Burdock Root

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa), invading a flower bed.

One of the great joys of foraging is trying something new and finding out it’s delicious. Sometimes it is something you’ve never found before, or at least never recognised (this is particularly likely with fungi). In the UK there is also another obstacle to trying certain new things, and that is the law that uprooting wild plants without the landowner’s permission is illegal. In some cases this law is a bit irrelevant – nobody is going to notice or complain if you dig up a few Lesser Celandine tubers, for example. They are ludicrously common and abundant, and the tubers are like miniature potatoes, except not far beneath the surface. Burdock is a bit different, especially Greater Burdock, which is a big plant with a big, edible taproot. Not the sort of thing you can just casually uproot and wander off with, without anybody noticing.

Greater Burdock taproot, almost complete

Burdock is, of course, one of the best known of all British wild foods, because it has been combined for centuries with Dandelion to make a beverage, originally alcoholic, usually a soft drink these days (although the drink you’ll find on sale today rarely contains any of either plant). It is well known in herbal medicine also, and claimed to be of use for a wide range of ailments, especially those afflicting the liver.

Burdock is a biennial – it starts growing in the summer of one year, then overwinters in a dormant state before maturing, flowering and setting seed the following year. So when last autumn I noticed one had taken up residence in a flower bed in my back garden, I decided to just let it grow, and harvest it once it had started to become a nuisance. They are supposedly best when harvested around midsummer, but this one was getting too big for its location and so this afternoon I decided to dig it up and try eating it.

Prepared Burdock root

Digging up a Burdock taproot turns out not to be so easy. This one hadn’t even finished growing, but it was still presented a challenge to dig up that comes second only to Horseradish in my personal experience. The main root went well below the deep layer of topsoil and into the thick, sticky clay below. My fork didn’t survive the process, and I eventually had to use a hand trowel to excavate as far down the root as possible, before giving up trying to extract the entire thing undamaged and just pulling has hard as possible. Most of it came out. I presume, and rather hope, that it won’t grow back from the remnant that remained in the ground.

So what to do with it? The leaves were inedibly bitter, but the central part of the stem made a perfectly acceptable snack, briefly microwaved with a bit of butter. The main event was that taproot, though. I had read somewhere that most of the flavour was in the skin, and so to try to remove the dirt with the back of a knife under running water. It proved a bit too dirty and knobbly for this, so I ended up using the blade of the knife and lost quite a bit of the skin.

Steamed Burdock root, with a bit of butter

I tried three different ways of cooking it. Firstly I just microwaved it, with a little butter. This worked quite well, apart from it being tricky to get the timing right. Too short a time and it was a bit tough, too long and it was a bit dried up and crispy. Obviously the “correct time” depends on how much you are microwaving. It is therefore probably better to steam it, since the timing is more consistent and you can just poke it with a fork to see if it is ready. It took about eight minutes to be just right. Again I served with a bit of salted butter, and it was superb. Perhaps a little stringy around the edges, but the taste was delicate and delicious, very similar to Jerusalem Artichoke (to which it is distantly related). Burdock Root is packed with nutrients, especially Vitamin-C and Vitamin-A, and this is one of those wild foods that actually tastes like it is good for you.

Poussin casserole (just getting going in a slow cooker), with Burdock root (and other stuff…)

Finally I popped it into a poussin casserole that was already bubbling away in my slow cooker. This was one of those casseroles containing whatever happened to be available in my fridge/garden, which included a number of other wild foods. There’s some Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata – a member of the Carrot family with a rich, aniseed smell), some Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus – one of the few spring-fruiting edible wild fungi) and some Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata – a seaweed which thickens and adds a bit of umami to a casserole like this).

Poussin Casserole, with Burdock root, Sea Spaghetti, Dryad’s Saddle, Sweet Cicely and various non-wild vegetables and herbs.

The verdict: excellent, especially steamed as a side vegetable and in the casserole (and presumably therefore all manner of soups and stews). In the casserole it works better sliced into sections, rather than in lengthwise segments, so the slightly stringy bits near the edge are less noticeable. But I am an instant convert – this is a first class edible wild plant. If only it was easier to get out of the ground!

If you’re interested in joining a spring foraging course where we’ll (hopefully) be digging up and cooking some Burdock root, there’s still some places left at Bay Tree Cottage in Northamptonshire, this coming Saturday, May 13th.

Spring foraging on the Llangollen Canal

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

St George’s Mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa)

I have just returned from a week spent cruising the prettiest of Britain’s canals – the Llangollen, which runs from Hurleston in Cheshire to Llangollen in north Wales. This was my third holiday on this waterway (I love canals almost as much as I love fungi…), but the first time I’ve done it in spring, and I have learned something new about St George’s Mushrooms. This species can turn up in all sorts of places, but it has a liking for some habitats in particular. One of these, apparently, is the towpath of the Llangollen canal. I lost count of how many I passed last week (more than twenty lots), and almost all of them were in precisely the same habitat: the area between steel piling lining the canal, and the path itself. None were growing on parts of the towpath without piling, none were

St George’s Mushrooms. The Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in the top right of this photo is also edible.

on the worn down area that people walk on, and only one group were on the far side of the path, away from the canal. What is it about this precise habitat that they like so much? Are they as plentiful in the same habitat on other canals? I don’t know the answers to these questions and I’d be interested to hear from anybody who does.

Judging by the reports I’m getting from other parts of the country, it is a bit patchy for St George’s this year. The reason is fairly obvious: it has been very dry and in many places the ground is totally parched. We need some rain. I’ve personally seen none at all yet down south, although one or two other people have seen a few. They are more plentiful further north in the British Isles, where it has been a bit wetter.

Cowslip (Primula veris) and Tufted Vetch (Viccia craca)

There was no shortage of other foragables available, of course. Here are some of the best.

A lot of wild flowers are edible. Picking Cowslips is frowned on in some quarters – they aren’t as common as they once were. But they are definitely edible, and used to be popular candied, or even just eaten fresh with cream. The other flower in this picture (Tufted Vetch) is also edible.

Lady’s Smock (or “Cuckooflower”) (Cardamine pratensis)

Ramsons (or “Wild Garlic”)(Allium ursinum)

Lady’s Smock is typically found in meadows, but is happy to take up residence by the side of a lock overflow channel.






Ramsons (aka “Wild Garlic”) were abundant at the Welsh end of the canal, not so much at the English end. The combination of Ramsons and St George’s Mushrooms works well.





St George’s Mushrooms and Ramsons with Lady’s Smock in lemon juice.

