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This autumn, the Forestry Commission is launching a new campaign to highlight the importance of the New Forest for fungi, and to appeal to people to support a ‘no-picking’ code on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

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.

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 - 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.

Forestry Commission England is encouraging visitors to document their autumn discoveries by posting images of autumnal colour on social media channels using the hashtag #autumnleafwatch.

What do fungi do?

Fungi cannot make their own food using energyFLY AGARIC (Amanita muscaria). BUCHAN FD 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.

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PORCELAIN FUNGUS(Oudemansiella mucida) ON BEECH. NEW FOREST FPConservation of fungi

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).  

We are particularly concerned about 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.

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Fungi Code for the New Forest:

There has been an increasing trend for foraging in recent years and this puts additional pressures on areas such as the New Forest. Due to the growing concern from conservation bodies and very real fears from members of the local community, the Forestry Commission is no longer permitting picking on any scale from the SSSI.

In previous years, a ban on commercial collection and a personal collection limit have been in place. For the first time, the Forestry Commission feels it necessary to take a precautionary approach and, with the support of partners aims to spread the message about just what a special place the New Forest is.

This autumn we appeal to people to look, but don’t pick.

Commercial harvesting is not permitted and foray leaders must obtain a licence.

If you have any questions about how we are implementing the 'no-picking' code please read our useful Q and A section.

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Last updated: 8th April 2017

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