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

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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:, 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: 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 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, which has felt 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 leaves 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 also  demonstrated that increased trampling of the area decreases fruit body production, but there’s something else that it is more important. The 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 could be 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, but not a fungi expert, and 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 or 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.

9 thoughts on “New Forest Fungi Ban: Forestry Commission vs Forager’s Association

    1. Geoff Dann Post author

      Hi Miles

      Thanks for that. I have read Peter Marren’s piece, and mostly agree with it. However, he does also focus on this Swiss study that didn’t prove what everybody seems to think it proves. It should come as a surprise to nobody that picking mushrooms does not impair future mushroom production by the same mycelium. Mushrooms are not like the leaves of deciduous trees; the mycelium can’t suck nutrients back out of them if they are left unpicked. So why should picking them make any difference to the survival of the mycelium? What is actually of interest is whether or not picking fruit bodies negatively impacts the ability of a fungus to reproduce, and regardless of what Peter says, we really do not know the answer.

      I honestly believe the FC are not the villains here. They are under immense pressure from conservationists and have been forced to make a decision they did not want to make. It is not their job to legislate. The legal framework needs to be looked at by the government so the FC is not forced to play arbiter between conservationists and foragers.

      I hope the ban can be lifted at some point in the future, and does not set an unwanted precedent. But if foragers are going to convince the FC, or the government, to change the current situation in a foraging-friendly way, then we need to make certain that we’ve got all of our facts straight and do not give into the temptation to say things we’d like to believe but have no idea whether or not they are actually true. Like “pick and flick!” or “always cut, never pluck.” These are old wives tales.


      1. Miles

        Thanks Geoff – and for leaving those comments on my blog.

        You mention conservationists, but I’m not sure even that is the source of this protest.. It’s quite difficult to see exactly where this claim that Foragers are picking the New Forest clean of fungi, or the “East European” gangs stories have emanated. But I reckon it started in Epping Forest and the Corporation of London. Then it appears that the New Forest Association has stirred up the Verderers – and this has led to the National Trust, then the FC, taking action.

        Insofar as they are the lead organisation for fungi conservation (arguably), Plantlife has not made any statement about the effects of picking. Nor has the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. As you have noted, Natural England are both apparently encouraging foraging and supporting its ban.

        I think this story is mostly about people feeling that “their” forest (whether it be Epping or New) is being exploited by outsiders (with East Europeans being an easy target), rather than by them.

        On your point regarding whether the loss of fruiting bodies is preventing the spread of fungi, I’m not sure it’s particularly relevant. Given how little suitable woodland (that is not already home to eg chanterelle) there is in England, I suspect there are still more than enough spores floating around, but most of them are landing in unsuitable places. But we can all guess equally badly on this, as there is no evidence either way. Does anyone know how far a Chanterelle spore will travel?

        1. Geoff Dann Post author

          Hi Miles

          Some fungi spores can certainly travel a long way, as there are occasional records of species appearing a very long way outside their normal ranges.

          But at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that as far as the science is concerned, most of it is missing.

          And yes I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the stories about gangs of illegal pickers originated from the London area.


  1. Pete Flood

    Hi Geoff,

    Great piece – what a relief to read a balanced article from a forager’s perspective. Peter Marren’s piece was good too, but demonising the FC for their forestry practices in the 1950s doesn’t seem particularly helpful.

    A couple of points:

    Re the organised gangs – in sixteen years all I’ve seen is a group of four Eastern European men heading for the car park with a small plastic bag of Lactarius deliciousus. Maybe it happens – it’s a big place after all – but my gut feeling is that the forest is simply not productive enough to make it worthwhile.

    As for over-exploitation – plenty of fungi rot in situ in the New Forest. I could show you numerous pics of gone-over specimens of all the major edible species you mention. I remember in particular (in nightmares!) a woodland ride lined on both sides with wilting, slug-munched and infested ceps. It’s also true that the best chanterelle spot I know lies beside a busy gravel path, 30 metres from a car park – I’ve seen scant evidence of picking in the four years I’ve been going there.

    As someone who is coming into a second career in conservation through a love of nature which was opened up by yearly mushrooming trips to the forest, I find the ban particularly hard to stomach. But conservation is a lost battle if we can’t look beyond our own short term gains. I’ll be looking elsewhere this autumn, and rueing the loss of some prime spots.


    1. Geoff Dann Post author

      Hi Pete,

      Thanks for your support, and your additional information.

      As for the ban…it has become apparent that the Forestry Commission cannot legally enforce it. It is not really a ban. They have no sanction to prevent picking for personal use. This much was admitted on Radio 4 yesterday.


