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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 please don't pick.

• The public are being urged not to pick fungi on New Forest Crown Land (SSSI)

• 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

• 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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. What sanctions are in place if somebody is found picking? How will the FC police this?
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.

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.

5. 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.

6. 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, asking visitors not to pick fungi 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.

7. 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 campaign does not apply to the whole of the Public Forest Estate across England.

Permission must always be sought from private landowners before picking.

8. What about foraging permissions?
The Forestry Commission has issued a number of permissions for foray leaders for eductional excursions during the 2017 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.

9. 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 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: 15th August 2017

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