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Fungi Q&A

The New Forest is a very special place for fungi and we are appealing to people to look but not pick, leaving the autumn spectacle for the enjoyment of all.

• The public are being urged to support a ‘No Picking on New Forest Crown Land (SSSI)’ Code

• Commercial pickers are being reminded that it has NEVER been permitted to pick … and that we will continue to work with the Police and Natural England to deal with cases in the most appropriate way.

• Educational fungal foray leaders are being reassured that their permissions will be honoured for the 2016 season

• Restaurant owners are being invited to support the campaign

1. When does the no-picking rule come into effect?
Now, autumn 2016 – the new code is applicable this season. We understand that it may take time for people to learn about and understand the new rule, so this campaign aims to get across the important messages about the ‘no-picking’ rule, the importance of the New Forest for fungi and appeals to all to help us protect this special place.

2. What is so special about the New Forest and its fungi?
The New Forest National Park is internationally important for wildlife and is covered by local, national and international designations. The New Forest Crown lands, managed by the Forestry Commission make up about half of the area of the National Park and the majority of the New Forest SSSI. The SSSI is designated in part for its’ interesting fungi and is a stronghold for many rare and endangered species.
 
• Fungi are a crucial part of the Forest’s biodiversity and ecosystem. As well as a source of food for wildlife, they are fundamental to the wood decay processes, recycling of nutrients, and in many cases form mutually beneficial relationships with plants via their roots (these are called mycorrhizal fungi).

• In recent years there has been increasing pressure on the fragile SSSI land, due to the widespread gathering of fungi which has become a more fashionable pastime.

• There is conflicting opinion as to whether picking has a detrimental impact on fungi populations, and as yet no nationally agreed scientific view to guide our approach, but widespread picking does have other negative effects.

3. What are the detrimental impacts of picking fungi?
• Disturbance to other wildlife. Mushrooms provide important habitat and food for insects and other species. Picking of fungi and other fungal fruit-bodies therefore affects more than just the fungi themselves and can harm some invertebrate populations.

• Trampling effects and erosion of wildlife habitats on the SSSI, including inappropriate parking of vehicles on grass verges.

• The spores from fungal fruit-bodies are released into the air to spread the next generation of fungi. Preventing or limiting spore production through the removal of fruit bodies could reduce the genetic diversity of populations and also the capacity of species to ‘migrate’ in response to climate change.

• There is a difference between when fruit-bodies are eaten by wildlife which can help spread the spores of some species, and when they are taken and consumed by people. Removing fungi from the site can break this pathway of dispersal.

• Rare and endangered fungi may be collected in error. Removal of the fruit-bodies impacts on the enjoyment of others who wish to study, admire or photograph their many forms.

4. How will FC deal with Commercial exploitation of fungi?
• Commercial collection of fungi without the permission of the landowner has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968.

• We are working with Natural England and the Police to deal with commercial collection in the most appropriate way.

• Vehicle stickers will be used (as in previous year) where suspected cases of commercial picking are found.

• Natural England has access to a range of flexible civil sanctions to use as alternatives to prosecution. These sanctions were introduced by The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions (RES) Act 2008 the Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010 and the Environmental Civil Sanctions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2010. A RES Stop Notice is a written notice that prohibits a person from continuing an activity. It can also prohibit an activity from continuing until specific steps have been taken. They can be used where we reasonably believe that an unlawful activity is causing or presents a significant risk of causing serious harm to human health or the environment. 

• Fungi collected and suspected as being for commercial purposes will be confiscated and used as evidence.

5. What sanctions are in place if somebody is found picking? How will the FC police this?
If FC staff find an individual/small group picking small amounts for their own consumption without a permit, they will be approached and politely told about the appeal for ‘no-picking in the New Forest SSSI’ . They will be given a leaflet which outlines the new code and asked not to pick.

We are not seeking to prosecute individuals that are picking for themselves – it is not illegal. We are appealing to people’s better nature, encouraging visitors to see the bigger picture. Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi.