Ramsons and St George’s Mushrooms, with Lady’s Smock:

Chop the St George’s Mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then add chopped Ramsons leaves and fry for another minute or two. Allow to cool, then add lemon juice and Lady’s Smock flowers. Serve chilled.




Larch (Larix decidua) needle tea

There are quite a lot of Larch trees lining the towpath of the Llangollen, and these can provide two sorts of food. The soft inner bark is edible, and can be ground and used like flour. In spring, the fresh needles (Larch is deciduous, and re-grows its needles each year) can be made into a tea which has a number of claimed medical properties, including being high in vitamin C and “expelling flatulence”.



Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh Marigolds were also very abundant. This species is slightly toxic and should not be consumed in large quantities, but the young leaves are edible and the unopened flower buds can be pickled and used like capers.




Pignut (Conopodium majus)

In some shady areas there were pignuts on the towpath. These have tasty tubers (the “nuts”), which can be found by following the stem underground. The tubers are frequently not directly under the plant, and the base of the stem is rather fragile, so finding them is not always as easy as you think it is going to be.




Pignut tuber

It is illegal to uproot wild plants without the landowner’s permission, so I left the ones I found last week – the picture of the tubers is from a couple of years ago.






More St George’s Mushrooms

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Sorrel is a well-known edible wild plant, and reasonably common along the towpath of the Llangollen canal.








Hogweed (Heraclium sphondylium)

Hogweed is extremely common on uncultivated land all over the British Isles. It is a bit of an overlooked delicacy, and at its best right now, as it produces its most vigorous leaf shoots. These should be cooked in butter – loads of it. Just keep adding more butter to the frying pan until it doesn’t soak any more up!






Wavy Bitter-cress (Cardamine flexuosa) and Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). Dinner and death, side by side.

The last plant picture is of two species, growing side by side on one of the overflow channels that carry water past the locks on this canal (the canal is used to transport water from the River Dee to the reservoir at Hurleston, so these overflow channels are always full of fast-flowing water). On the left is Wavy Bittercress – an excellent edible salad leaf, often found in damp places, that isn’t particularly bitter, despite its name. On the right is the most dangerous toxic wild plant in the UK, measured by the number of deaths and serious cases of poisoning – Hemlock Water-dropwort, which can be mistaken for various edible members of its family (Apiaceae), most notably Wild Celery, which also lives in an aquatic habitat.

Even more St George’s Mushrooms

And finally, no blog about a holiday on the Llangollen Canal would be complete without a picture of the most spectacular aqueduct on the planet: Pontcysyllte (“pont-ker-sulth-tee”). With nothing but half an inch of lead between the boat and a sheer 120ft drop to the Dee valley, it is enough to give modern-day health-and-safety officials nightmares. Telford’s masterpiece was already something of a white elephant when it was completed, because it cost so much to build that no money was left to complete the rest of the proposed main line of the canal to Chester, and because in the decade between its inception and completion, cheaper sources of coal had been discovered than those in the hills to the north of the aqueduct. Worth every penny, though.

Urban and Suburban Foraging

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

Foraging in urban and suburban areas can be even more productive than the countryside. This may seem surprising, given that much of urban and suburban areas are covered with tarmac and concrete, but this downside is offset by two factors. Firstly there is a significantly greater variety of habitats available, especially in suburban areas. A meadow is just grassland, woodlands are more diverse unless they are forestry monocultures, but towns and cities provide many different micro-habitats. Secondly there is the fact that in urban and suburban areas there is a huge variety of introduced plants, both native and non-native. You might argue that this doesn’t really count as “foraging”, but it is certainly food for free (although see below for notes on legality). There are also hazards to be aware of, some of which are common to all types of foraging (you need to be certain of the identification, because poisonous species abound), and some of which are more specific to urban/suburban areas. The most obvious of these is pollution, especially of the canine variety.

Lamb’s Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)

To give some idea of what can be found in a relatively small area, here is what turned up yesterday morning on a 15 minute wander that took me no more than 150 metres from our house. This is not a comprehensive list – just a selection of the best stuff.

Our garden backs on to a backstreet, and the first edible wild plant was growing at the base of the outside of the back wall of our shed (which is at the far end of our garden). This is unfortunately typical of the sort of location you might want to think twice about collecting food from in areas where dogs are walked (and yes that is a fag butt), but you can always wash it! The plant is Lamb’s Lettuce, also known as “Corn Salad” – something you can find on sale in many supermarkets, as a salad leaf.


On the other side of the road is another wall, this one the boundary of a pub garden, and at the end of that garden is gorgeous pink Magnolia tree. Magnolia petals are edible, either raw as a somewhat unusual salad ingredient, or pickled. Taking parts of cultivated plants from within the boundary of private land is theft (if they are growing as “weeds” then it is not theft unless you intend to sell them), but you can take anything that is hanging over the boundary and therefore on public land. Magnolias are very pretty, but they are also super-abundant for the brief period they are flowering, so taking a few petals is not so bad.

Rosemary (Rosmarinum officinalis)

From here I walked about 15 metres to the front of the pub and took a left, and immediately encountered a foragable herb: Rosemary, again hanging over the boundary and clearly on public land so perfectly legitimate quarry for a forager. In the background, across the main road, you can see the local “Gospel Hall”, which boasts a car park that almost nobody ever uses (the gate is permanently padlocked). Foraging from the ground in car parks is generally a bad idea, but a car park that is rarely used is likely to be reasonably free of pollution, including the canine variety.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

And growing from a crack in concrete in this particular car park is another herb: Chives. Very easily mistaken for grass – it pays to pay attention when foraging.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)

From the gospel hall I turned right and just another 20 metres is another ecclesiastical building, this time the Victorian church of St Luke. Growing on its front wall is an edible plant that can be found on walls all over the country. Ivy-leaved Toadflax is slightly bitter, and can be used sparingly in salads, but is probably most valued decoratively. Next to the church is another pub, this one closed since the last owners shut up shop at Christmas. With nobody maintaining the plant pots, nature has taken over. Yes, there are some cigarette butts in there, but that doesn’t render the plants any less foragable.

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) and Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Of the three in this pot, two are excellent edible species, and high enough off the ground to be out of the range of all but the largest dogs. From left to right, Groundsel is mildly poisonous, Smooth Sow-thistle is a good salad leaf – slightly bitter but perfectly edible – and Hairy Bittercress is one of the very best (it is neither particularly hairy, nor bitter, and can be found growing in an unattended pot or bed near you).

Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum)

I then turned right again and headed back towards my back door, via a different set of side-streets. At the base of a garage wall was a thistle. These can be difficult to identify when they aren’t flowering, but they’re all edible. This one is Woolly Thistle and it is armed with some pretty fearsome spines, but they are easily dealt with.

Woolly Thistle, ready to be tackled.

You need to carefully cut the spines of the base of each leaf, so you can hold it without getting spiked. Then you run a sharp knife down the sides, from the base towards the tip, and the spines will come off along with the leaf blades. You can then use the knife to peel off the skin (and the “wool”), leaving the crunchy centres of the stem and the main shafts of the leaves. This species is slightly more bitter than some of its relatives, and it benefits from being soaked in water for a couple of hours to leach out the bitter compunds (although it is perfectly edible without this preparation).

Woolly Thistle, ready to be steamed. The fat section at the top is the developing main stem, the rest are the middle of the leaves.

It should then be steamed for a few minutes and served with salted butter. A few metres away from the thistle was a thick stand of lush Ground Elder – a plant brought to the UK by the Romans both as a food source and a treatment for gout.

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

Gardeners may hate it for the difficulties involved in getting rid of it, but foragers just see it as a free, wild substitute for spinach.

The next find was the result of a tip-off. A lady had spotted me photographing the Magnolia, and when I told her I was interested in it as food rather than for its beauty she said that there was Wild Garlic growing in the alleyway that runs along the back of her own garden,which was very close. Since this alley is a dead end, I had never been down there before yesterday. It turned out she was wrong – or at least most people aren’t referring to the plant she was talking about as “Wild Garlic”. It is another Allium, usually known as Three-

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)

Cornered Leek, or Three-Cornered Garlic. Another one of the very best wild edible spring plants, but there are many better places locally (dog-wise) to pick it than this!

Dandelion (Taraxum sp.)








Having done a mini-circuit from my back door, I then tried from the front. The gardens are well above ground level here, and a few of them are unmanaged. Plenty of scope for foraging, and nobody is going to complain about somebody foraging Dandelion leaves. This plant is sometimes overlooked as a foragable item, perhaps because it is so common, but is has long been a popular wild food in France, where the young leaves are eaten in salads.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

It wasn’t Dandelions I was really after though – my destination was an unadopted road a little further away. Here I was looking for another foraged Spring treat, but an increasingly hazardous one. The plant in question is Japanese Knotweed, the young stems of which are a less sweet but nevertheless perfect substitute for Rhubarb. Unfortunately (for a forager), at least in some areas, people are getting rather efficient at treating this seriously damaging invasive species with weedkiller – industrial-strength weedkiller of the sort you most definitely don’t want to be consuming. It is very difficult to be certain the Knotweed you’ve found has not been treated very recently, but there are some tell-tale signs that show quite quickly. Obviously avoid any plant that is wilting and looks like it might be dying, but also look carefully for two lines running lengthwise up the leaves. The weedkiller is often applied in this pattern. I am not 100% certain these have been weed-killered, but there does appear to be some lines and they will not be on my menu. I have plenty of rhubarb in my garden anyway…

Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

So I made my way back home empty-handed on the Knotweed front, but there were still a couple more edibles to be found. The first was Comfrey, growing out of a wall. This species has been used by humans for a long time, both as food and medicine, but has recently come under the spotlight as potentially dangerous due to its content of liver-damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details of what is a rather complicated debate surrounding the safety of Comfrey, but in summary, provided the species really is Common Comfrey (which has white flowers, not pink or purple), and you are eating the leaves rather than the roots, and you aren’t pregnant, the dangers are so minimal as to be irrelevant.

White Stonecrop (Sedum album)

The last edible plant I found was growing from the gutter of the only derelict property in my neighbourhood. Derelict properties can be rich picking for foragers, but this particular plant can be found growing in gutters all over the place, as well as easier places to get to. White Stonecrop is a slightly hot succulent that can contribute a crunchy component to a foraged salad.

Free food really is growing all around us. You just have to know what you are looking for, and pay attention.

Ramsons and Egg Salad

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

Picking Ramsons (Wild Garlic) 04/03/2017

Picking Ramsons (Wild Garlic) 04/03/2017

Spring is most certainly in the air. The last bout of cold weather down here on the south coast already seems a while ago, and our pond is bubbling like a cauldron with spawning common frogs and the most advanced Alexanders plants are about to burst into flower. And in those woods where Ramsons (Wild Garlic) abounds, the most advanced plants now have leaves big enough to be worth collecting. I am going to refer to this plant – Allium ursinum – as “Ramsons” for the rest of this post, even though it is widely refered to as “Wild Garlic”. This is because there are several other wild Allium species that are refered to as “Garlic” of one sort or another (several of which are also becoming available at this point). It is easy to recognise, because there is nothing else around at the moment with this combination of broad blades and strong garlicky aroma. You do have to take a bit of care

Ramsons in April 2016, East Sussex

Ramsons in April 2016, East Sussex

though – in the woods where we were foraging today, which are in a deep valley, the Ramsons dominate the lower levels while Bluebells dominate the higher slopes. There is a small band in the middle where both species grow together, and very small Ramsons leaves can look like very small Bluebells leaves. Also watch out for Lily of the Valley, which is the poisonous plant most easily mistaken for Ramsons. Again, just make sure what you are eating smells of garlic!

As for what to do with them – they go well just as wilted greens, or in a pesto, but today we had the classic Ramsons dish: Ramsons and Egg Salad. This is very simple to make, and delicious.

Ramsons and Egg Salad

Ramsons and Egg Salad


Fresh Ramsons leaves
Dijon Mustard
Sea Salt

The amounts of these ingredients is entirely down to taste – just make it up as you fancy (although a rough guide is about the same volume of Ramsons and Eggs, and a lot more mayonaisse than mustard). Wash the Ramsons and remove most of remaining water with a tea towel, then spread out and leave to dry. Then hard boil the eggs (ten minutes), peel, roughly chop and put in the fridge to cool. When the Ramsons are dry and the eggs are cool, chop the Ramsons put in a bowl with the eggs and the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Serve with fresh crusty bread, and serrano or parma ham.


Fungi and Climate Change

Phone: 07964 569715 Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

Mushroom season 2016 is nearly over. Not quite over yet (I found some lovely Penny Buns today), but I am not expecting much new stuff to appear before the winter. It has not been a vintage year. Not the total wipeout of the second half of last autumn, but a lot of species either didn’t fruit at all this year or fruited very patchily and unenthusiastically. On the other hand, it was a memorable year for a few species, including a couple of the most spectacular: Fly Agarics and Honey Fungus.