  2. Keith Braithwaite

    A well-balanced article.

    The problem here is much the same as for the problems caused by cycle events in the New Forest; a few people engaging in an activity are fairly harmless but, as seems to happen so often in modern Britain, too many get involved and it becomes unsustainable.

    The National Trust banned fungi picking shortly after a well-reported episode a year or so ago when, on Black Hills in the New Forest, a gang did indeed descend and strip the area of fungi. Edible and edible fungi were only sorted after the event.

    The FC stance came about only after it became clear that restricting picking to 1.5 kilo for ‘personal use’ was impossible to police.

    Let’s face it: an inability to collect fungi is not exactly a great disaster in the scheme of things.

  3. JC

    Makes a change from moaning about the amount of cyclists or Bank holiday traffic……Maybe banning all photographers could be on the agenda next or considering imposing a fee or seasonal pass to enter… with some person dressed in green on every grid…”Only people with NF venture permits can pass over the cattle grids. can I see you permit please” or making it park and ride……lol’ ……On a more serious note …If the 1.5KG limit was not adhered to, who honestly believes that the current fungi ban is going to make any difference at all……..There are clearly too many opinions by too many experts trying to enforce their will on us all….We are all here for such a short time and so many ideas put in place years ago have proved to be awful for the New Forest…. Your stripping the Fun out of Fungi…

  4. Christian

    Dear Geoff,

    below the letter I wrote in September 2015 to the attention of John Ward (New Forest Association), John Wright (Wild Food Net) and Sarah Cadbury (British Mycological Society).

    I have never received any reply, but I hope it might be helpful for the subject of this topic:

    Good evening,

    I am an Italian expert and responsible mushrooms picker.

    I went to the New Forest a couple of times, last season in October, and now last Tuesday.

    As I live in London, In both occasions stayed there overnight, meaning that I also supported in some ways the local economy, sleeping in b&b and eating in the restaurants located in Lindhurst.

    And as I did last year, I checked the rules and I provided myself with a wicker basket before going.

    The aim was just to get some mushrooms to have dinner with my family.

    Then I came across the issue raised in the last months by Sarah Cadbury from the British Mycological Society, who asked for a total ban similar to the one which applies in the Epping Forest.

    Let’s say immediately that I personally cannot agree with such an extreme decision, in Italy we have been foraging mushrooms for centuries, and I think nobody has never thought about applying such a restrictive measure. It would be very unpopular, also because there is not enough scientific support that responsible foraging might harm the environment in any way.

    But then last Tuesday I went to the New Forest and I came across with such irresponsible mushroom pickers, who I personally stopped in the middle of the forest in order to ask them explanations and making them aware about the potential damages they might cause to the habitat. Three of them were Eastern Europeans, one was a local.

    Why I consider them irresponsible ?

    It has nothing to do with the quantity, but instead it has to do with the way they were foraging… I couldn’t believe it.. all of them were using PLASTIC BAGS, which in my country not even a twelve year old would use to go for mushrooms picking !!!

    I tried to explain that a plastic bags doesn’t give the spores the opportunity to return to the soil, and then to the mushroom to reproduce, plus the fact that a poisoning mushroom might affect the others in a plastic bag, for not considering the conservation of the mushrooms themselves once back home and ready to cook them.

    They seemed so unaware about all these sort of things !

    Now, sticking with the position that a total ban would be unfair towards the people that respect the environment and the responsible pickers, I am wondering instead why I didn’t see any sort of control, or any sort of signal that tells visitors the basic instructions, this happened in the wood between Lindhurst and Brockenhurst, I was able to spot one of this irresponsible pickers while I was driving my car, without the need to do a proper investigation, so I don’t understand how these people can go foraging without being stopped, there are only 3 or 4 places where you can park along the main road between the two towns, it is just a matter to wait for them once they go back to collect their car, and then give them a strong fine in order to prevent such unacceptable behaviors.

    The money collected can be invested in developing other activities for the sake of the New Forest.

    I don’t know if it’s a matter of shortage of staff, but at the end of the day it’s just something to be applied between August and October.

    I would personally help if I lived nearby !

    An other idea could be a picking permission to be released on a daily basis. Some regions in Italy ask you to pay a little fee for it, some other ask you also to prove in some ways that you have the basic knowledge for mushrooms picking.

    But PLEASE, before applying a total ban, let’s try to find some solutions, it would be such a shame not having anymore the opportunity to enjoy the forest for foraging, it is something that I did with my family, my kids really loved it, as other families would.

    I hope that my letter would be taken into consideration, but I also hope that these irresponsible mushrooms pickers will be stopped as soon as possible !

    Thank you for your attention.


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