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Autumn foraging: from earthstars to dead men's fingers...

Posted: Thursday 1st October 2015 by Community

Earthstar fungiEarthstar fungi

Ellen Winter, our Stroud Community Wildlife Officer, provides an introduction to foraging

Find out how to be a good forager.

I’ve recently been out in the gorgeous autumn woods of the Slad valley leading a ‘Fungi for Beginners’ course. On the slopes between the towering beech trees new learners are being introduced to the bizarre and beautiful world of fungi; earthstars, amethyst deceiver, clementine-scented woodwax and spooky dead men’s fingers.

One of the first things discussed with the group is the law around picking fungi – for identification or for the pot.

I learned to forage with my mother as a child and still have that ‘childhood’ thrill of finding wild food - the seemingly instinctive need to pick as much as you can reach, to fill your basket - and your pockets as well if you can.

Because it’s there, it’s wild, and it’s free to take.

But is it?

Free food is a great way to encourage people to learn about and care for their local countryside

Among the people who come out with me, most don’t realise that all land in the UK is owned by somebody, the wild food found there is owned too.

To my mind, the main owners of wild food should be - first and foremost – the wildlife that depends on it to live.

At this time of year badgers, blackbirds, dormice, thrushes and foxes are all trying to fatten up on blackberries, sloes, hazelnuts, hips, haws or fungi, so we need to leave most of the bounty for them, just taking a little from each tiny territory so the residents can feast – and so survive.

More prosaically, there are human laws that cover foraging. It’s not widely known, but some species and many of the richest foraging sites are legally protected.

While picking blackberries along highways and public footpaths for your own use is popular, delicious and legal - collecting to sell, uprooting or damaging anything, straying off the path to pick, taking from protected sites (like Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons) or picking protected species is definitely frowned on and increasingly prosecuted because of the damage caused to wildlife.

So please do enjoy your blackberry crumble and sloe gin, but remember to enjoy it all the more knowing that you left plenty for our wild friends too.

How to be a responsible forager

  • Under English law, you can usually take 'fruit, flowers, foliage and fungi' – but nothing dug up – from public rights of way, for your own consumption only, as long as there is no national protection of the site or species or a local by-law.
  • Always get the landowner’s permission first.
  • Foraging on protected land such as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) or a nature reserve can cause damage beyond repair and can be illegal. Protected sites are rarely well signed.
  • Do not collect rare or red list species or those protected by law.
  • Follow the Countryside Code.
  • Take reputable field guides with you and fully identify species before picking them.
  • Minimise damage to vegetation, leaf litter and soil.
  • Respect and protect other species, including poisonous ones.
  • Ancient woodland and permanent pasture often contain a rich variety of species, including rarities - be sure of your ID before collecting.
  • Avoid removing dead wood.
  • Do not collect species you don't intend to eat.
  • Be aware that some species may make you unwell and that some are deadly!
  • Some species are only edible in certain seasons or at different stages of growth, or after cooking.
  • For fungi, pick less than half the fruitbodies per visit, as many species other than humans eat fungi.
  • Don't collect 'buttons' (mushrooms that haven't expanded). Giving them time to expand will help identification, allow spores to be discharged and will give you more to eat.

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