The poor showing of most species has prompted more than one person to ask me whether it has anything to do with climate change, and what it is likely to mean for the future. 2016 is without doubt an important year in terms of climate change. We are on target for yet another record-breaking year in terms of average global temperatures, and there is something very scary going on in the Arctic right now. The deviation from historically-normal concentration of sea ice, which had been in steady decline for several years, has just fallen off a cliff. Some sort of tipping point has been reached, whereby the sea has gone from pretty much frozen in November, to pretty much not frozen.

arctic sea ice disappearance

Arctic sea ice disappearance

Among other side-effects, this disappearance of the sea ice has led to the starvation of 80,000 reindeer. The reindeer usually feed on lichens beneath soft snow, but the changing climate has caused the snow to melt and then refreeze, covering their food in a thick layer of ice they cannot penetrate.

Fungi are less directly affected by climate; they are more at the mercy of weather, which is not the same thing. It is highly unlikely that the British Isles, which sits under a moving junction of several different climate systems, will experience a radical change –  we are destined to continue getting random and unpredictable weather, even if on average it gets a bit warmer. We’ll still have extended spells of dry, wet, warm or cold weather, at unpredictable times of year, as the competing climate systems move about.  It was the extended dry spell in late summer and early autumn that caused the problems this year – drainage ditches and ponds that are normally 1ft deep in water were empty until the end of October, and are only starting to fill up now.

Ruddy Bolete (Boletus rhodoxanthus)

Ruddy Bolete (Rubroboletus rhodoxanthus)

A lot of fungi have extensive ranges that are determined by average temperatures.  Their spores travel far and wide, but they are specialised in terms of at what temperature they can compete successfully with other fungi.  They therefore tend to be common in the centre of their range, and rare at the edges, where the temperature doesn’t suit them so well. This is likely to be relevant to fungi foraging in the longer term, because quite a few species of interest to foragers are much more common further south in Europe. This includes quite a few boletes (mushrooms with tubes and pores rather than gills). British foragers are not accustomed to watching out for poisonous boletes because the only poisonous British boletes are so rare that most people will never find them. This is exactly the sort of thing that is likely to change, because at least five poisonous boletes are considerably more common further south and are likely to become more common in the British Isles as the climate warms up.  They are the Devil’s Bolete (Rubroboletus satanus), the Bilious Bolete (Rubroboletus legaliae), the Ruddy Bolete (Rubroboletus rhodoxanthus), the Oldrose Bolete (Imperator rhodopurpureus) and the Brawny Bolete (Imperator torosus).

Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus)

Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus)

It is not all bad news though! Also in this category of likely-to-move-northwards is the best edible bolete of them all: the Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus). I’ve only ever seen this species on a handful of occasions, and always near the south coast. It is the only bolete tastier than a Penny Bun, and it is very welcome if it chooses to launch a serious invasion!

In other news, I have now been given the go-ahead by the Forestry Commission to run public sessions in Hemsted Forest next year, which means vouchers are available for Christmas presents. Details of this and other events in 2017, including my first dedicated coastal foraging sessions are here.

Finally, just a reminder that I am still selling signed copies of my book at the RRP of £20, including packing and postage.

British Fungi Foraging and the Internet: Teething Pains of a New Culture

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


cover_cropFirstly for anybody who doesn’t already know, my new book (Edible Mushrooms – A forager’s guide to the wild fungi of Britain, Ireland and Europe) came out last Thursday (see link at top of page). The customer reviews have already started rolling in on Amazon , if you’d like to know what some of the early buyers think of it. I’d like to thank everybody at Green Books for their hard work in the production of this book. I’m still selling signed copies for £20 (the RRP) including P&P, so email me if you’d like one.

This post is mainly about things I’ve encountered while promoting the book on the internet, some of which are rather worrying. I’m not a big fan of Facebook – I’m a bit old school and prefer forums, especially because of the ability to search for historical posts and follow complex discussions. But in order to get the word out about the book, I joined a number of facebook groups related to fungi and foraging. I am very familiar with the conflict between conservationists/mycologists and foragers that has sprung up in the wake of the pro-foraging cultural change we’ve seen in Britain in recent years. I’ve spent the last five years trying to find a balanced view in the middle of it, and as a result I’ve ended up making both friends and enemies on both sides. That dispute is far from being resolved, with the recent “ban” on personal picking in the New Forest being an example of what some people in mycology and conservation want to achieve of a wider scale: the prohibition of fungi foraging. In that case the “ban” turned out to be toothless, because it is legally unenforceable, but it was a statement of intent that must not be ignored.

What I was less aware of is the level of conflict and argument that exists within the foraging world, especially on the internet. This is also partly the result of the rapidly changing culture – not long ago there simply wasn’t any foraging community in the UK – but it is also partly directly the result of the existence of the internet, which would have been a game-changer anyway, even if the British had historically foraged for fungi.

The disputes I am talking about can be broken down into four main categories.

(1) Arguments about identification and use of hallucinogenic varieties

This of least interest in the context of this blog post, apart from where it co-incides with (4) below – people picking stuff that they are hoping might be hallucinogenic species, then asking people online to identify them later. The arguments regarding the legality and ethics of the use of hallucinogenic fungi are beyond the scope of this post.

(2) Glorification of overpicking

Some people seem to think the goal of fungi foraging is to pick as much as possible of prized edible species, and then post a picture online of their “haul”. This is routinely followed by arguments about why they picked so much. The response from the picker is inevitably “There were tons; I left loads” – something which, conveniently, nobody else can verify, and which might well be true in a few cases but probably isn’t in most. Why would I say that? Because for these people, the main purpose of going foraging has ceased to be finding food and become a competitive sport. It is all about the photo at the end, of their massive “haul”, and the bigger the better. The goal has become to have taken the largest amount and post the most impressive picture, in the hope of gain kudos from other foragers. This behaviour leads to a culture where over-picking in encouraged. Even in the cases where it is actually true that loads were left, the very fact that these pictures are being posted, and the pickers congratulated, just encourages other people to go out and pick as much as possible. It incentivises picking everything, just like commercial foraging does. And perhaps more importantly, it hands ammunition to those people who want to see foraging banned. I even saw one instance of a professional foraging teacher asking what was wrong with selling any excess. The answer is that unless the landowner’s permission was sought for commercial collection, and granted, selling it would be illegal.

