Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust

THE Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust is urging people not to pick mushrooms in their nature reserves after seeing groups walking around reserves filling plastic bags with fungi on a commercial scale.

The charity, which manages 86 nature reserves across the three counties, has no objection to people foraging on any land if they have the permission of the landowner, but has stressed that it does not allow the activity on any of ‘ e pages it manages.

Roger Stace, the trust’s land manager, says: “I’ve seen a lot of mushrooms that have clearly decomposed, a lot of them are just left upside down, so my guess is that people picked them, realized they weren’t edible and left them.

“Members of the public have also reported seeing teams of people hovering over reserves carrying large tote bags.

“We see this problem every fall, but I think it was worse last year and we definitely had more reports.

“I think that’s partly to do with the cost of living. I’m also concerned that commercial foragers are selling stolen mushrooms to restaurants.

Although mushrooms and toadstools are only the “fruit body” of a fungus and picking them does not kill the organism, it can cause other problems.

For example, it can prevent the fungus from releasing its spores to maintain a healthy population.

Mr Stace says: “We are lucky to have some incredibly rare species of fungus in our nature reserves and if people are not trained they can pick and destroy these rare species.

“On a commercial scale, some of these untrained mushroom pickers just take everything they see and someone else sorts through it afterwards and throws away what they don’t want, including potentially toxic fungi.

“That in itself is a pretty sad state of affairs, but if people do that year after year, you can destroy precious populations of amazing fungi that we and our volunteers have worked to protect for decades, like hedgehog mushrooms , death caps, wax caps and plums-and-custard.

“Fungi also provide food for other wildlife, so if you pick everything, you remove a food source for mammals, birds, insects and other invertebrates. Even other fungi rely on fungi: some types of fungus grow on other mushrooms and mushrooms and that can be special be rarities.”

Fungi also benefit their environment in more complex ways: almost all above-ground mushrooms and toadstools are the product of a large, complex network of root-like hyphae below the surface.

Most fungi are also symbiotic with trees or other plants, sharing nutrients, water and energy.

These networks of hyphae can stretch over huge areas in fields and forests, sharing resources and even communicating with thousands of other plants, fungi and interacting with countless animals.

These sprawling networks can be so large that scientists have coined the phrase “Wood-Wide Web” to talk about their Internet-like natural communication system.

The trust is also concerned about people straying from footpaths to pick mushrooms, which could damage the wild habitats that nature reserves are specifically designed to protect.

Mr Stace says: “We aim to protect and restore nature and inspire people about the amazing natural world. We want people to come to our nature reserves and enjoy the wildlife we ​​have there, including all the fantastic rare and unusual species that you won’t see in a local park, in farmland or other parts of the countryside.

“We know that most people feel exactly the same and that’s why we want to remind people that if you want to take something in our natural areas, take a picture of it and leave the beautiful wildlife for others.”

Pete Hughes

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