A wildlife charity has pleaded with people not to pick mushrooms on its nature reserves after reports that gangs of foragers have been ripping up fungi on a ‘commercial scale’.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has made the appeal after sightings of groups walking around reserves and filling plastic bags with fungi.

The charity - which manages 86 nature reserves across the three counties - does not object to people foraging on any land where they have the landowner's permission, but has stressed that it does not allow the activity on any of the sites it manages.

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Roger Stace, BBOWT’s Land Manager, said: "This year I have seen lots of fungi that have clearly been snapped off, many just left there upside down, so my suspicion is that people were picking it, realising it wasn't edible and leaving it.

“Members of public have also reported seeing teams of people sweeping across the site with big carrier bags.

"We see this problem every autumn, but I think it’s worse this year - we've certainly had more reports, and I suspect that is partly down to the cost-of-living crisis.

“I also fear commercial foragers are selling stolen fungi to restaurants for money."

Although mushrooms and toadstools are only the 'fruiting body' of a fungus, and picking them does not kill the organism, BBOWT has warned it can cause numerous other problems.

Mushrooms and toadstools are the reproductive part of the fungus and picking them can stop the fungus from releasing its spores to sustain a healthy population.

Mr Stace said: "We are lucky to have some incredibly rare fungus species on our nature reserves, and if people aren't trained they could be picking and destroying these rare species.

“On a commercial scale some of these untrained mushroom pickers just take everything they see and someone else sorts through them afterwards and throws away what they don't want – including potentially poisonous fungi.

"That in itself is a pretty sad state of affairs, but if people do that year after year you could destroy the precious populations of amazing fungi that we and our volunteers have worked for decades to protect such as hedgehog mushrooms, death caps, waxcaps and plums-and-custard.”

Another problem that fungi foraging can cause is that it removes hugely important sources of food for a host of wild animals and even other fungi.

Mr Stace said: "Fungi will always provide food for other wildlife: if you pick everything you're removing a food source for mammals, birds, insects and other invertebrates.

"Even other fungi rely on fungi: some species of fungus grow on other mushrooms and toadstools, and those can be particular rarities - if you remove mushrooms you could remove that opportunity completely."


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Matthew.norman@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @OxMailMattN1

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