This is an appeal to people in the online foraging community to stop doing this. Stop turning fungi foraging into a competitive sport – stop posing with pictures of your massive “haul”, stop boasting about how many kilos of bay boletes you picked and stop encouraging other people to behave in this way. These are the people who are going to get fungi foraging banned. And I also ask other people in the foraging community – the ones who don’t do this – to condemn it whereever and whenever you see it.

(3) People confidently identifying other’s people fungi, incorrectly

This one is also about earning kudos in the online foraging community. Lots of people want to play fungi expert, it seems. In this environment, being able to identify the fungi in other people’s photos earns you respect. Unfortunately, some people either over-estimate their abilities or are knowingly “winging it”. They don’t just say “I think that might be X.” They say “X!”, giving the impression to the person who posted the photo that somebody who knows what they are doing has been able to provide a firm identification of a fungus. The potential consequences of this sort of behaviour are all too obvious – it hinders people’s learning process and may well lead to people getting poisoned.

Please do not pretend you are certain what something is unless you really are certain. Sometimes, of course, you can be certain but still be wrong, in which case be prepared to be corrected without getting upset. Many of the people whose misidentifications get pointed out by other people take it rather badly, leading to flame wars. I came across one lady last week who had incorrectly identified a Slender Parasol (Macrolepiota mastoidea) for a true Parasol (M. procera). When I pointed out her mistake and asked her to be more careful in the future for the reasons given above, she took it very personally and spent most of the rest of that evening demanding to know what my qualifications are, refusing to accept that she’d identified the fungus wrongly and telling me that she’d been taught how to forage by her Sicilian family, that her boyfriend owned a 250 acre farm in Somerset and that her husband (apparently she had both) “had a PhD in biotech”. None of which changed the fact that she’d incorrectly told somebody that a Slender Parasol was a true Parasol. The next morning, after a moderator had deleted everything she’d posted after my initial post pointing out her mistake, she continued with more of the same. She eventually told me that she was going to report me to Facebook for harrassment. Oddly enough, I’ve not heard anything from Facebook on this subject.

(4) Picking and hoping

Why bother learning to identify fungi when you can just go out and pick everything you find and post a photo on the internet accompanied by the words “which ones I can eat?” or “what sort of fungi are these?”. Not “are any of these rare?” or “how do I learn to identify these?” This behaviour is lazy, anti-social and ecologically irresponsible. It gives foraging a bad name and is another practice that hands ammunition to those who want it banned. And, predictably, many of the people who’ve posted pictures of their unidentified “haul” tend to get rather upset when instead of being congratulated, they are asked to stop behaving in an unacceptable way, leading to more flame wars. Perhaps the worst example I have ever seen of this wasn’t on a facebook group, but on my own facebook page (Geoff’s Fungi and Foraging) a few years ago. Somebody posted a photo of a kitchen sink full of water, with a large amount of fungi bobbing around in it. The person said “My wife picked these this morning in the local woods. Which ones are edible?” I didn’t quite know where to start. Firstly I could see at least one poisonous Amanita in the sink, so the whole sinkful was potentially contaminated with amatoxins (Are they water soluble? Does anybody know?). Secondly it is impossible to identify most fungi when they are bobbing around in a sink of water. Thirdly, most fungi absorb water like sponges and you shouldn’t even wash them if it can possibly be avoided, let alone drown them. And fourthly this was “pick and hope” on a grand scale, and the person responsible may well have been picking rare stuff. When I pointed all this out, the person who’d posted it got very angry, because I was “trying to make me and my wife look stupid in public.”

In summary

The British fungi foraging community needs, at this point, to be aware that we have arrived at something of a cultural crossroads. I believe it is now very likely, and possibly inevitable, that there is going to be a change in the law governing foraging. Right now we still have a chance to self-regulate within the community. We have a chance to influence the direction this culture develops in, to minimise some of the worst practices described above. If we do not then I fear that the result may well be that the those people who want to see fungi foraging prohibited may yet get exactly what they want. It is far from impossible. There are places in Continental Europe where a total ban is in place, and it could happen here.

Better late than never – mushroom season kicks off down south

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Fungi season kicks off in the south

Fungi collected during my first ever session with customers. Late August 2010.

It’s only a month late. After the worst September in the south of England for fungi in many years, it is finally all kicking off. In fact if we are talking variety of fungi actually found compared to what I was expecting, this morning’s session was the best for many years. I started by warning my foraging students to expect to find very little, but we found bay boletes, penny buns, chanterelles, beefsteaks, plenty of brown birch boletes, parasols, horse mushrooms, a wide variety of russulas and several sorts of Amanita including some rare ones, chicken of the woods, white-laced shanks, spindle shanks, spotted toughshanks and quite a lot of other things also.  I’ve also had reports of giant puffballs coming through – very late for those.

When is a ban not a ban?

It has now become apparent that what was reported as a “ban” on fungi foraging in the New Forest is nothing of the sort. As admitted verbally in an interview on “You and Yours” on Radio 4 a few days ago, and now in writing in the comments section of this blog: https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/look-but-dont-pick-wild-mushrooms-and-the-forestry-commission-guest-blog-by-peter-marren/#comments, the Forestry Commission has no power to enfore the “ban”.  It is entirely voluntary, and anybody is free to ignore it. The only thing they can actually stop is commercial picking, which was already illegal.

First print run of the new book arrives in the UK

cover_cropFinally, the initial printing of my new book Edible Mushrooms: a forager’s guide to the wild fungi of Britain, Ireland and Europe has now arrived on British soil. Not long to wait now! I hope to send out the first signed copies (to people who’ve already paid me for them) in the next few days. Please contact me by email if you’d like to buy one.

The mysterious case of the missing mushrooms, and other news…

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Larch Bolete (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Larch Bolete (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Given the length of time that mycologists and foragers have been watching fungi, you might think we would have a pretty good idea if there’s going to be a good year or a bad year and be able to predict what they are going to do. If so, you’d be wrong. This is actually part II of the mysterious case of the missing mushrooms – part I was the second half of last autumn. In that case what happened was an extended dry spell from mid-September to late October. That this led to a lack of fungi isn’t remotely mysterious; fungi need moisture or they cannot produce fruit bodies. The mystery was their total failure to recover when the rains finally came. I expected November 2015 to make up for the disappointing October, but the situation actually got worse, and by the end of November there was nothing to be found, even though the usual season-ending hard frost hadn’t happened. My most successful outing of last autumn was exactly one year ago: September 19th 2015. Today I returned to the precise locations I visted that day and I found sweet fanny adams. And it is not just some species that are missing; it’s almost everything apart from a few wood-consuming bracket fungi like Giant Polypore and Beefsteak Fungus. This is particularly strange, since last year’s poor showing might have been expected to be followed by a bumper harvest this year. A further element of strangeness is a geographical inconsistency – in the northern half of Britain there is a completely different story unfolding. Judging by the photos and the words of mouth, the start to the mushroom season in Scotland and northern England is at least average and in some places very good indeed.

