John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Is focused foraging for edible fungi justifiable?

John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:30 pm

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/ ... ungus.html

All these TV programmes about the 'wild food' craze and foraging in the forest merely serve to popularise the idea of mushroom picking.

'People now come from all over the country to pick mushrooms in the New Forest and that just shouldn't be happening.

'There are more and more courses in mushroom picking being run and the hotels in the area are jumping on the bandwagon too.

'The Forestry Commission needs to be brought into line because they are giving out the wrong message. The forest suffers as a result of all the picking local people are fed up with it.

'Fungus is a central part to the web of life - nearly all plants and trees rely on them for their growth, as do many invertebrates.

'The only answer is to take the same measures as Epping Forest does and ban the picking of mushrooms entirely.

'A blanket ban is the only way to ensure mushrooms are not picked for commercial purposes.'



Here we go again.

Sara Cadbury makes a few good points, but in my opinion the whole thing comes across as more like an hysterical rant than anything else.

It is quite clear that there is a cultural change going on in the UK. Having been a mycophobic culture since forever, we are becoming a mycophyllic culture.

And it does lead to an obvious question. There are many European countries which have been mycophyllic for generations - Italy, Poland, Russia etc... Every year in these countries, a significant proportion of the population descends on the forests and take whatever fungi they can find that are good to eat. And oddly enough, the fungi in those countries seem to be doing just fine. So the question is this: why do mycologists in the UK fear that something terrible is going to happen to British fungal populations because foraging has become popular, when nothing especially terrible has happened in Italy or Poland? Do they think our fungi are different in some way? Or that some other factor makes a decisive difference?

People don't like change, especially conservative people (with a small "c"). And it is not that surprising that people who have been recording fungi for many years, and who not so long ago had those fungi pretty much to themselves because almost nobody foraged in the UK, don't like this cultural change. However, trying to stop it happening is like trying to stop the tide coming in. It's part of a much wider cultural trend towards re-learning lost skills/knowledge, reconnecting with the natural world and eating more natural and interesting food. You might argue that you can do these things without foraging for fungi, but that won't make any difference to the people who are interested in learning to forage for fungi.

What is her actual argument?

Firstly she complains that "people are making money" and "the forest is being exploited." Well, people were already thoroughly "exploiting" almost all of the woodland in Britain when the Romans invaded, and have been doing so ever since. This claim has nothing to do with conservation or ecology. Coppicers "exploit" woodland, and their activity is widely understood to increase biodiversity, so "exploitation" is not neccesarily bad for ecology/conservation. It depends on exactly what is being done.

She also say that "people now come from all over the country to pick mushrooms in the New Forest and that just shouldn't be happening." She's right. That shouldn't be happening, and it is rather daft that it is, because there's plenty of woodland in other places. But it certainly isn't an argument against foraging in general, just that the New Forest is being inundated, pointlessly, by too many people from other parts of the country.

Then she says "The forest suffers as a result of all the picking, local people are fed up with it."

"The forest suffers"? HOW does the forest suffer? She left that bit out. "Local people are fed up with it" makes what is going on a bit clearer. If people were coming from all over the UK to a small area in my bit of Sussex then I'd be pretty fed up about it too.

The only thing she says that remotely resembles an actual argument is this:

"Fungus is a central part to the web of life - nearly all plants and trees rely on them for their growth, as do many invertebrates."

And the problem with this claim is that, as John Wright points out, picking fruiting bodies doesn't actually harm the fungus. Even if you pick every single Penny Bun beneath an oak tree, the tree is not harmed in any way, and neither is the fungus. The only bit of the argument that actually works is the bit about the invertebrates. Yes, if you take all of the fungi in a particular area then if there are local populations of insects that are dependent on fungi to feed their grubs, then the population of those invertebrates will suffer.

