New flora of the British Isles (Fourth Edition 2019) by Professor Clive Stace.

Authors of the BSBI code of conduct

The Authors of the original BSBI code of practice were Sarah Whild, Fred Rumsey (2010) with comments of the schedules and legal aspects by Anna Robinson and Ant Maddock of JNCC

The BSBI document was updated in 2017 by Sarah Whild with input from Ian Taylor, John Martin and Alex Prendergast of Natural England.

This Code of Conduct supsedes the one previously published on this website written by Katherine Hearn and Margaret Palmer in 1999 for BSBI and which The Wild Flower Society agreed to adopt.

There are a few additions and amendments to the BSBI document for clarification for WFS members made by Peter Llewellyn June 2019

WFS html page updated 20th June 2019, updated 1st June 2020