Fly Agaric (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Fly Agaric (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

I won’t pretend that I know what is going on, but my best guess is that it is a combination of temperature and soil moisture. We’ve just had the highest September temperatures for over a century, and my home territory lies just on the border of what botanists call “hardiness zone 9”. Most of the UK is in the colder zone 8, but the south west and the areas immediately adjacent to the south and west coasts of Britain are warmer. This is due to the sea acting as a temperature buffer: daytime highs are slightly lower and nighttime lows are slighty higher. The result is that while the average lows further north have fallen below the level that triggers most of the autumn fungi to fruit, in the far south the fungi still think it is summer. Although it is more complicated than that, because what I’ve been seeing over the past two weeks is one fruit body here and there – one Deathcap, one Blusher, or as today, one Scarletina Bolete (spotted from the car, growing by the side of a road). This suggests that soil moisture content is also playing a part, even though we have had a reasonable amount of rain recently. I won’t pretend that I know what is going to happen next either, but my best guess is that it is just taking a while for the fungi to respond to recent temperature falls and heavy rain, and that within a week or two there will be fungi all over the place. I certainly hope so, because I have got a busy October ahead of me.

Penny Bun / Cep (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Penny Bun / Cep (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Speaking of which, it is probably worth reminding people of some important dates and events which still have free spaces.

Firstly, I have just added another extra date to my fungi foraging sessions in Hemsted Forest (west Kent), due to the others being booked up. This will be on Saturday November 5th (see fungi foraging link at the top of the page).

There are still places available on the fungi foraging workshops on Sat/Sun 8th/9th of October at Bay Tree Cottage in Northamptonshire, and the fungi foraging day and chef-prepared meal on Sun 16th of October at Catthorpe Manor in Leicestershire.

There will be a book launch event (free) on Sat Oct 22nd at Bookbuster, Queen’s Road, Hastings. This will include talks at 6pm and 7.15pm, and signed copies of the new book will be on sale.

There will be another launch event on Fri Nov 4th at The Garden House in Brighton, East Sussex. The launch event will include a display of a wide variety of fungi, signed copies of the book will be available, and it is followed by a talk, a tasting session and a meal (see their website for details).

New Forest fungi foraging ban part II: why the ban is wrong.

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


My previous blog post was openly critical of the Association of Foragers’ (AoF) response to the ban on picking fungi on Forestry Commission (FC) land in the New Forest. The AoF claimed that the FC’s ban was “unscientific”, but go on to make claims that are at least as unscientific as anything the FC has said. The reality is that the FC is not being unscientific, but that doesn’t mean the ban is justified. This post sets out the reasons why I believe it is a mistake.

First it needs to be pointed out that there are clear and important benefits to foraging. It gives people a reason to engage with the natural world, to learn about fungi, and to reconnect with the source of their food. A lot of people enjoy foraging very much. It also should be noted that the New Forest National Park is a publicly-owned resource, and that the Forestry Commission’s job is to manage it in the best interests of the general population of the UK.

The FC have said that the ban is “precautionary”, because “the jury is still out on whether or not foraging has a negative impact on future fungi populations.” The AoF has responded by citing two scientific studies that it says demonstrate this isn’t true. Unfortunately these studies do not demonstrate this. They only prove that picking fungi from a specific adult fungal mycelium does not have any long-term negative impact on future fruit body production from that mycelium. This should surprise nobody! The fruit bodies of fungi are not like the leaves of deciduous trees, from which nutrients can be recovered. Once they’ve been produced, the resources required for their production are irretrievably spent by the mycelium – they’re gone. It doesn’t matter what happens to those fruit bodies – whether they rot, are eaten by insects, or eaten by humans – there’s no reason it should make any difference to the mycelium that produced them. What it might make a difference to is the prospects of that mycelium reproducing. This is the real issue regarding foraging and future populations of fungi – not future harvests at the original location, but future harvests at other locations, after the original mycelium has expired. I am aware of no scientific studies that have attempted to answer this question, so we simply do not know the answer. Therefore the FC are correct – the scientific jury is still out, and there’s no prospect of firm scientific answers to these questions any time soon. Therefore we have to make decisions in the absence of clear scientific evidence.

The FC have also said that the ban is to protect populations of certain insects (small beetles and flies) that are obligatory feeders on mushrooms. The AoF has responded by claiming that foragers aren’t interested in picking the fungi that the insects eat, and demanding evidence that insect populations would suffer. No such evidence exists, but once again, this a precautionary ban, so the FC doesn’t actually need any evidence, just sufficient reason to believe insect populations would be negatively impacted. The AoF’s response is simply incorrect: many species of bolete and Agaricus that are highly prized by foragers are eaten by these insects. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to believe that the removal of fruit bodies by foragers negatively impacts the populations of these insects – the burden of proof is really on those who seek to deny something that makes such intuitive sense.

Finally the FC have cited the existence of “gangs of illegal commercial pickers”, and the AoF has questioned whether such gangs even exist. Once again, there is a lack of hard evidence upon which we might come to a firm conclusion. However, rather than questioning the existence of illegal commercial pickers, it might be more helpful to ask whether if they really do exist, given that they have already decided to do something illegal, there is any reason to believe that they will stop doing so because the FC have decided to ban currently-legal foraging for personal use. I doubt it very much. If those gangs exist then all this ban will do is ensure there are more fungi for them to illegally pick. So this is not a good justification of the ban.

There is no point in responding to a precautionary ban with demands for scientific evidence, and there’s certainly no point in responding by making scientifically questionable counter-claims. Instead, I think the way forwards is to examine the reasoning behind this precautionary ban. What, exactly, is it a precaution against?

There are cases where precautionary bans should be enacted. A perfect example was when the BSE crisis first hit the British beef industry. There was, at the time, no scientific evidence to suggest that BSE could jump the species barrier and infect humans, so the tory government at the time, under pressure from vested interests in the farming industry, declared that there was no reason to believe British beef to be dangerous. In this case a precautionary ban should have been implemented, but wasn’t. Human lives were at risk. And we eventually discovered that BSE can indeed jump the species barrier and several people died of a horrific degenerative brain disease as a result. But what is at risk in this case? The population levels of a few species of insect, and two or three species of fungi?

