Opening a new debate

Is focused foraging for edible fungi justifiable?

Opening a new debate

Postby admin » Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:37 am

What are the pros and cons of foraging for fungi?
Is it justifiable in these islands, with their limited wildlife resources?
Does it have the potential to harm an already fragile environment?
Does it put more vulnerable fungal stocks at risk?
Does the autumn media blitz on hunting for mushrooms help or hinder?
Should government legislation allow commercial mushroom-hunting?
Should we be condoning the 'River Cottage' approach?
How much field mycology experience do most 'mushroom experts' actually possess?
Will the fungi-for-food vogue increase the number of fatalities in the UK?

Get stuck in!

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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby GeoffDann » Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:34 am

I think we will all be able to agree that certain activities should be banned. These are the picking of anything uncommon, indiscriminate "trawling" or "hoovering" by teams of people who do not know what they are picking for identification later by others and large-scale co-ordinated collection for the restaurant industry. This still leaves a large amount of fungi that people can collect for eating, which will cause no more harm to the ecosystem than the picking of wild fruits does. There is an area of woodland close to my house where there is enough auricularia auricula-judae for me to eat it daily and make little impact on the amount which is growing. Perhaps it would be useful to create a list of edible fungi which are common enough for collection to not be a problem?

What is "the river cottage approach"?

Also, in the other thread somebody mentioned "the 2008 river cottage saga". Can somebody tell me what this was?

As for the risk of fatalities...I suggest this is a candidate for the "Darwin awards." If somebody is stupid enough to consume a death cap, they probably deserve what is coming to them.
Last edited by GeoffDann on Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby GeoffDann » Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:51 am

Does it have the potential to harm an already fragile environment?
Does it put more vulnerable fungal stocks at risk?


Fungi in general are obviously a key component of the ecosystem. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe many species of tree wouldn't grow at all without fungi growing in association with them. However, I'd like to see an argument in defence of the claim that specific "vulnerable" species of fungi are of critical importance to the "fragile ecosystem", and that picking for consumption is likely to cause serious ecological damage of this sort. I am suspicious of any argument which attempts to defend all forms of biodiversity as being of critical importance. There are supposedly 10,000+ species of larger fungi in the UK. Would the ecosystem as a whole suffer significant damage if there was only 8000?

There tends to be a connection between rare species and rare types of environment. We have lost most of our wetlands so there is a concentration of rare species in wetlands and the remaining wetlands need to be protected. I'm guessing something similar applies to fungi, and the rare type of environment is ancient and original forest. Is it not already the case that most ancient forest which provides a home for unusual fungi are already protected by law (e.g. Savernake)?
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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby David Edington » Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:12 am

Since the recent appearance on forum of Geoff's 'Hoax' thread I have been giving this some thought. As an avid fungiphile there is no greater pleasure than strolling into my local with enough Chanterelles, freshly picked within 400 yards of the establishment, and asking chef to prepare his wild mushroom tagliatelle using my harvested specimens. Also not long after the 'the 2008 River Cottage saga' I had the genuine pleasure of accompanying fellow ABFG member Nick Cantle on a personal foray with River Cottage's John Wright (the result of Nick winning an RC fungi photo competition). We could not fault the approach, attitude or conduct on this occasion especially as John Wright was obviously delighted to be in the company of two enthusiasts whose focus of interest was not centred on whether or not the fungi were edible. Not having the inclination or the spare cash to benefit, or otherwise learn first hand, from the experience of the alternative "foraying" activities advertised by the same organization I suspect, regardless of statements to the contrary and from what I've read about these and other similar ventures based in London where premium rates are charged and the 'spoils' are prepared for consumption in a Hampstead pub, the commercial aspect puts a completely different emphasis on the objectives.

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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby admin » Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:06 pm

In view of interest in the 'River Cottage' saga, and purely because I become directly involved, there follows a brief objective summary.

In 2008 the ABFG was alerted, via the local constabulary, that a farmer on the Devon/Dorset border, whose property largely constitutes an SSSI, was becoming increasingly concerned about the activities of mushroom foragers on the neighbouring National Trust property known as Lambert's Castle, much of which is also an SSSI. These activities had taken place in 2007, hosted by River Cottage, and were being advertised again for 2008 with a price tag of £160/per person/per day.

The activities involved up to 30-seater coach-loads of foragers being brought in with the intention, according to the River Cottage website, of 'targeting the delicious edible varieties offered up for free . . . the day begins with a forage in the beautiful West Dorset/East Devon countryside. You will be accompanied by members of the River Cottage team, led by John Wright, our wild food and mushroom expert.' The River Cottage website included photographs of a car boot crammed with large quantities of edible fungi.

