Code of Conduct

for the conservation and enjoyment of wild plants

This Code of Conduct was drawn up by Margaret Palmer and Katherine Hearne of the BSBI and has been adopted by the Wild Flower Society and other members of Plantlife.

The text is intended for guidance and information and whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information it contains is as accurate as possible, it should not be taken as a definitive statement of the law, nor can responsibility be accepted for any errors or omissions.

Most people reading this code will support the voluntary plant conservation organisations in their efforts to halt the decline in the native flora of Britain and Ireland and to ensure that all our wild flowering plants, ferns, mosses, liverworts, lichens, algae and fungi remain for future generations to enjoy. Wild plants are a key to the enjoyment of the countryside, primarily for their appeal in their natural surroundings but also because of the pleasure they give photographers, naturalists, flower arrangers and cooks.

Primula vulgaris(Primrose)

Hyacinthoides non-scripta(Bluebell)

Generally, uprooting is harmful, but picking with care and in moderation usually does little damage and can foster the appreciation of wild plants, which in turn benefits their conservation. However, in some cases picking can be harmful and it may even be illegal. This page is for botanists, teachers and people who wish simply to enjoy wild plants. It aims to indicate where collecting and picking are acceptable and which wild plants should not be taken.

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 page summarises the relevant legislation in the UK, but does not attempt to cover that of the Republic of Ireland (although a list of species protected in Ireland is included). The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not covered by UK law.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which covers Britain, 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 the true plants mosses, liverworts and vascular plants. Similar general protection is given to all plants in Northern Ireland, under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

Even plants growing wild are the legal property of somebody, and under the Theft Act, 1968, it is an offence to uproot plants for commercial purposes without authorisation.

Plants in protected areas

A variety of statutory designations are used for sites of high nature conservation interest, including National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) in Britain and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI's) 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 (English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland). It is illegal to pick, uproot or remove plants if by laws are in operation which forbid these activities, for example on 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 endangered plants, which are protected against intentional picking, uprooting and destruction (unless a licence is obtained from the relevant authority,or the damage is a result of a lawful activity and could not reasonably have been avoided). These plants are also protected against sale.

Saxifraga cespitosa(Tufted saxifrage)

In addition, there are two species (Bluebell in Britain and Primrose in Northern Ireland) which are listed for protection only against sale. Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is revised every five years.

International protection

Certain internationally rare wild plants are given legal protection throughout the European Community, as a result of the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). The nine vascular plants which occur in the UK which are protected against deliberate picking, collecting, cutting, uprooting, destruction and sale are listed below.

Cypripedium calceolus(Lady's-slipper Orchid)

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.

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 Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, if this is native, and all the orchids.

Creeping Marshwort Apium repens Lady's-slipper Cypripedium calceolus
Early Gentian Gentianella anglica Marsh Saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus
Fen Orchid Liparis loeselii Shore Dock Rumex rupestris
Floating Water-plantain Luronium natans Slender Naiad Najas flexilis
Killarney Fern Trichomanes speciosum  

The Habitats Directive also requires the establishment of a European network of protected sites (Special Areas of Protection) for the conservation of important habitats and rare species. SACs are to be designated in the UK for the nine species listed above and four other plants two liverworts and two mosses:

Petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii Green Shield-moss Buxbaumia viridis
Western Rustwort Marsupella profunda Slender Green Feather-moss Hamato caulis vernicosus

All thirteen of the plants listed above also carry protection against deliberate picking, collecting, cutting, uprooting, possession and sale under the Council of Europes Bern Convention (Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats), which covers an area wider than the European Union. The Bern Convention requirements are implemented in the UK by the inclusion of these species in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Introduction of alien plants

Crassula helmsii(New Zealand Pygmyweed)

It is an offence, without a licence, to plant or cause to grow in the wild any plant listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act or on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order. These schedules include alien plants which may pose a threat to our native flora. The lists are revised from time to time.

Picking and collecting

This page is 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.

Rare plants

Information on plants in danger of extinction nationally or locally are published in national Red Data 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. Take only those plants with which you are familiar and which you know are widespread and plentiful in the area. Lists of rare species can be obtained from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, or viewed on its web site.

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 Red List species. Indeed, collecting is often necessary if botanical expertise is to be developed. Unless you are authorised, do not collect if there is any suspicion that the plant is a Red List species or if the population is very small and may suffer as a result. 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 instance a leaf or a single flower from an inflorescence, just a few stems from a moss cushion, a small part of a lichen or alga colony, or a single fungus fruit body.

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. Untended road verges and public rights of way are often good sources of wild flowers, but look out for traffic!

Educational 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 if care is not taken. Unrestricted collecting by enthusiastic students may endanger local plant populations.

Fruits, seeds and fungi

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. English Nature has produced a separate code for the conservation of fungi, together with guidance for those who collect mushrooms to eat. Please contact EN at the address given below.


Plant photography is enjoyed by many people, but should be done with care. Gardening before taking photographs may unnaturally expose a plant or give away the site of an unusual species. Bear in mind, too, that nearby plants, including seedlings and slow-growing, inconspicuous mosses and lichens, can inadvertently be crushed.

Safeguarding habitats

Unintentional damage can be caused by well meaning people, so remember that trampling can kill vegetation and lead to soil compaction. If you visit a rare plant, avoid doing anything which may alter its surroundings or expose its location to collectors. Avoid publicising the sites of rare species, but inform your local Wildlife Trust, botanical society recorder, or 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.

Introducing plants to the wild

As mentioned above, it is an offence to introduce to the wild seeds, propagules or mature plants of any Schedule 9 species. There are many other alien species which are invasive and can be detrimental to our native flora, so alien plants should never be introduced to the wild. Aquatic plants such as Canadian Pondweed Elodea canadensis and New Zealand Pygmyweed Crassula helmsii can be particularly damaging, so do not tip unwanted material from aquaria into streams or ponds. Moving even native plants about the country can be unwise. Now, the main emphasis of conservation is to maintain native plants within their natural ranges. Introductions may disturb natural patterns of distribution, which can be subtle and involve sub-species and varieties. Many plants have been introduced into the wrong places, and inappropriate, even foreign, strains have been released. There is therefore a strong presumption against casual introductions. Do not introduce seed or other living plant material to the wild unless this is part of a well organised scheme sanctioned by your local wildlife trust or botanical society, or by one of the statutory conservation organisations.

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.

Lists of plants regulated by government acts in Britain, Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland can be seen here.

Addresses of the Statutory Agencies responsible for plant conservation