Let’s take the insects first. I’m all for biodiversity – biodiversity is a general measure of the health of an ecosystem. It is generally a good thing to have as much of it as possible. But not all species are equal. Some, such as apex predators like tigers and eagles, have a special status. Not only is their presence in the landscape something truly spectacular to behold, it is also a sign that the ecosystems they are the apex predators of are in a reasonably decent state of health. The loss of those apex predators tends to indicate serious problems further down the food chain, and can be a sign that the whole ecosystem is collapsing. Other species are important because they play a key role in regulating populations of other species, usually as predators or prey. Some of these species are ecological linchpins, and if they are in trouble then the whole of their ecosystem is in trouble because without them that ecosystem is thrown badly out of balance. But some species really aren’t that important. It is nice to have them around, but if they were to disappear then it wouldn’t make an enormous amount of difference to any other species, or to the ecosystem in general. So we have to ask, in what category are these beetles and flies that only feed on certain species of fungus? The Forestry Commission, and the conservationists who are the real driving force behind this ban, have not, to my knowledge, answered this question. They haven’t even been asked it. They have simply expected everybody to accept without question that the reduction of population levels of these insects would be sufficiently ecologicaly-disastrous to warrant a total ban on fungi foraging, as a precautionary measure, just in case. This looks like an absurd level of overkill. We have to make judgements all the time about conflicting interests – sometimes we have to accept something undesirable because it avoids something even less desirable or because it allows something really beneficial to take place. And in this case, the Forestry Commission has apparently decided that all of the benefits of foraging are less important than the population levels of a few species of insect – species that could disappear from the face of the Earth and nobody but a handful of entomologists would even notice. I could be wrong about this; maybe those insects are ecological linchpins. But if so, neither the FC nor the conservationists have seen fit to mention it, let alone provide any evidence to support the claim.

What about the fungi themselves? Again, instead of demanding evidence that even FC knows doesn’t exist or making unsupported claims that foraging helps spread fungi about, let’s assume that the concerns of the conservationists turn out to be justified: that foraging really does have a long-term negative impact on the ability of the fungi in question to reproduce. What are the ecological consequences this precautionary ban is protecting us against? Any human lives at risk? Any ecosystems likely to collapse? The answer: a reduction in the population levels of two or three common species of fungi. This might be a bit annoying for foragers – fewer chanterelles, hedgehog fungi and penny buns for them to pick. But who or what else might it effect? Nobody and nothing, as far as I can tell. The reduction of the number of mycelia and spores of these species would presumably make it easier for other species of fungi, of less or no interest to foragers but just as good for wildlife to eat, including rarer species that are usually outcompeted by the hedgehogs and chanterelles, to reproduce. In other words it would probably increase fungal biodiversity by selecting against common species (no, there’s no scientific evidence to support this, but it makes perfect sense). It is hard to see how it could reduce the overall populations of fungi (all species put together). We’d only expect that as a result of a loss of habitat, which is not the scenario under discussion. So again, what is the judgement that’s been taken here? Apparently the FC think that the reduction in population levels of two or three species of fungi that aren’t endangered and aren’t ecological linchpins is more important than all of the benefits of allowing foraging.

What is really going on here? The Forestry Commission has not made this decision out of the blue. It has been pressured into doing so by a small number of conservationists who have become increasingly alarmed at the ever-increasing popularity of fungi foraging. Those conservationists have long been trying to get foraging banned, and they have now managed to convince the Forestry Commission that foraging might be causing sufficient long-term ecological damage in the New Forest to prohibit it completely. Where is the justification for this precautionary ban? Where is the analysis of how the potential ecological problems that might occur compare to the loss of the positive benefits of allowing foraging that definitely will occur now that it has been banned? Who has decided which is most important, and on what basis have they taken that decision? Who are they accountable to? No such analysis has taken place. Instead, somebody at the Forestry Commission has decided, behind closed doors, for reasons that have not been adequately explained, to cave into these conservationists. If they have asked the questions they should have asked about why the ban was necessary, then they aren’t telling anybody.

This debate should not be about science that doesn’t exist. It should be about what takes priority in the absence of clear scientific data – the right of the general public to use a publicly-owned resource to engage in a thoroughly beneficial activity enjoyed by thousands of people, or the maintaining of population levels of a few species of not-very-interesting, ecologically-irrelevant insects and a handful of fungi species that aren’t remotely endangered. And the answer should be a no-brainer. Even if the conservationists are right about the insects and the fungi, they are still wrong about the ban. The Forestry Commission really does need to think again about this. The ban has been introduced for the wrong reasons. It has not happened because foraging poses any sort of serious ecological threat, but at the behest of a small number of very conservative conservationists who don’t like foragers and want to turn the clock back to the good old days when the British public was scared stiff of fungi. And unfortunately the Forestry Commission, which should be acting in the best interests of the whole population of the UK is instead doing the bidding of these reactionary conservationists.

New Forest Fungi Ban: Forestry Commission vs Forager’s Association

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


With the main mushroom season just around the corner, the long-running battle between foragers and conservationists has just gone into overdrive. This time it is serious: the Forestry Commission has banned all fungi foraging in the New Forest National Park.

I can’t say I’m surprised. The New Forest has increasingly become a victim of its own reputation as something of a Mecca for fungi foragers. It has been attracting pickers, both commercial and personal, from much further afield, and in recent years it has become harder and harder to find any fungi. However, the situation is quite complicated and many of the claims currently flying around both the mainstream media and the internet need to be examined quite carefully.

What has actually happened? According to numerous reports in the mainstream media (for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3768111/Foraging-fungi-banned-New-Forest-commercial-pickers-broke-rule-taken.html), the Forestry Commission has now prohibited all picking of fungi on its land in the New Forest. The reasons given are that commercial pickers are flouting a 1.5kg per person per day rule, picking up to 50kg. The simplest solution to this problem, they say, is to ban all picking. The decision was taken, the FC has said, to protect both future populations of fungi and populations of insects whose grubs (“maggots”) feed on the fruit bodies.

In response to this ban, an organisation called “The Forager’s Association”, which describes itself as “An international professional foragers association, promoting sustainability and ecological stewardship through teaching and harvesting wild plants and fungi for used as food, drink and medicine” has issued a press release (see: http://www.foragers-association.org.uk/). I should disclose at this point that I am not a member of this organisation, but that I do know several of its members.

