Fashion for wild mushrooms forces council into licensed picking

A fashion, inspired by television chefs, for wild food has forced Epping Forest to introduce licences to prevent mushroom pickers stripping it bare of fungi.

A fashion, inspired by television chefs, for wild food has forced Epping Forest to introduce licences to prevent mushroom pickers stripping it bare of fungi.

With 1,600 species of wild mushroom the Essex forest has been a favourite haunt of fungal connoisseurs for centuries.

Until now the Corporation of London, the City authority that manages the forest, has been prepared to turn a blind eye to the picking, which contravenes by-laws.

But with the burgeoning popularity of television cookery programmes that urge viewers to gather their own food, the forest has been inundated with amateur and professional chefs. They are taking so many mushrooms that the forest's ecological balance is in serious danger.

"It is not just individuals," a spokesman for the Corporation said. "We have seen restaurateurs leaving the forest with sackloads of mushrooms to sell in their restaurants.

"It is against the by-laws to pick anything but we did have people picking far too many mushrooms. There is also a safety issue. Many people do not know which mushrooms are safe to eat and which ones will make them ill.

"It's been a growing problem over the last couple of years. One of the reasons is that a lot of TV chefs have been encouraging people to get food for free and one of the best places to go for mushrooms is Epping Forest."

The licences will be free and issued to 500 people on a first-come-first-served basis. They will be valid for one day and limit the mushroom picker to 1.5kg of fungi.

Wardens will be on hand to make sure nobody goes over their limit and a special leaflet is being prepared to guide people around the forest's sheer variety of fungi. As well as the edible varieties of mushroom, such as the chanterelle, parasol and horn of plenty, the forest contains rarer types such as the Devil's bolete, a deadly species that has appeared only once in the past hundred years.

"The first licences won't be issued until August, when the mushroom season begins," the spokesman said

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