Tuesday, 12 April 2016

NFA Fungi Campaign 2015-16

With the upcoming NFA AGM this Saturday, we look back at some of this past years works. Here is an amended excerpt from our Habitat and Landscape Committee's Annual Report

After years of increasing damage from commercial pickers, and more than two Autumns passing with much talk, but no subsequent action from the Forestry Commission and National Park Authority, the NFA Council took the lead and tasked our committee to develop the NFA’s policy and campaign to protect fungi from foragers.

At both the Verderers Court and National Park Authority meetings in July 2015 we called for the Forestry Commission to impose a ban on fungi harvest on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This is in keeping with existing bans in Epping Forest and at many of the Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Reserves. A blanket ban will assist enforcement by removing the need to prove commercial intent and weigh amounts against the arbitrary allowance. With discretion Keepers could target those who are over harvesting, whether for personal or commercial use.

The National Trust imposed the ban on the Northern Commons that they manage within the Forest. The Forestry Commission stopped short of the ban, but did engage in a series of disruption events targeting commercial foragers, some harvests were seized and destroyed. We believe the FC missed a trick by not moving forward with prosecutions which should further deter commercial criminals. Foraging fungi for any commercial purpose is seen as theft in the Theft Act 1964. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if they have taken any rare protected species they face summary conviction for 6 months + £5k fine, or if Natural England determine that a group of pickers have engaged in potentially damaging operations on SSSI, fines of up to £20k may be levied.

The ban would also be in keeping with guidelines the FC itself subscribed to in 1998, the Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct published by English Nature, which says culinary foraging is inappropriate on SSSI and National Nature Reserves. That code is also the source of the supposed 1.5kg limit (which has no basis in law) which there is suggested “per foray” for culinary harvest, but which the FC have erroneously repeated as “per person / per day”, ignoring the code’s SSSI prohibition. The NFA have asked that all FC leaflets and posters compounding this error be withdrawn until a revised code is established.

The Forestry Commission's latest The New Forest Essential Guide for 2016 has this more helpful message:

"Fungi: The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest with over two thousand varieties of fungi, many of which are rare and internationally-important species. We appeal to people to look, but don’t pick. Commercial harvesting is not permitted and foray leaders must obtain a licence. We’re reviewing the guidelines on picking for personal consumption. New restrictions will be trialled to lessen the impacts on this very special habitat, visit forestry.gov.uk/newforest or call 0300 067 4601 for the latest details."

However, the website referenced above has yet to be updated and carries the unreviewed guidelines and leaflets. This includes the 1.5kg "personal limit" and noisome parenthetical congratulations to those treating it as a goal rather than a limit: " (and if you’ve found this much you’ve done well!) ". This hardly gibes with the more welcome "look, but don't pick". Baby steps? Perhaps.

The NFA have continued to press for a new code of conduct, and with the full support of the members of the National Park Authority will be included in the stakeholders tasked with its development. We have stressed that a plan needs to be in place by the New Forest Show 2016 to have coordinated messages and actions for this Autumn. We will also campaign for improved protection when Wildlife laws are next revised (the Law Commission has published a draft, we do not know when it will be brought forward).

The display of fungi in the New Forest is as essential a part of the experience of Autumn in this protected habitat as the pannage pigs, and should remain for all to see and enjoy.

-- excerpted with updates from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff, with permission.