The contents of this press release are worth a close look if we want to get down to the truth underlying these issues. The press release is titled:

“New Forest Fungi Picking Ban “unscientific” say fungi experts”

It begins:

“A campaign by the Forestry Commission in England to ban the picking of all fungi in the New Forest has been heavily criticised by fungi experts and foraging educators. “

Well, the Forager’s Association really is an association of foraging educators rather than fungi experts, and, put politely, one wouldn’t expect turkeys to vote for Christmas. Clearly such a ban is not in the interests of foraging educators – and it also a precedent that is not welcome – so one can be forgiven for questioning their impartiality. I am also a foraging educator, and in my case somebody who comes from a conservation and scientific background and who has spent many years trying to maintain a balanced view, often in difficult circumstances (it has felt a bit like being in the middle of a war zone at times).

The release then implies that foraging actually helps long term fungi populations (which is quite a claim), and that the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence:

“The Association of Foragers, which represents the collective knowledge and experience of nearly one hundred writers, teachers and researchers, say the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence, and is more likely to undermine fungi populations in the long term.

There are at least 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest. Only a dozen are routinely collected as food – none of which are rare”, said John Wright, author of the bestselling River Cottage Mushroom Guide, and member of The Association of Foragers.”

This claim by John Wright is correct. Yes, only a small number of species are routinely collected for food, and yes none of those are rare.

“More fungi are kicked over and trampled by the uneducated than are picked for the pot. Foraging provides an important point of human connection with these otherwise mysterious organisms”, said Mr Wright. “

Unfortunately this is also true, along with the number of fruit bodies which are collected at random by people who don’t know what is edible and what isn’t. However, the fact that many fungi are trampled, either accidentally or intentionally, does not make any difference to the fact that a lot of them are also picked by foragers, especially in places like the New Forest.

“Mark Williams, a member of The Association of Foragers who has taught about fungi in Scotland for 25 years, said: “The Forestry Commission has presented no scientific evidence to show why this ban is necessary. That’s because there simply isn’t any.” A 25 year study of the effects of picking mushrooms revealed no correlation whatsoever between picking and future growth, in the same way as picking a bramble does not impact the parent plant – in the case of mushrooms an invisible underground network called mycelium.”

This claim by Mark Williams is correct, but does leave something important out. The 25 year study in question (“Mushroom picking does not impair future harvests – results of a long-term study in Switzerland” Biological Conservation 129(2006) 271-276) did indeed demonstrate that no amount of picking made any difference to survival of the mycelium – it did not harm the adult fungal organism. The same study did demonstrate that increased trampling of the area decreases fruit body production, but there’s something else that it is more important. This study did not even attempt to assess the impact of picking fruit bodies on the fungi’s chances of reproducing – it did not measure whether picking fruit bodies in location X had a negative effect on the appearance of new mycelia in adjacent areas. In fact, it would have been impossible to measure this, because fungal spores travel far and wide and it would also have been impossible to know whether new colonies in adjacent areas were the progeny of fungi in the study area, or came from elsewhere. In summary, this study did not conclude that picking fungi does not have a negative impact on the future populations of fungi. So whether or not Mark Williams’ statement is true depends on the meaning of “future growth”. Future growth where? At the location of picking, or elsewhere?

Mark Williams continues:

“The picking and movement of mushrooms is actually more likely to help spread fungi spores and expand populations.”

This is a problematic claim. It is not impossible that it is true, but given that the Forager’s Association is complaining so bitterly about the lack of scientific support for the Forestry Commission’s ban, they do need to be careful about making counter-claims that are equally lacking in scientific support.

The truth is this: there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that picking fungi helps the growth of populations. There is some folk mythology that carrying mushrooms around in open baskets helps spread the spores about, but there is no scientific evidence to support such a claim, and since many fungal fruit bodies produce large amounts of spores long after they’ve ceased to be in edible condition, it is highly doubtful that picking fungi actually improves the prospects for future populations. At best, we simply don’t know.

The press release continues:

“The Forestry Commission also cites “fungi-dependent invertebrates” as reason for the ban. Research herbalist Monica Wilde of The AoF says: “People don’t pick the mushrooms that are appealing to maggots! The most widely eaten species – chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms – are almost entirely resistant to insects.”

This is perhaps the most worrying statement in the press release. Ms Wilde is one of the founder members of the Forager’s Association, and not a fungi expert. The above claim is deeply misleading. As already stated, at least ten species are widely picked, and while it is true that chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms are not the favourite fungi for insect grubs, several of the others most certainly are. Probably the most sought-after fungus of all – the Penny Bun or Cep (Boletus edulis) is very popular indeed with insect grubs. Indeed, in many European markets these fungi are cut open before sale in order to determine how badly infested they are. The same goes for most of the other edible boletes (mushrooms with pores/tubes rather than gills or spines), many of which are popular with foragers.

The press release continues:

“The FC also cites anecdotal evidence of “teams of commercial fungi pickers”. “This is a mantra that has been so often repeated, mostly by the tabloid press, that it has entered the public consciousness”, says Mr Williams. “With collectively 1000’s of days spent teaching and recording in the New Forest, not one member of the AoF has ever seen any evidence of this – not even a photograph. 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow.”

Well, I don’t spend much time in the New Forest. I am based on the south coast in Sussex. But I do on occasion go foraging nearer London, and I have indeed seen evidence of large-scale commercial foraging. The final claim – that 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow – might just be true of all mushrooms nationally, but there’s absolutely no way it is true of edible mushrooms in the New Forest. I am not going to get into the game of pulling statistics out of nowhere, but I’m willing to bet that very few penny buns, chanterelles or hedgehog fungi end up rotting in the New Forest.

The press release concludes:

“The AoF is calling for the FC to rethink the ban. It is unscientific, unenforceable, and will serve only to further disconnect people from the world of fungi. We urge the FC to use the collective knowledge of the AoF to help formulate evidence-based policy to support future populations of fungi”.

I am all for evidence-based policy. Unfortunately, claiming that foraging actually helps future populations of fungi is not evidence-based, nor is claiming that it doesn’t impact the ability of the fungus to reproduce, nor is claiming that the species most highly sought by foragers are of no interest to insect grubs.

I believe that a change in legislation in the UK is now very likely, although how long that takes remains to be seen. Natural England have recently instigated a project to resolve some of these problems, and also to promote the positive aspects of foraging (and there are many – including getting people out into the countryside and reconnecting them with nature).

My own contribution to this debate, in conclusion, is to call on all sides to stick resolutely to evidence-based policy and not resort to repeating unscientific folk mythology. That includes the Forager’s Association.