Fungi are the largest and possibly the oldest living organisms on earth.
They are often thought of as being plants, but some experts say they are closer to being animals.
In fact fungi are in a kingdom all of their own.
There are at least 70,000 species world wide, approximately 12,000 in the UK and 2,700 in the New Forest.
Most fungi have the same basic structure - thread like hyphae, which form a web or mycelium - these webs are present in the soil and in the trees around us all the time - then the fruiting body (the ‘mushroom’ or ‘toadstool’) - which is the bit we see and eat (if edible) - when conditions are right. Autumn is usually the time to see the fruiting bodies, when a mixture of wet but mild weather will provide ideal conditions.
Fungi cannot make their own food using energy from sunlight, but grow by absorbing food and water from their surroundings – most importantly from living and dead plants and animals.
They are nature’s recyclers - without saprophytic fungi the world would be covered in dead plants and animals.
Many fungi live with trees and other plants. This is known as a mycorhizal association (from the Greek myco – fungus, rhiza – root). The fungi help the plant take up more nutrients by increasing the effective surface area of the roots, and in turn take some sugars from the plant.
This relationship is common in the woodland fungi such as the amanitas, russulas, boletus and lactarius. Certain species will only grow with certain trees (a useful help in identifying the fungi). Trees certainly grow less well without fungi.
Now that this amazing association is being understood, fungi such as the brown roll rim are sometimes added to the soil to help tree growth.
Fungi are under threat due to habitat loss and pollution. They may be under threat in some areas due to over collecting. In the New Forest there are some woods where no picking is allowed - Burley Old / Dames Slough Inclosure near Burley and Whitley Wood near New Park. This is because we wish to see if there is a noticeable difference in the long run in areas that are picked and areas that are not.
One particular concern is commercial collecting, which is not permitted anywhere. This tends to strip areas bare so there is nothing for others to enjoy. More importantly this may stop fungi spreading their spores, and definitely removes a food source for other wildlife – over 1,000 species of insects and other creatures depend on fungi for food and shelter.
Not unless you are sure that it is an edible fungus. In fact, there are more poisonous plants than fungi and more people are poisoned by edible fungi which have gone off, than by truly poisonous species. However there are indeed a small number of deadly fungi and the rule is that you must never eat anything (fungi or plant) unless you are sure what it is.
If you fancy trying to pick some wild mushrooms these are some simple guidelines:
- Go out with someone who knows what they are looking at
- Follow the fungi pickers code
- Don’t mix edible & non edible species in a basket
- Identify the exact species
- If you are trying a new one, eat a small amount
The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific interest with over two thousand varieties of fungi, many of which are rare and internationally- important species.
We appeal to people to look, but don’t pick.
Commercial harvesting is not permitted and foray leaders must obtain a licence.
We’re reviewing the guidelines on picking for personal consumption. New restrictions will be trialled to lessen the impacts on this very special habitat, call 0300 067 4601 for the latest details.