Part 1, written in early September can be found here. This post brings things up to date and gives our interpretation of the situation.
Some media coverage:
1. Radio 4’s PM programme (Saturday 24th September) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vjxj4 . Go forward 27 minutes.
2. Radio 4’s “You and Yours” (Friday 23rd September) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vjxdc. The relevant part starts at 23 minutes 33 seconds in. It is about the New Forest fungi situation and includes:
- Sandy Shaw – A New Forest Keeper
- Jonathan Spencer = Head of Planning & Environment, Forest Enterprise (national, not just New Forest)
- John Wright – Forager
Below is a transcript of part of the programme:
Shari Vahl: Is this a ban?
Jonathan Spencer: We are not permitting the picking of fungi at any level, so it’s technically a ban but we are only really trying to reign in the over-exploitation of what we see as a common resource.
Shari Vahl: “Technically a ban” – it’s either a ban or its not?
Jonathan Spencer: We have discovered that we have not been able to introduce mechanisms by which restraint can be enforced in any way. By not permitting the collection of fungi at any level, we are then in a position to choose who to pursue under the Theft Act and The Wildlife and Countryside Act and there is no doubt in my mind that we are obliged to do that as part of our responsibilities to look after this wonderful, ancient, biologically rich forest.
3. The Times (Saturday 24th September)
A far more truthful view of the situation than the smoke and mirrors peddled by other newspapers. Sadly you need a subscription to read it all (though you can sign up for a free limited access version).
A key phrase “A commission spokesman later admitted to The Times that it was not against the law to pick for personal consumption.”
You have 3 categories of fungi picker:
1. Organised educational forays – run with permission from the Forestry Commission – like mine – http://www.hedgerow-harvest.com/. Strict guidelines apply e.g. 1.5 kg total for the foray (NOT per person).
2. Commercial pickers – has been and is illegal under The Theft Act 1968 (without landowner consent).
3. Foragers picking for personal consumption – a common law right.
The Forestry Commission “ban” is an “appeal” (their word on posters, leaflets, web page) not to pick. They are trying to stop / scare the commercial pickers but the “easiest / most cost effective” way of doing this is an outright ban. THIS BAN HAS NO STANDING IN LAW FOR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION.
Are there commercial pickers? Yes.
Are there many? No.
How do you know? I have access to the data of 150 “incidents” of fungi related activity in The New Forest for the period 08/10/15 – 06/11/15. When you take out the duplicates, the ones not in The New Forest (yes!), parked cars (but no evidence of fungi picking) and 2 groups of youths picking “Magic Mushrooms”, that leaves:
127 “incidents”, of which per person they had the below weights of mushrooms:
- Weight not specified (e.g. “1 XXX reported to NF Keeper by MOP. Not spoken to”, “Their bag was checked and they were spoken to about the code..”) – 53 (42%)
- No mushrooms 19 (15%)
- <= 1.5 kg (the advisory limit under the old New Forest Fungi Pickers Code) 43 (34%)
- >1.5 kg 12 (9%)
So 12 incidents with over the then advisory limit of 1.5 kilos.
If you look at these 12 incidents:
- 1.5 – 2 kg – 3 incidents
- 2 – 2.5 kg – 2 incidents
- 4 – 6 kg – 2 incidents
- > 1.5 kg – exact amount not specified – 3 incidents
- “A basket” – 1 incident
So, allowing for picker error (say 2.5 kilos) in only a handful of incidents did the amount of fungi per person exceed the 1.5 kg limit for personal consumption.
I’d like to reassure you that we are not seeking to prosecute individuals that are picking for themselves – it is not illegal. … Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to do so without the permission of the landowner. .. also, in the case of persistent offenders, tools such as the Stop Notice may be issued.
Clearly not. Their “campaign” has been completely misleading. It eventually transpired there are no new laws or bylaws. It has cost me and many others, a lot of time and money (reduced bookings etc.) and the local economy has lost out too. I cancelled hall bookings, B&Bs, didn’t eat in local pubs, similarly I have had less guests doing the same. If only the Forestry Commission had met foragers after last season (rather than at the opening of this), to discuss this like adults:
This is what we perceive to be an issue and this is the evidence we have. Working together as conservationists and foragers (a big overlap as most foragers are actually conservationists caring passionately about the natural world) how can we all work together to address the perceived issue?
What we have we actually had is “smoke and mirrors”, opinions not evidence. The public have been stirred up by the media’s pretty much one-sided, repetition of the same old guff, with the hint of racism thrown in. There have been cases of verbal abuse of people legally photographing fungi and legally picking fungi. As far as Joe Public are concerned there is a ban as they read it in the paper whatever the actual situation. All completely unnecessary. I saw a quote from a Washington University study the other day, my what a different world to what we have here (most unlike me to praise anything American!):
“Mushrooms are a wonderful way to engage the public with its natural resources and the environment. It could be an opportunity for the National Park Service to encourage a different demographic of visitors to value, understand and engage with the natural world.”