Collection and consumption of non-wood forest products in Europe
Many Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) such as mushrooms and berries are collected and consumed in Europe; but both national statistical and scientific data on this topic are reported only for a limited number of countries, products, and case-study areas. Without an adequate quantitative basis, their importance as source of food and income, their links to recreation and cultural heritage, are all under-valued in forest-focused and forest-related policies. In this study we aimed to address this gap by assessing the consumption and collection of NWFPs through a statistically-representative survey in 28 European countries with over seventeen thousand respondents. Our results show that ninety percent of households consume NWFPs and about one quarter collects them. The consumption and collection rates, as well as the number of collected products and their contribution to household income, increase from West to East of Europe. The vast majority of collected products is consumed fresh. Households with higher income consume a more diverse range of NWFPs, especially in Western Europe. The relation between income and collection is more ambiguous, but there is some indication that the collection rate is higher than average among higher-income households in North and Western Europe, and among lower income households in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Households for which NWFP collection is the main income source are predominantly located in Eastern Europe, and they focus their activities on few key products. Our results also identify recreational, hobby and professional collectors, whose characteristics vary across socio-economic variables and geographical gradient. Recreational collectors in Western and Southern Europe collect 8 kilos of NWFPs from 5 different products, while recreational collectors in Central-Eastern and North-Baltic Europe collect about four times more from ten different products. Hobby collectors collect about one hundred kilos of NWFP per year and professional collectors half a ton, where both groups focus on eight to twelve different products. Professional collectors are predominantly located in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. We end the study by pointing to future research directions and with a series of policy recommendations on how NWFPs could be addressed along the geographical, income, and urban-rural gradient with respect to their role in forest recreation, as a food and income source.