Is picking damaging to our fungi heritage?


st georges mushrooms

St George’s Mushroom
Calocybe gambosa

In recent years, there’s been much debate as to whether picking mushrooms, either for consumption or for investigative study, should be left unchecked or regulated in some fashion.

Our Fungi Group, the HFBG are primarily interested in fungi identification and recording, i.e, for scientific purposes, albeit at an amateur level. Recent events prompted perhaps by some over zealous reactions to certain news stories about mushroom picking, have affected our ability to carry out our fungi forays. While some backlash is understandable, we feel that it maybe going to far in some instances.

Were it just a simple matter of allowing members of the public to stroll the woods and collect a few mushrooms from time to time, it might not be an issue. Unfortunately though, mushroom picking has, in some places like the New Forest, progressed on a commercial scale; both through individual ‘opportunist’ pickers collecting for profit or large groups of commercially motivated people picking to order. This has been reported in the press.

An unfortunate byproduct of journalistic reporting of the perceived problems of mushroom picking has led to an over reaction by some individuals. These, people have suggested that full bans should be applied and that in some places natural spaces don’t have any edible mushrooms to be found suggesting that picking is to blame. It should be noted that even the articles written by the Times did point out the main concern was that of commercial picking and that picking for personal use, limited to 1.5kg, per person, was not likely to be a concern.

Have we reached a point where in some of our woodlands and open spaces there’s hardly a fruiting body to be found and that mushroom profiteers are to blame? It’s difficult to tell really. It’s clear that in some places van loads of dawn mushroom pickers systematically removing edible species for sale to fancy restaurants and chefs is a serious problem. However, suggesting that because a site has no edibles, doesn’t mean profiteers are to blame.

Fungi are not like flowers of the plant kingdom, reliably coming in to bloom each year. Some years mushrooms may not appear at all, simply because the fungi does not need to reproduce. A classic example of this is with the Morel. Years can go by without a single morel being seen. However, following a forest fire or forestry management disturbing the soil, morels can become abundant. The morel mycelium detected damage or disturbance and therefore a threat to its existence and so it reproduced. Indeed, as with the morel, there’s plenty to suggest that picking fruiting bodies of other species of fungi, actually stimulates the fungus to develop more.

It’s therefore irresponsible and sensationalist to suggest that an absence of fruiting bodies is related to picking. Somewhat perversely, one could argue the exact opposite.

Unfortunately, even some of those in positions of authority over our natural spaces get caught up in such sensationalism, choosing to indiscriminately block authentic, well organised, scientifically motivated fungi groups. This has happened to the Hertfordshire Fungus Group recently at a well known local venue and with other groups like the HMWT in areas of interest to them.

What well meaning, but perhaps ‘overzealous’ rangers or volunteers, appear to forget is that the data groups like HBFG and HMWT collect (volunteered for free!) is vital to monitoring the health of the forests in their trust and in the throughout the country.

Another point to note is that The National Trust has signed up to the British Mycological Society’s Code Of Conduct. This sets out very clear guidelines for collectors, scientific study groups, foray leaders, land owners and managers.

Clearly, a large dose of common sense is required if we are to continue to allow the different groups of people interested in our natural spaces to maximise their enjoyment. To start with, if you are keen on exploring the world of fungi, for study or perhaps for ‘your own’ cooking pot, start by reading the BMS’s Code.

If you have to pick mushrooms, make sure you’re allowed to pick and pick sensibly, with others in mind.