Kidsgrove Canal Nature Recovery Blog #4

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Our second Canal Walk with Forager Emma Cronin

Our second walk in the Kidsgrove Canal Nature Recovery project series was a real treat! On Sunday 10 December we were joined by the wonderful *foraging and fermenting specialist Emma Cronin of Wild Pickle. The pre-Christmas period can be very busy for many people, and so it was such a joy to have a couple of hours together alongside the canal, to reset and relax and enjoy nature.

The weather was very kind to us. As in previous days there had been a lot of rain and wind, and so though it was quite muddy the sun shone! We met for a special afternoon walk, along the way connecting with what is growing alongside the water even in winter. It was lovely to welcome back some people who joined us for the first walk, and great to meet some new people too!

The notion of ‘foraging’ has gained considerably in popularity in recent years. Since the pandemic in particular, more people are looking to reconnect with nature – picking wild garlic, or blackberries and scrumping for wayward apples almost becoming a trend. But for our ancestors, foraging was simply a way of life; noticing the fruits of nature in abundance around us and supplementing the diet with the free food available certainly featured in my grandparents’ yearly calendar.

The forager’s code

At the start of the walk Emma introduced us to some of the key aspects of foraging responsibly.

The question of the law was introduced quickly, as Emma talked through the legalities of foraging on public and private land. The Four F’s (fruit, foliage, flora and fungus) are all legal to forage for personal consumption from common land – but not for commercial purposes. Different rules apply to private land.

Beyond the law, there is also a forager’s code, which is about foraging sustainably and in consideration of others, and never taking more than 10% of a plant or flower – and not all from the same plant – so as not to strip all energy from one place.

The most fascinating thing we found out was just how much there is in our environment that is edible. Emma pointed out that there was no need to walk very far at all to find edibles along the canal towpath. We could have stayed very close to the lodge if we wished and it would have been possible to meet tens of edible plants there, but as the aim was to have a bit of a walk and experience the outdoors, we walked in between discovering a good range of plants.

We met so many wonderful edible plants on the walk including:

  • clove root or wood avens – can be used instead of cloves
  • an abundance of rosehip – 20 times more vitamin C than oranges
  • beech leaves in the hedge – great in a salad or brewed to make a tea
  • hairy bittercress – a great peppery garnish
  • bramble tips – for making a tea or even wine!

Plus many, many more!

Nourishing nettles

It was surprising to find that although it was December there were some fresh young nettle leaves that were perfect for foraging. Emma gave us an introduction to nettles and explained it is the young leaves that are best. And she told us about a nettle appreciation event she has planned for March called Fall in love with nettles! Forage, ferment & feast – where you can harvest the abundant plant and learn how to unlock the nourishing vitamins and minerals it contains while preparing a lovely lunch. Be sure to take your thick gloves!

Emma also offered words of caution on ensuring you know exactly what you are picking. One family in particular – the umbellifers – can be tricky. This family of plants includes edibles such as herb robert (also referred to as herb Robert or herb-robert), cow parsley and hedge parsley. But it also includes and is visually very similar to the deadly hemlock, all parts of which are poisonous. If you’re unsure you can refer to this useful article on some of the common umbellifers of the UK.

Words of wisdom

During the walk so much wisdom was shared, and we learned such a lot about the plants and their networks along the canal. We ended the walk with a very tasty nettle tea. Emma left us with a few book recommendations including Forage: Wild Plants to Gather, Cook and Eat by Liz Knight, and one of my favourites, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

This quote from the book is an excellent end for this post, perfectly summing up everything we learned about the code of foraging on our walk:

“Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.

Take only that which is given.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.

Give thanks for what you have been given.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Join us for more!

To make sure you are kept in the loop with updates on the walks including any rescheduling due to the weather, book for free on Eventbrite.

Saturday 13 January I 11am – 1pm I Biodiversity Walk: Artist Anna and the group will be joined on this walk by a special guest! Andrea Ku is a beekeeper and biodiversity specialist of B 4 Biodiversity, whose aim is to raise the awareness of urban biodiversity through educational, practical, and creative projects. During this deep winter walk you will explore what is happening in the landscape at this time of year.

Saturday 3 February January I 11am – 1pm I Group Walk: Anna leads another walk on the theme of the natural environment of the canal as a green asset for Kidsgrove.

Saturday 2 March I 12 – 3.30pm I Foraging & Biodiversity: For the final walk in the series there will be a focus on foraging and biodiversity with forager and fermenter Emma Cronin of Wild Pickle. This is a great opportunity for those who missed Emma’s walk in December to learn about foraging, and for those who did make the first foraging walk to find new things to eat as we head into spring. The route will take you along the path of the Staffs University Fine Art Student Art Trail. And there will be an opportunity to get involved with a hands-on activity.

You can also do a self-guided walk any time you chose with this handy guide exploring the Victorian language of floriography:

Kidsgrove Canal Nature Recovery Walk One Guide in Word

Kidsgrove Canal Nature Recovery Walk One Guide in PDF

Do you have something you’d like to share with Anna about the canal, the plants or animals that live there? Get in touch at a.m.francis@staffs.ac.uk


Kidsgrove Canal Nature Recovery is a partnership project by Appetite and Canal & River Trust. Appetite are supported by Go Kidsgrove to deliver projects in Kidsgrove.

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Anna Francis is an artist and researcher whose work promotes discussions about the spaces where we live through art. She is co-director of The Portland Inn Project.


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