I'd be interested to hear if anybody disagrees with this assessment.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby Dave H-Tranter » Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:25 am

I have always been unsure about whether picking or not damages the structure of the fungus in general and some good arguments blow from each direction but, what I am not unsure about is that people, in the main, are tainted with greed, selfishness and a lack of respect fort the wildlife arena so, rather than take a risk on my walks and cultivate these failings I use them as a vehicle to encourage respect for the mycological world, to enthuse people about the joy of being able to put a name to a magical gift and to just give these things a little more attention rather than pass them by. If along the way I get a few more people spreading the word, recording and getting a little protection for habitats I'll consider that a success. I see too much advantage taken from the natural world, people cashing in, using it to maintain a list, take a photo to brandish around and receive praise for the end results - bah. I'll stick with the simple way, concentrate on the ones who love nature for what it is and try and make a small difference - not easy. Just my thoughts and the way I operate. Cheap and cheerful and trying my best. I do realise there are many like-minded souls, some good fruits trying and some keen myco-nuts who love the whole shebang - God bless em'.

OI OI
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby Leif Goodwin » Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:05 pm

Some sensible points Geoff, and I agree with Dave's points. There is nothing wrong with picking fungi for the table in my opinion. The problem comes when areas are cleaned out of all fungi, with inedible ones left in large piles, as regularly happens in many areas. It is greed, an attempt to get as much 'free' food as possible, with no concern for possible side effects. I have seen no conclusive proof that excessive picking damages fungi, but neither have I seen proof that it doesn't. And many fungi live in association with trees for hundreds of years, Consequently any impact on them might not show for 100+ years, once the original hosts die, and we find that they did not propagate because the fruiting bodies were mostly picked. People say that fungi have been picked for thousands of years with no damage. Well yes and no, there are far more people around now, and far less wild areas than in the past.

I don't know John Wright, so I can't comment on him. I don't like the highly commercial aspect of River Cottage, but JW may well be instilling in people a respect for wild plants, I hope so anyway. Showing people our wild heritage can potentially benefit plants, fungi and animals by recruiting people to the conservation movement.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Wed Sep 02, 2015 2:01 am

Hi Leif

Leif Goodwin wrote:Some sensible points Geoff, and I agree with Dave's points. There is nothing wrong with picking fungi for the table in my opinion. The problem comes when areas are cleaned out of all fungi, with inedible ones left in large piles, as regularly happens in many areas. It is greed, an attempt to get as much 'free' food as possible, with no concern for possible side effects.


I don't think the people who clean out the woods are in it for free food. If that is what they wanted then they'd be better off hanging about outside the back of the warehouse of their local supermarket, not trawling the woods. IMO most of the damage of that sort is done by people who are paid for what they pick, by weight. They pick money, not food.

JW may well be instilling in people a respect for wild plants, I hope so anyway.


I suspect he probably is.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Wed Sep 02, 2015 2:13 am

Dave,

Dave H-Tranter wrote:I have always been unsure about whether picking or not damages the structure of the fungus.


Seriously, how can it? The main threat to a fungal mycelium, apart from total physical destruction, is competition from other fungi for resources. The area between the remaining mycelium and the bit that got disturbed or taken during the picking of a fruit body is already completely surrounded by friendly mycelium, and there is nothing else, because the other stuff is gone. There is no science (AFAIK), but I can't make any other sense of this.

Mass-trampling, where half the mycelium gets crushed, is another matter.

Geoff
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby Dave H-Tranter » Thu Sep 03, 2015 2:58 pm

Yeah seriously, I am still up in the air with it - what we know today may be different tomorrow and I do wonder how much effort the mycelium puts in to making these structures and how much strain it puts on the general fungus. I know abroad picking seems to have little effect so the argument goes that way over a longer period of mass picking surely things will decline. With my groups I tell anyone that if they want something to eat take 20% and leave the rest behind. I think that is rather fair and caters for all. Take a few, leave the rest for insect grub, to spread their spores and for others who like to admire these things. Nothing worse than going in a woodland and everything has been taken, poor form. Yes, mass trampling though I am certain of, is no good for fungi and needs to be avoided. As does the constant concrete spillage that causes run off and waterlogs many good areas.

