Here are a few relevant passages explaining the laws concerning wild plants. Please check The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 to see it in full.
All wild plants are given some protection under the laws of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This 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.
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.
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. 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. Current lists of the species afforded special protection in Britain and in Northern Ireland are given in this leaflet.
This 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.
Countryside Council for Wales, Plas Penrhos, Ffordd Penrhos, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2LQ www.ccw.gov.uk