Commercial hunting of this kind is in breach of NT byelaws and the SSSI designation of most of Lambert's Castle. The NT response to John Wright in September 2008 was as follows:

Quote:
"Following the problems that occurred last year I have been in touch with various National Trust advisors, Natural England and The Association of British Fungus Groups to get some guidance.
Following advice given, we cannot give you permission to run a fungal foray or any collecting on our land in West Dorset. This is for the following reasons -

* National Trust advisers are not happy with the level of collecting and in particular the affect it has on conservation of the site.
* By charging £160 for the experience you are in effect carrying out commercial collecting on our land which cannot be allowed and is in breach of our byelaws.
* The Association of British Fungus Groups have expressed their concern and I received a very strong reply from them recommending that the event does not go ahead.
* Natural England are concerned that it is a breach of the SSSI designation."
End quote.

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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby Leif Goodwin » Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:42 pm

That's shocking. I find it hard to believe that John Wright et al were unaware of the importance of an SSSI.

As I've said elsewhere, there is nothing wrong with modest collecting.

The media love a 'food for free' story, but they rarely make any mention of the conservation and ecological side of the coin. I collected fungi for years until when in Windsor Park I was informed by a well respected ecologist that collecting is not allowed. It was then that I realised that many habitats are scarce, and hence some fungi are very scarce. Field Mushrooms are commonplace, but Leccinum crocipodium are decidedly uncommon. Until we know the true impact of collecting, it is surely prudent to collect only common species such as Black Trumpets, and leave other species. I sometimes collect a scarce species, but only when there are plenty about, and only out of curiosity. I will collect common species such as Black Trumpets, but to be honest most wild mushrooms are over hyped.

Does anyone here know if collecting fungi is damaging? Some say that once the fungus is mature, it has spread a large number of spores. I guess the only way to know the answer is by scientific research. I believe that some controlled studies have been done though I do not know the results. I am sure that the main threat to fungi is loss of habitat. If people become interested in fungi, and then join nature trusts, and help them buy land, that must be beneficial.

My own experience in woods is that those people who walk around with plastic carrier bags overflowing with mushrooms tend to be Europeans, such Italians, Germans and Poles. The British are still a little unsure of fungi, though there is now a real appreciation of their beauty among the general public.

Many British people have collected fungi long before it was popular, though they usually collected field mushrooms, and a few other species such as Blue Legs (Lepista saeva). I don't know why we traditionally have less enthusiasm for wild fungi compared to Europeans.
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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby Neil » Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:22 pm

I never knew 'River Cottage Industries' were this commercialised, as Leif say's this story is really shocking.
Surely there was more than enough evidence to bring a prosecution or at least a civil tort ?

The BBC should completely disassociate itself from this cowboy outfit and how about bringing pressure on Amazon, Waterstones et al not to sell their books ?

Did you know about this David ?

I'm keen to hear yours and Geoff's response to what MJ has just told us.

Neil Mahler.
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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby Neil » Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:51 pm

I once read some years ago that because wild fungi are just that - wild, they therefor belong to no one, but surely when you enter somebody's land to take something you do not own you automatically become a trespasser, the same as when you walk your dog along a footpath and you purposefully allow it to wander off the footpath onto private land you are trespassing as you are not using the footpath for it's intended purpose.

Just something to consider.

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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby admin » Sat May 01, 2010 9:09 am

In respect of Lambert's Castle there was, I understand, insufficient evidence from 2007 to bring a prosecution. The River Cottage web site is careful not to name the locations for its foraging activities. The SSSI farmer says that he became aware on at least four occasions during the 2007 season, of coach parties arriving and being disembarked in an off-road position, near the entrance to his farm, but well away from the designated official public entrance to the NT site. The clients are then said to have dispersed into Lambert's Castle via a 'back route'.

The ABFG was encouraged to obtain photographic evidence in 2008, but the NT applied its ban before this could take place.

The SSSI farmer had been particularly aggrieved by an incident that had taken place in 2007 on his private land, involving John Wright. Wright does not dispute that this incident occurred and alleges:" I did once, alone, venture onto Mr. X's land to take a picture of a field mushroom ring. My one misdemeanor for which I apologised profusely having stood my ground to valiantly face the music which came in the form of Mr. X not inconsiderable wrath."

Knowing the farmer as I do, if he displayed 'not inconsiderable wrath', it is unlikely to have been fueled by one person taking an innocent photograph. The farmer's version of events is that he discovered Wright, alone in the sense of not being accompanied by River Cottage clients, but in fact in the company of a television crew, filming a ring of edible Agaricus in a meadow on his SSSI, without permission.

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Re: Opening a new debate

Postby GeoffDann » Sat May 01, 2010 12:55 pm

Neil wrote:I never knew 'River Cottage Industries' were this commercialised, as Leif say's this story is really shocking.
Surely there was more than enough evidence to bring a prosecution or at least a civil tort ?

The BBC should completely disassociate itself from this cowboy outfit and how about bringing pressure on Amazon, Waterstones et al not to sell their books ?

Did you know about this David ?

I'm keen to hear yours and Geoff's response to what MJ has just told us.

Neil Mahler.


Well, they should obviously have known what an SSSI is...
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