Cheers

Fungalpunk Dave
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Thu Sep 03, 2015 9:33 pm

Dave H-Tranter wrote:Yeah seriously, I am still up in the air with it - what we know today may be different tomorrow and I do wonder how much effort the mycelium puts in to making these structures and how much strain it puts on the general fungus.


It certainly puts some effort into making them, because some years it decides not to, presumably because it hasn't built up enough resources. But having "decided" it is time to make them, and having made them, then it's done. It's not like they can suck the nutrients back out of them like deciduous trees do to their leave in the autumn. Picking the fruiting bodies before they've finished producing spores does mean less spores of that species being distributed, but the mycelium was going to lose the resources whatever the fate of the fruiting body.

I know abroad picking seems to have little effect so the argument goes that way over a longer period of mass picking surely things will decline.


Firstly I am not sure that this is even true - it might not make a detectable difference. But let's say, for argument's sake, that mass picking of certain species over an extended period causes a decline in those species. Which species are we talking about? There are cases where there is mass-picking of species that aren't super-common and don't have a huge range - examples might by Amanita caesarea and Lactarius sanguifluus, and I'd agree that mass-picking of those species across their whole rather small range could eventually cause them to become rare even there. But the species which are far more likely to be subjected to widespread and long-term mass picking are things like Boletus edulis and Cantherellus cibarius - species which occur all over the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, very abundantly in some places, and exist as invasive species in the south. If somehow humans managed to cause a decline in these species by systematic picking of fruit bodies, what would be the effect on biodiversity? It seems to me that the only logical answer is that it would increase biodiversity by making it easier for less common (and less effective at competing) species to fill up some of the space vacated by the declining chanterelles and penny buns. I don't see how it could decrease biodiversity.

If we wanted to intervene in order to improve the prospects for the significant number of uncommon/rare large British boletes that are mycorrhizal with oak and beech, and increasing the number of oak and beech trees wasn't an option, I suggest that an effective way to do it, if it was possible, would be to systematically pick every Penny Bun in the UK before it had a chance to release any spores.

Nothing worse than going in a woodland and everything has been taken, poor form.


I agree, although my figure would be closer to 40% than 20%.
Last edited by GeoffDann on Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Thu Sep 03, 2015 9:48 pm

I'd like to ask another question, and I might as well do it in this thread rather than start another one. Addressed to anyone who'd be willing to offer an answer.

Do you think it is eventually going to be possible to defuse this argument between foragers and conservationists/mycologists? Or is it inevitable that it is going to continue for the forseeable future - that it is unresolvable?

I did speak to John recently, and he's as pessimistic as I am about the prospects. And yet as far as I am aware, not such controversy exists in the continental European countries where people traditionally picked fungi. Or at least it is nothing like as huge and apparently unresolvable?

I have spent the last few years trying to find a middle way - to teach people who are interested in learning how to safely forage for fungi, while also trying to teach them to be respectful and not take everything, to try to avoid picking rare species by mistake, not to "pick and hope" (take a load of something unidentified in the hope they will find out it is edible later), etc... But I really do wonder whether quite a few people on the mycologist/conservationist side of this conflict are simply never going to accept the rise in popularity of foraging and will forever see foragers as the enemy. :(

Any advice on how best to build bridges - to defuse the conflict and find a way for both sides to co-exist - would be appreciated. Although I suspect it's a bit of a tall order.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby Leif Goodwin » Thu Sep 10, 2015 8:14 pm

Hello Geoff

I think you may well be right, that those I saw were commercial collectors, sadly. However, I often see what I take to be private collectors with plastic bags overflowing with fungi. By the way, and I am sure you know this, a plastic bag is the worst collection container. An open wicker basket is best, as it allows humidity to escape, and reduces bruising.

