New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code

For a 2017 update see here. Many of the links no longer work but are kept for completeness.

The New Forest in Hampshire is a wonderful place for fungi with over 2700 species found, both the rare and very good numbers of the common species. It has been a popular destination for those who like to study and / or pick edible fungi for many years, but the growth of interest in foraging has been perceived by some to be detrimental to the Forest.

Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest
Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest

Foraging instructors have taught responsible, sustainable practice. I emphasised the Wild Mushroom Pickers’ Code of Conduct (British Mycological Society) and, the now defunct, Fungi Collectors Code for the New Forest.

There has been a bit of rumbling over the years coming to a head with statements in July 2015 by Sarah Cadbury of The Hampshire Fungus Recording Group to The New Forest Verderers – (Daily Mail, Guardian). One of the “accused”, John Wright responded to The Verderers (copy here).

Over the last year those that teach or forage professionally foragers formed The Association of Foragers and representatives have met with New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Natural England. Members also attended “Future of Foraging” workshops around the country with Natural England under “The Foraging Partnership” banner. These workshops all seemed pretty positive with foraging seen as a way of getting people to engage with nature, but it needed to be done in a responsible manner.

old no pick sing for some inclosures
OLD sign. A limited number of inclosures have had been “no picking” for some years. One assumes that they have been used for comparative academic studies, but we don’t know.

Last week, those with permits to lead educational forays in The New Forest received a letter from The Forestry Commission. With immediate effect they have introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). This covers most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc. The related web page and Q&A go into more detail of their justification.

“Due to the growing concern from conservationists and very real fears from members of the community in the New Forest about the wide-scale harvesting of fungi, Forestry Commission feels it necessary to adopt a precautionary approach and can no longer support fungi picking on any scale on the New Forest Crown Lands (Site of Special Scientific Interest).”

Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.
Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.

They continue to clamp down on any illegal commercial mushroom picking and I support this action, though dispute how much actually happens.

The Forestry Commission released the story to the media (press release) earlier this week with it appearing in a number of daily and local newspapers, most seem to have just repeated the message. Telegraph, Mail, Times (subscription required to read all), Southern Daily Echo (Southampton / Bournemouth etc..

Today, The Association of Foragers have responded to The Forestry Commission and sent a press release to the media. The press release is reproduced below:

New Forest Fungi Picking Ban “unscientific” say fungi experts

New Forest, Hampshire, September 1st 2016

Leading foraging educators claim New Forest fungi picking ban is will undermine future fungi growth

A campaign by the Forestry Commission in England to ban the picking of all fungi in the New Forest has been heavily criticised by fungi experts and foraging educators.

The Association of Foragers, which represents the collective knowledge and experience of nearly one hundred writers, teachers and researchers, say the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence, and is more likely to undermine fungi populations in the long term. “There are at least 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest. Only a dozen are routinely collected as food - none of which are rare”, said John Wright, author of the bestselling River Cottage Mushroom Guide, and member of The Association of Foragers. “More fungi are kicked over and trampled by the uneducated than are picked for the pot. Foraging provides an important point of human connection with these otherwise mysterious organisms”, said Mr Wright.

Mark Williams, a member of The Association of Foragers who has taught about fungi in Scotland for 25 years, said: “The Forestry Commission has presented no scientific evidence to show why this ban is necessary. That’s because there simply isn’t any”.

“A 25 year study of the effects of picking mushrooms revealed no correlation whatsoever between picking and future growth, in the same way as picking a bramble does not impact the parent plant - in the case of mushrooms an invisible underground network called mycelium. The picking and movement of mushrooms is actually more likely to help spread fungi spores and expand populations”, said Mr Williams.

The Forestry Commission also cites “fungi-dependent invertebrates” as reason for the ban. Research herbalist Monica Wilde of The AoF says: “People don’t pick the mushrooms that are appealing to maggots! The most widely eaten species - chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms - are almost entirely resistant to insects.”

The FC also cites anecdotal evidence of “teams of commercial fungi pickers”. “This is a mantra that has been so often repeated, mostly by the tabloid press, that it has entered the public consciousness”, says Mr Williams. “With collectively 1000’s of days spent teaching and recording in the New Forest, not one member of the AoF has ever seen any evidence of this - not even a photograph. 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow.”

The AoF is calling for the FC to rethink the ban. “It is unscientific, unenforceable, and will serve only to further disconnect people from the world of fungi. We urge the FC to use the collective knowledge of the AoF to help formulate evidence-based policy to support future populations of fungi”.

The foraging forums / social media have been buzzing, among the comments that caught my eye:

  • The New Forest has at least 2,700 species of fungi. Only a dozen are routinely collected for food.
  • Absurdly about 50% of the New Forest SSSI woodland is spruce and pine plantation. Yet mushroom picking still not allowed.
  • I now won’t be able to take my 5-year-old daughter out picking within the New Forest. She’s been out with me since she was 1-year-old and already has a basket and some favourite spots.

There is no evidence that picking damages the crop (long-term scientific studies elsewhere have shown this); its a sustainable harvest and European experience proves it. Foraging is healthy, harmless fun and should be encouraged, not banned.

Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature - no apps, screens etc.
Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature – no apps, screens etc.