IT’S been a traditional late summer pastime in Britain for countless generations.

But it seems foraging among the brambles in search of juicy blackberries has offended council conservation officials in Southampton who have ruled it is not permitted on the city’s Common.

Now a self-styled “urbane forager” has appealed to the city’s most ancient court to overturn the apparent ban which could have serious consequences for home-made pies and jams.

Alan Gibson, 47, said he had been shocked to learn from the council’s urban wildlife centre that picking blackberries, or any of nature’s fruits, on Southampton Common is not permitted.

The edict came to light while he was organising a foraging picnic on the Common as part of an autumn harvest festival event for the Friends of St James Park and found himself “blackballed”

by staff at the Hawthorns Wildlife Centre.

Mr Gibson said he was initially told blackberry picking was prohibited because the Common was a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Hawthorns Wildlife Centre staff later admitted that was not the case, but a manager insisted the blackberry picking ban stood.

Mr Gibson has now launched a campaign to fight the “ludicrous” ruling and give “families the freedom to forage”.

He said he often picks blackberries, hazelnuts, apples and chestnuts in the city with his two children and writes an Internet blog on the subject.

He has already appealed to the city’s Court Leet, which has sat since the 14th century to hear “presentments” from citizens on matters of local concern, to clarify the legislation.

Mr Gibson, of Newton Road, Bitterne Park, said: “Picking fruit is a healthy, child-friendly activity. The Common is a place that families have always gone to, to gather blackberries and nuts. It is an activity that anyone with an interest in engaging their children with their local environment would do.”

A council spokesman last night admitted there were no laws which ban blackberry picking on the Common but said that “large scale blackberry or nut collecting would be inappropriate” if it damaged plants and habitat protected by wildlife legislation. He added a new code of conduct for visitors to the Common was being drawn up and Mr Gibson would be invited to contribute to it.

Common Laws

SOUTHAMPTON Common is owned by the people of the city, but its trustees are the local authority.

It has been common land since the authorities bought it in response to a dispute over land rights in the 13th century. It became a public park in 1844.

The designation as common land allowed neighbours to use the land for fuel, clay, and taking berries and other wild, natural food.

The most important use was for grazing, however, and there was a cowherd paid to be responsible for the cattle on the Common. He was given accommodation in an inn on the site of today’s Cowherds pub.

The Southampton Corporation Acts of 1910, 1931 and 1971 detail the byelaws that govern public use of the Common.

They include restrictions on vehicle use and limit closures for events to 50 acres and for no more than 60 days in any year.

The 370-acre Common was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1987 in recognition of its national nature conservation importance and large population of the endangered great crested newt. It required that the council must cease any operations likely to damage the special interest.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 made it a statutory requirement for the whole of the Common to be maintained to improve biodiversity Recent controversies at the Common have surrounded the implementation of dog control orders which banned dogs from bathing in most lakes and ponds and a row over photographs being taken of children playing at its paddling pool.