I don't accept your arguments about species survival. Not that I think you are wrong, but simply that you have no evidence so it can only be a guess. I guess that highlights the fact that research is needed to learn far more about the needs of fungi, how they propagate and so on.

Incidentally I think we have to distinguish between species that are on the edge of their range, and which are common elsewhere, such as Norway, or Italy, and those which are genuinely rare everywhere, perhaps because they have a very specific niche e.g. very old oak trees. The latter require habitat conservation, by maintaining nature reserves with old trees, for example. I think the 'free food' craze will not go away, so it is surely better for people such as yourself to take people on fungi walks, and help instill in them a realisation that fungi might be threatened by over collection, so the precautionary principle applies. The alternative is for them to go on walks with people who have no concern for fungal conservation.
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Re: John Wright attacked in Daily Mail

Postby GeoffDann » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:05 pm

Leif Goodwin wrote:I don't accept your arguments about species survival. Not that I think you are wrong, but simply that you have no evidence so it can only be a guess. I guess that highlights the fact that research is needed to learn far more about the needs of fungi, how they propagate and so on.


I'd argue that it is more than just a guess. I think the guesswork is involved in the original claim that long-term, systematic picking of certain species causes a decline in those species. But if you take that claim as hypothetically true, then the consequential claim that other species would benefit from the decreased competition (or increased availability of habitat) must surely follow. The only logically possible alternative is that there are some specific habitats currently occupied by popular, common edible species like B. edulis and C. cibarius which no other species would colonise if those popular edibles didn't get in there first.

I think the argument boils down to a simple claim that whereever there is habitat suitable for fungi, some sort of fungi or other will colonise it. The activities of humans can only alter the balance of species, rather than decreasing the total amount of fungi. And if you accept that argument, then the picking of relatively common species isn't a problem as far as ecology or biodiversity is concerned.

Incidentally I think we have to distinguish between species that are on the edge of their range, and which are common elsewhere, such as Norway, or Italy, and those which are genuinely rare everywhere, perhaps because they have a very specific niche e.g. very old oak trees. The latter require habitat conservation, by maintaining nature reserves with old trees, for example.


I agree.

I think the 'free food' craze will not go away, so it is surely better for people such as yourself to take people on fungi walks, and help instill in them a realisation that fungi might be threatened by over collection, so the precautionary principle applies. The alternative is for them to go on walks with people who have no concern for fungal conservation.


Yes. Although I don't think it is quite accurate to describe it as a "free food craze". If the fact that it was free was the main driving force, then John Wright probably wouldn't have a load of courses fully booked up for 15-20 people paying £70 a head to go foraging in the New Forest. His clients aren't getting much food for their £70, for sure. I'd wager most of them don't need any free food. There is a sort of "free food" or rather a "no waste" thing going on at the moment, but it is focused on attempting to stop both supermarkets and people from throwing away so much perfectly good commercially produced food, and also growing your own food in gardens. The "wild food" thing is motivated by other things than the cost of the food - including a romanticised "getting back in touch with nature/ancestors", eating natural products that have nothing to do with the commercialised world, learning survival skills and getting hold of food products that are interesting in terms of taste/texture and which aren't available by any other means.

None of which makes any difference to the basic point you are making, which is that it is better that they are taught by somebody like me, than somebody with no care for fungi conservation. Although the counterpoint is that the sort of people who have no care for fungi conservation aren't likely to be interested in teaching other people where/how to find edible species anyway, because they tend to have got involved in this area in the first place for commercial motives (i.e. selling valuable wild species to fancy restaurants).

I'd also say that in my experience, most of the people who come on walks with me want to learn about fungi in general, not just the edible types. They like to have something they can eat in their basket at the end of the day, but on the whole they do not arrive hoping to leave with a basketful of penny buns and chanterelles.
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