Aside from the lurid media “Aliens Ate My Fungi” headlines, the alleged criminal gangs sweeping the forests, the unsubstantiated evils of fungi picking on conservation, the misreported fungi poisoning statistics and the thinly disguised racism against Eastern European families, there are some concerns that have emerged that are actually not really about the fungi at all.
One of the main issues that has come out of the #NewForestPickingBan debate is the lack of consultation with the public, on how to manage the perceived problems to a forest that many people treasure.
Nearly half of the New Forest National Park is managed by the Forestry Commission, including much of the best-known open land and forestry plantations, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (Whom I assume represents the voters and taxpayers?)
Other significant landowners in the New Forest National Park include the National Trust, Hampshire County Council, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and some private estates and landowners.
For those interested in ‘fungi politics’ the EU Charter on Fungi Gathering and Biodiversity 2013 sets out very clear guidelines for the way that landowners and land managers (especially of publicly owned lands) like the Forestry Commission England, Natural England and other authorities should engage with the public. It also sets out the responsibility of those of us who forage, both private individuals and commercial collectors.
It is clear, in the case of the New Forest blanket fungi picking ‘ban’, that the Forestry Commission completely ignored the EU guidelines. The full Charter paper is here. From page 9 onwards, a set of Principles are laid out with recommendations for all parties in the debate. At the heart of this, is transparent regulation and consultation with ALL stakeholders which includes local people who forage (including the Eastern European community), those who teach foraging (many represented by the Association of Foragers), commercial pickers as well as mycological societies, conservation groups, etc.
I can’t imagine that any of the public want to see the loss of a habitat or a species. This includes commercial foragers (possibly excepting ‘illegal gangs’) as nonsustainable harvesting now, depletes their livelihood in the future. I know several commercial foragers and, from personal experience, they are acutely interested in conservation. But conservation also needs to include humans and human activities.
The answer to everything is Education, Education, Education (of all parties) and that requires Engagement and Consultation. The Forestry Commission has no evidence on the impact of collecting fungi on the forest and yet hasn’t engaged with those that forage and know the forest and its fauna intimately in a way that the FC doesn’t.
They are missing a huge opportunity to gather data, teach more people about sustainability, and create support for strategies that ensure all benefit – including the fungi. Sadly, their one-sided blanket pick ‘ban’, even on the forestry plantations which don’t qualify for SSSI status except that they are adjoined to ancient forest, demonstrates a dictator-like, non-consultative approach to the general public. This doesn’t bode well for access to any public land in the future by us, the commoners, although it will probably do nothing to deter the ‘illegal gangs’.
Please also note that the Forestry Commission Scotland is a separate body that does have an excellent approach to the inclusion of stakeholders in the management of foraged resources.