Forestry Commission staff will use their discretion and judgement in dealing with fungi pickers. If possible, picked fungi will be returned to the forest where they can continue to be part of the forest ecosystem – maximising chances of spore dispersal in their natural environment and enabling insects to complete their larval development.

Suspected commercial collection will be dealt with as outlined in 3 above.
If we reasonably believe that an unlawful activity is causing or presents a significant risk of causing serious harm to the environment, tools such as the Stop Notice may be issued.

6. What do the Forestry Commission byelaws say about fungi picking?
There is nothing specific in the byelaws re. fungi which were enacted in 1982:
“No person shall in or on the land of the commissioners… Dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub, plant, whether living or not, or remove seeds therefrom…”

The FC in England is not likely to seek an update (modernisation) of its byelaws because of the cost (including wider consultation) and the parliamentary timescales needed to process the necessary statutory instruments.

7. How will I know if I am on the New Forest SSSI or not?
All of the Forestry Commission Crown land in the New Forest is covered by the SSSI designation. Green Forestry Commission threshold signs clearly demarcate land in FC ownership. Posters displayed in popular FC car parks during the main fungus season hotspots, clearly informing visitors that no picking is permitted on the FC Crown lands, SSSI of the New Forest.
Other landowners managing publically accessible SSSI land in the New Forest are supportive of this campaign and taking a similar approach.  This includes the National Trust and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

A map showing the New Forest Crown lands/SSSI is available on the Forestry Commission’s website.

8. Where else can I go and pick fungi locally?
The Forestry Commission’s campaign only applies to the Crown Lands/SSSI of the New Forest. The no-picking rule does not apply to the whole of the Public Forest Estate across England.

Permission must always be sought from private landowners before picking.

9. What about foraging permissions?
The Forestry Commission are working with Natural England to complete a Habitat Regulation Assessment for permitted educational fungi related events to take place on Forestry Commission land.  With Natural England’s support, we will honour existing and issue new permissions for the 2016 season, and hope to work further with these permission holders to ensure these events are both sustainable and appropriate. 

All foray leaders and those wishing to undertake fungus related scientific research must obtain permission from the Land Owner.

10. Are you stopping restaurants/foragers from picking?
As part of the campaign, we have approached hotels/restaurants in the New Forest to let them know about the code, and to appeal for their support. We are asking them to promote ‘High morel standards’  to help us to highlight the sensitive New Forest environment. If they do source fungi locally, outside of the NF SSSI (on private land with permission/elsewhere) they can use the campaign strapline alongside their menus.

11.  Is the no-picking rule for ever?
We are trailing this precautionary approach here in the New Forest and will continue to review our position on fungi picking on the New Forest SSSI, taking advice from Natural England and other conservation bodies. We will work with partnership organisations to help develop national codes of good practice for foraging.

12.   Where is the evidence of widespread picking?
Anecdotal information suggests that commercial picking is on the increase, and the aftermath of teams of pickers can often be seen.

There is conflicting opinion as to whether picking has a detrimental impact on the fungi.  There is not yet a nationally agreed scientific view to guide our approach.  However, we do know that intensive harvesting of fruits of other wild species, such as seed-bearing plants, can over long periods have a negative impact on their populations. 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).

13. How can preventing people doing something they have done for generations help engage them in caring for the Forest?
We continue to actively encourage people to get out into the New Forest and to enjoy the autumn spectacle of fungi, we just ask that they don’t pick.  Fungi are great to admire and marvellously photogenic too.

We hope that the campaign will further educate people in highlighting just what a special place this is. The New Forest is probably one of the best areas in Europe for the richness of species, as well as a stronghold for many rare and endangered species, and even some still being discovered that are new to science. All this in a comparatively small area, assessed as having the highest importance for fungi achievable in this country, as well being a Special Site of Scientific Interest.

There has been an increasing trend for foraging in recent years and this puts increased pressures on areas such as the New Forest. It is not unusual for policy changes like this to be made – examples such as collecting of birds eggs and picking wild flowers, which were once considered benign activities have been actively discouraged as greater understanding of the impact of such activities is more widely understood.

Last updated: 5th October 2016

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.