New Forest Fungi – these are important organisms that belong to their own kingdom, completely separate from plants and animals. The New Forest is home to a rich variety of fungi with over 2700 species found across its varied landscape, a small selection of which can be found in the gallery at the bottom of the page.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there have been organised teams picking indiscriminately for sale to hotels and restaurants. Their modus operandi appears to be to pick anything and everything, leaving the hotels and restaurants to sort out what is edible. If this continues, it will pose a serious threat to many rare species.
New Forest fungi also plays an important part in woodland management. One of the most important things that fungi does within the New Forest is to break down wood and aid the decay process. These fungi are are known as “saprophytic”, feeding on dead organic material. They are nature’s recyclers and are extremely beneficial, breaking down this organic material into humus, minerals and nutrients that can be utilised by plants and insects – over 1,000 species of insects and other creatures depend on fungi for food and shelter.
In a woodland environment certain species of fungi will only grow with certain trees and a knowledge of this can be a useful in identifying fungi. Many species of fungi help trees and other plants to grow by capturing water and nutrients for them. In return the trees and other plants give the fungi sugars that they make during photosynthesis.
Fungi are made of fine threads that look a bit like cotton wool. These fine threads are called “hyphae” and lots of hyphae together make up the “mycelium”. Mycelium can grow over very long distances and, around the roots of plants, they provide the water and nutrients that help them to grow. This mycelium can reach water and nutrients in the soil that plant roots can’t reach on their own. Most of the time the mycelium is hidden from view because it is growing through the soil or under fallen logs or decaying plant and animal remains.
Autumn is the main fungi season and when conditions are just right the mycelium gathers together to form a fruit body and it is this that we recognise as toadstools or mushrooms which come in lots of different shapes, colours and sizes.
Mushrooms and toadstools have a stalk with a cap on top. Under the cap are either gills, pores or spikes and the pattern of these is often helpful in identifying the fungi species. Spores, which are like the seeds of flowering plants, are produced under the fungi cap. Spores are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The easiest way to see them is to make a spore print by placing the cap face down on a sheet of paper and leaving it for several hours. In this way, you can see the pattern that millions of spores make on a the paper as shown in the image on the left. When spores land on a suitable surface they germinate and make the fine threads of hyphae which eventually overlap to form the mycelium.
The following examples are just a few of the many species of fungi found in the New Forest – images © Simon Currie.
New Forest Fungi
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NEW FOREST FUNGI RULES with effect from 2016
Until 2016, the Forestry Commission (now renamed Forestry England – land managers for the New Forest Crown land) had a New Forest Fungi Code which stated that there was a personal collection limit of 1.5kg per day, and commercial picking was not permitted. However, because of indiscriminate picking in recent years, with effect from Autumn 2016, the public are being urged to support a ‘No Picking on New Forest Crown Land (SSSI)’ Code. All of the Crown land in the New Forest is covered by the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) designation and green Forestry England signs clearly demarcate land in their management. Posters will also be displayed in popular car parks during the main fungus season clearly informing visitors that no picking is permitted on the Crown lands. Commercial pickers are being reminded that it has NEVER been permitted to pick fungi in the area. Forestry England we will continue to work with the Police and Natural England to deal with cases in the most appropriate way. Restaurant owners are being invited to support the campaign.
NEW FOREST FUNGI – WARNING
Never eat fungi unless you are sure that it is an edible fungus as only a very small percentage of the hundreds of species found in the New Forest are edible. The vast majority taste awful and can cause stomach upsets whilst there are a small number that are deadly! The rule is that you must never eat anything (fungi or plant) unless you are sure what it is.
If you fancy trying to pick some wild mushrooms these are some simple guidelines:-
- Get the landowner’s permission
- Go out with someone who knows what they are looking at
- Follow the New Forest fungi pickers code
- Don’t mix edible and non edible species in a basket
- Identify the exact species – be extremely careful as some mimic other species
- If you are trying a new one, eat a small amount