Phone: 07964 569715
I am a foraging teacher and writer based in Hastings. I started as a fungi specialist, but now work throughout the year teaching groups of people to forage for plants and seaweeds as well. In the evenings I give talks, and bring a selection of whatever is currently available for people to try. In 2016 my first book was published – the most comprehensive book available on British and northern European fungi foraging. My second book, on edible plants and seaweeds, due to be released in spring 2022.
How did I end up doing this? The short version is that I had no other job, people were asking me to do it, and it seemed stupid to say no.
The long version starts with a childhood spent roaming the Surrey Downs, always aware of the wildlife around me and always fascinated by it. The foundations of a deeper, more scientific understanding of the natural world were laid in 1979. This was the year that Voyagers I and II flew past Jupiter and sent back pictures that stunned the world, and if that wasn’t enough to capture the imagination of ten-year-old Geoff, David Attenborough’s “Life on Earth” surely was. My teenage years were largely spent watching science on TV, reading popular science books and magazines, and I chose three sciences for my A-levels. The only other thing I was really interested in was music.
My particular fascination with fungi did not take off until I was in my late teens and decided, as you do, to go searching for liberty caps or “magic mushrooms.” I didn’t find any for quite a while, but I did find all sorts of other fungi, and since cultivated mushrooms were already one of my favourite foods and since I was already the sort of person who wants to know what the wild things actually are, I tried to identify whatever I did find, especially if it looked like it might taste nice. This involved me, a book (the first edition of “Mushrooms” by Roger Phillips, without which it would have been impossible), and a great deal of caution. There was nobody to teach me, no internet to consult, and so I had to teach myself.
I did have a proper job once. I was a software engineer. For fifteen years I worked for companies making flight simulators and other hi-tech training equipment for the military. Foraging for fungi was my hobby, and I would go out two or three times every autumn – sometimes more, sometimes skipping a year – and learn something new each time. Obviously I also just came across a lot of fungi by accident, as you do, which is how I ended up knowing about the common species which appear at other times of the year.
In 2005 I was made redundant. I had a large amount of equity in my house in Brighton, no dependents, and decided to spend the next three years doing something just because I wanted to, and that was to study philosophy at Sussex University. Whilst this proved to be a most rewarding experience, it didn’t do much to help my employment prospects after I finished the course in 2008 and I ended up doing various temporary and part-time jobs. Then later that summer, with time on my hands, I set myself the task of systematically searching Sussex for every species of edible, poisonous or common fungus that I couldn’t remember having found and identified. I also did this just because I wanted to; it was not intended as a career move. It just so happened that a friend of mine was also made redundant around that time, and was more than happy to accompany me on some of my walks that autumn. In doing so he provided me with my first experience of teaching somebody else about foraging for fungi, and he also alerted to me to the growing interest in the UK in foraging for other things. At the same time, in order to improve and test my own fungi knowledge, I started following and contributing to what was being posted on a website called WildMushroomsOnline.co.uk.
2008 turned out to be a very good year for fungi, and by the end of that autumn both my friend and the owner of the website were suggesting that I offer to teach people about fungi foraging. I took my first customers out near Guildford in September 2009, and we found a penny bun within ten metres of where we’d parked the cars, rapidly followed by a collection of russulas and a fly-laden stinkhorn; I was off the mark. From there things have snowballed – mushroomed – on their own.
In the spring of 2011 I also started paying serious attention to foraging for plants and seaweeds, and being more experimental with roadkill (my first roe deer was back in about 1999.) I now have a full-time career as an expert and teacher on the topics of fungi that can be identified with five senses (and nothing more), foraging and wild food in general, other uses of wild fungi and plants, all with a slant dictated by my underlying interest in science, ecology and sustainability.
Geoff in the media:
Appearance on Radio 4 chat/magazine show Saturday live (Summer 2018)
Interview and dawn forage with BBC Radio Kent, December 2014 (the making of)
Interview on BBC Radio October 2014 Mark Forrest Show
ITV news – ten foraging tips by Geoff
ITV news – fungi poisoning story