Tag: New Forest

New Forest Fungi – Update August 2017

As fungi have made an early appearance this year, some foragers thoughts have turned to The New Forest and what will happen there after the events of last year. All has become clear in the last week or so and I thought I would summarise what happened last year and give the current position.

Last year (2016)

I wrote last year about the situation then, firstly here after the initial announcements and then here when things clarified. In summary, The Forestry Commission introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) covering most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc.

“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).”

Posters appeared in the car parks:

New Forest "No Picking sign
2016 New Forest “No Picking sign

The message was very clear as far as the public and most media were concerned there was a ban on mushroom picking in the New Forest. However, the Association of Foragers, Radio 4 and The Times pushed for facts and eventually the much needed real clarity was given by The Commission:

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.

There was no change to any laws or by-laws at all. However, the damage was done with fully legal permitted fungus forays being verbally abused and photographed by members of the public despite permits being shown. It is alleged that the Police were called to at least one incident.

This year (2017)

On 15th August the Forestry Commission (South England Forest District) distributed a news release:

More looking, no picking – protecting New Forest fungi

Autumn is usually the height of the growth cycle for mushrooms, but with the wet and warm weather we’ve experienced this August many fungi have already started to emerge. Fungi are essential to the New Forest ecosystem, so we are appealing to people to look, but please don’t pick.

The New Forest is a SSSI and an area of special beauty, highly designated for nature conservation. It is a stronghold for many rare species of fungi, some of which are yet to be identified. Protecting the New Forest’s world-renowned habitats and balancing the needs of visitors and nature is a complex mission.

The Deputy Surveyor for the Forestry Commission South District, Bruce Rothnie, said: “We want people to get out into the Forest to enjoy the signs of autumn, we just appeal to them not to pick fungi, respecting the natural environment of the New Forest and leaving fungi for everyone to admire.”

Certain fungi are edible and enjoyed by people, however, many aren’t palatable and several are poisonous. There are a wide range of approved educational forays on offer, where people can find out more about the incredible fungi that thrive here.

We are working with organisations and experts who can identify the characteristics of the huge varieties of fungi found in the New Forest and get more people interested and involved in the conservation of our rarest fungi.

Bruce added: “We’ve already approved a limited number of licensed educational foragers in the New Forest who can help interpret and raise awareness of the huge value of fungi. We continue to work with foragers to develop sustainable solutions for people to enjoy the benefits of foraging outside of the protected New Forest area.”

The campaign has the support of many local partners including; the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “We are fully supportive of the Forestry Commission’s continuing work to stop fungi picking from the land that they manage in the New Forest. The New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest is a stronghold for many rare and endangered species of fungi and it is important that we all do our bit to protect

them. By leaving fungi unpicked, we can all help conserve the Forest’s fragile ecosystem for everyone to appreciate.”

The Forestry Commission is not seeking to prosecute people that are picking small amounts of fungi for themselves (it is not illegal) we are appealing to people’s better nature and encouraging visitors to see the bigger picture. The aim is to prevent potential harm to the SSSI that is notified for its fungi.

You can support the Forestry Commission’s efforts by letting them know if you see any suspected commercial picking (which is an offence under the Theft Act 1968) by calling their 24 hour telephone line: 0300 067 4600.

For more information about fungi in the New Forest visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforestfungi

There is more information on the above link and the related Q&A. This year’s posters and leaflets are changed:

2017 New Forest Fungi leaflet

Following the press release, an article appeared in The Bournemouth Echo calling for a complete ban on mushroom picking in The New Forest.

So, in summary, this year there is recognition that gathering small amounts of common fungi for personal consumption is legal (1968 Theft Act). Commercial collecting is, as it always has been, illegal and will be dealt with. Fungus forays and walks (such as ours), can continue to operate under permit and following strict guidelines. The Forest is a special place and one of the best places for fungi in Western Europe;  there are rare species of fungi, protected by law and they should not be picked or damaged. The Forestry Commission are asking you to look and not pick.

New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code – Part 2

For a 2017 update see here.

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)
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/4bb13e82-81c9-11e6-8d70-b369ed513749

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.”

 

My understanding

You have 3 categories of fungi picker:

1. Organised educational forays – run with permission from the Forestry Commission – like mine – https://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.

 

Extract from a letter from The Forestry Commission re The New Forest Fungi “ban”:
(my emphasis)

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.

Is that the message their signs, leaflets, press release, web site (2018 link, 2016 link not present) etc. say ?

New Forest "No Picking sign
New Forest “No Picking sign

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.”

#NewForestPickingBan

 

New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code

For a 2017 update see here.

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.