Over the months since the Forestry Commission announced their “Look, Don’t Pick” Policy for Fungi on The New Forest SSSI on the Crown Lands under their stewardship, we’ve heard a number of arguments against this move. The NFA support the Forestry Commission’s policy as an important step to honouring the protections the habitat of the New Forest has, and ought to have in practice. In that spirit we offer our rebuttals below:
Foraging is wonderful and magically connects people to nature.
Fine, just not fungi + here, please.
The New Forest is amongst the most highly protected habitat we have. Would you challenge the existing prohibitions on fungi foraging on Wildlife Trust or National Trust land? The New Forest SSSI has the status of a National Nature Reserve.
We could quibble that you shouldn’t need to ingest nature to enjoy and appreciate it, but then again Chris Packham once said he started his journey eating tadpoles he’d found. No accounting for tastes. Foraging can foster a relationship for many with nature, but this is a protected habitat, we’re just asking those who actually care about nature, to respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere.
We’ve done this for thousands of years (Entitlement vs loss of habitat)
You speak of what’s been done for “thousands of years”, that includes loads of behaviours that are no longer appropriate in the face of unprecedented population growth, habitat loss and climate change. Butterfly collectors once showed their appreciation of Lepidoptera by popping them in killing jars then mounting them on pins.
More than one in ten UK species is now threatened with extinction. The house is burning, and you’re concerned with raiding the larder.
Where is your proof of the so-called gangs? (Denial)
They and their effects have been seen by the Forestry Commission Keepers and Ecologists, the National Trust Rangers, the Hampshire Fungi Recording Group, other local surveyors, and many of our members. Last Autumn the Forestry Commission intercepted 140 groups and/or individuals as part of their “disruption” campaign, seizing and destroying amounts over the then “personal” limit.
You’ll forgive us if those of us out walking don’t whip out our cameras and ask strangers engaged in illegal activities to pose nicely to satisfy your curiosity. Or that we haven’t photographed every square fungi populated inch of the Forest ahead of time so that when it is subsequently stripped of fungi we could provide a before and after (hopefully recorded at exactly the same angle for the before and after). The experiences and observations of many individuals, seem to count for nothing to those in denial.
If you are that sceptical would a photo of a group of people holding bags in a wood convince you of anything? Or before and after pictures? If the FC put wildlife monitoring cameras by some patches of rare fungi, that would be rightly deemed too big brother (although police have said a private land owner doing this to catch similar acts would be perfectly legal).
You are criminalising ordinary people.
Similar bans already exist, the inclusive language of the Epping Forest byelaws have allowed the Keepers employed by the Corporation of the City of London to enforce its policy against fungi forage. Meanwhile the CROW Act which opened up larger areas of countryside to Ramblers has an overarching ban on foraging on the nationwide network of Rights of Way, and the Right to Roam areas.
This is a SSSI, the FC already had the right to authorise picking of fungi under the consents they have from Natural England. Their byelaws ban removal of a range of things that are not currently enforced, and it is only a trick of taxonomy that fungi are excluded (FC byelaws prohibit: dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind). It is as much a policy decision to choose not to enforce all the elements of the byelaws as to restrict fungi foraging under their SSSI consents and the precautionary principle to protect the entire habitat.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the legislative instrument that defines the protections for wild animals and plants and defines Sites of Special Scientific Interest along with their extra protections and the statutory obligations of their landowners. Rare species found on the Schedule 8 list, often referred to as the Red Band or Red List Species, are protected from being picked, uprooted or destroyed (section 13 subsection 1), and further from being sold, transported for sale, or even advertised for sale (subsection 2). These are arrestable offences, the CPS guidance for prosecutions :
||Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or by a maximum fine of £5,000 (level 5). Where an offence is committed in respect of more than one bird, nest, egg etc the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each such item.
In addition to offences being multiplied by number of items taken, the law also gives power of forfeiture:
||Under s.21 (6) b a court may in the same circumstances order the forfeiture of any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing used to commit the offence found in the offender’s possession. Forfeiture of a vehicle is often likely to be an effective means of deterring repeat offences relating, for example, to rare birds and eggs as well as of incapacitating an offender’s future ability to conduct such activities. ….
The section 13 protections apply ANYWHERE in the Wild, not just SSSI. The Red List includes fungi species such as the tasty, targeted and allegedly medicinal Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth).
