Soaring demand for wild mushrooms in high-end restaurants is attracting commercial gangs of foragers, who are stripping the New Forest of edible fungi.
With the onset of the wild mushroom season, gangs of commercial foragers are reported to be making as much as £2,500 a day by raiding the National Park on an industrial scale, say forest officials.
Rangers the forest are now on “high alert” over the alleged raiders, who are breaking a civil bylaw against collection for than 1.5kg per visit to the National Park, according to the Southern Daily Echo.
The Official Verderer, Dominic May, who is head of the ancient Verderer Court which governs the forest, said the problem was worse than usual and blamed groups of workers from Eastern Europe.
However the National Trust, which owns much of the common land in the area, said none of its staff had reported any problems or spotted any gangs, while a Forestry Commission spokesperson was unable to confirm the size of the problem.
Others have questioned how likely the claims are. Wild mushrooms are worth up to £50 per kilo, meaning commercial foragers would need to be picking up to 50 kilos per day.
Across Britain though, foodie foragers have been spurred on by celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Antonio Carluccio, who have encouraged people to pick field mushrooms and other delicacies.
Foraging expert Fergus Drennan, who gave up commercial foraging after he couldn’t meet the “insatiable demand” from restaurant while preserving wildlife, said that he doubted claims that there were commercial gangs in operation in the New Forest.
He said i: “These gangs may exist or they may be based in over-imagination and fear, but there’s not a quick buck to be made out of foraging and it tends to attract people who are aware and respectful of the natural world. Either way the most important rule of foraging is not to over exploit your patch, but otherwise it won’t be there next year.”
Foragers across the country are being warned to be careful of toxic mushrooms though. Earlier this month Public Health England (PHE) said more than 80 cases of mushroom poisoning have been reported so far this year.Reuse content