Hericium erinaceus in the New Forest
On SSSI’s intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P). The New Forest is one of the few SSSI which have fungi as one of these notified features of special interest. Whether or not the fungi harvested is one of the notified species, the ancillary consequences of the activity of foraging, including trampling and disturbance may be covered by this as well. Hefty penalties invoked here may give prosecutions considerable bite. Damage to SSSI could be prosecuted, and yield realistically punitive fines (£10k-20k). Of course the burden of proof is less straightforward than the section 13 offences, but I’m describing this to show the extent to which some fungi foraging activities were already criminal, and the legal basis which obligates the Forestry Commission to protect the notified features of the SSSI it manages.
This is Common Land – don’t we have the right to forage from it as part of rights of Common?
The Crown Lands are not actually registered commons as applies under the Commons Registrations Act, and so would not implicitly include any rights that may be extended to registered commons either under that act or in common law.
The modern legal framework for the Forest rights as applied to the New Forest are in the New Forest Acts which clearly defines rights of Common for the Crown Lands, these 1) don’t include Foraging 2) can only can be claimed by those occupying land with registered rights attached.
The ban is not scientific, because we have studies that show that harvesting fruiting bodies doesn’t have a detrimental effect. (Selective research)
Compared to botany, mycology is positively medieval. Not enough is known. We’re only just now coming to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and the trees they service symbiotically.
There are only have a handful of studies on a few species, some not in comparable locations/habitats, that show negligible effect on individual fungi organisms of picking fruiting bodies, but not much on the long term viability of a given species and genetic diversity over time given the disruption to dispersal mechanisms.
These studies do not consider the knock on effects on the rest of the ecosystem, putting aside the fruiting bodies as a food source, at least 600 (likely over 1000) species of invertebrate are reliant on them for their life-cycle (many are species specific). Committed eggs don’t have the luxury of jumping to unpicked neighbours. There are no studies showing ancillary effects on the rest of the ecosystem, therefore no substantial body of evidence for sustainability.
Furthermore, the “sustainability” argument shouldn’t even apply on a SSSI with fungi as one of its notified features. An attitude that recognises only supporting science in isolation, claims an absent weight of evidence, and ignores the bigger picture, is utterly self-serving.
Europe is a free for all.
This is simply not true. France and Spain have no go areas. There are licensing schemes in Italy and Poland and other eastern European Countries. It is unlikely you would be allowed to pick fungi at all in Poland’s National Parks which include Strict Protection Zones, no go areas for any human interaction — reasons given include fungi conservation along with other habitat considerations, some parks even have buffer zones excluding people from an area outside the park. Other European countries have similarly strict regimes if they have signed up to the level of habitat protection promoted by the IUCN and the Biosphere initiative.
Just because European cultures supposedly favour a tradition of fungi forage doesn’t mean they are blind to the need for conservation. The Crown Lands of the New Forest have the highest levels of habitat and landscape protections and designations available in UK law.
And Finally, that old, ahem, chestnut: It’s just like picking Blackberries!
NO IT ISN’T (sorry for shouting):
- Blackberry population is much greater and currently sustainable.
- Blackberry pickers take only the fruit, not the entire visible portion of the plant. In the protected landscape of a National Park the autumn display of fungi should be left for all to see.
- Blackberry fruits are only harvested by pickers when they are ripe, they may be eaten by wildlife before this, and when pickers miss the optimal ripeness opportunity, after. Fungi are being removed when they are seen, not left for an optimal ripening. If picked when still at “button” stage, they have not released spores.
- The seeds in blackberry fruit are part of its distribution mechanism, the amount left unpicked, and fed upon by wildlife sustainably spreads the next generation. Fungi fruiting bodies contain spores that go unreleased if they are picked, and may contain insect eggs, interrupting both distribution mechanisms, depleting the next generation of invertebrates.
- Blackberries tend to conveniently, for pickers, grow on the sunny side of rides and paths, much blackberry picking is done from here, an inherently more robust location, without, or with much less disturbance to undergrowth. Fungi are spread throughout the woodland floor. The trampling damage by harvesters alone is of grave concern, and contributes to potentially damaging operations which are restricted on SSSI.
- The fruiting mechanism in plants is much better understood. While there are studies that allege sustainability of picking based on individual mycellium continuing to produce the fruiting bodies, there is no body of work to show the extent to which this may stress the mycellium, or degree to which the organisms other ecosystem functions are altered by the energy and nutrient that must be expended in that process.
So again, NO IT ISN’T!!! (sorry for shouting, again). To be glib (but no less right): no one is worried about the decline of the blackberry, get back to us if this changes.
If you are using the blackberry analogy, you are either willfully ignorant, or presume your audience is gullible. You should drop that line of argument, it makes you sound like an idiot or a con man.
Limited apologies if you feel we’ve oversimplified the case against (done for style, and attempted brevity). We’ll welcome nuanced discussion, and well founded arguments, should they arise.
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