There is very little scientific evidence for either argument, lets face it. I would like to see more and it is down to foragers like myself and others to put management practices in place which, in hand, become research projects within their own right to combat the wild accusations flying around, once and for all. I believe the obvious, hence I'm member of the new Foragers Association that has been formed in light of all these incorrect pre conceptions, that; "hunting fungi is detrimental to future fungal existence, our environment and other organisms". We have to be scientific in our cause to disprove these wild claims by a worryingly growing number of landowners. Or by staying on top of these issues, as we have done, by providing clear codes of conduct on how to ensure and protect future populations. These codes were well anticipated and practiced well before any negative press about foraging came about and probably before the word for foraging was used as a term for harvesting wild food.
We should be promoted and seen to be working alongside land agencies rather than sensationalised as verses one another, I know that this is how I would prefer to be perceived, although this may sometimes be very difficult, and in light of frustrating events such as these blanket bans, especially when having no scientific weight to prove or to support their radical claims. There are a limited amount of research project to support that harvesting is not detrimental to future populations, however we need more.
Before I was aware of the Association of Foragers, I was exasperated by similar claims of "feeling like being in a war zone" (said by Geoff Dann in a recent article whilst he strangely attacked the Association of Foragers and some of its members, considering he is a fellow forager and course leader himself), "feeling in the middle" he said, "getting barraged from both sides by foragers and conservationists " as do many other conscientious foragers and foray leaders, with or without a science or conservation background. If one really cares about the land its a natural progression to be interested in the science and how to protect it. It was refreshing to find others who were experiencing the same difficulties.
In my view it has to come down to contemplating the science, ecology, forestry, relationships and much more within a subject that has so many variables to consider. This makes it really hard to determine the impact of harvesting. It has to be done over many years to fully understand the perimeters of sustainability and conservation for each species. It would be a long an arduous but fascinating task. However, it is about finding the balance with all of this in mind.
Erring on the side of caution in areas where only folklore and intuition have prevailed with a view to management and sustainability cannot be such a bad thing, in my opinion, especially if we are not sure...? From a health point of view, there was a time when Eastern Europeans were consuming The Brown Roll Rim (Paxillus genus) which is now known to be cumulatively poisonous and deadly, this was a part of their culture and tradition till recently, perhaps it still is in remote areas. This is a good example where some traditions should be further investigated.
I believe the greater part of these traditional ways were, however, correct and the people were in touch with the land and did as little as possible to negatively impact their environment and food chain. This is why now we are have codes of conduct as a safeguard; a form of management for the responsible individual; there is always a minority that spoil it for others.... Clearly its now time to prove that our intuitions, folklores and traditions, coupled with old and new management practices, can be effective through scientific research and observations - an even harder task with land development, agricultural practices and pollution constantly encroaching, knocking at our door at a much greater pace and threat!
I spend many many hours in the woods and I too have witnessed lines of commercial pickers going through a wood, forensic style, in Sussex, but only on one occasion. It was a shock - picking everything and discarding unwanted mushrooms in the car park. I hope that with more educated foragers and teachers present in the woods we could perhaps stay on top of those without commercial licenses operating without a care to the environment and others.
The further removed we are from whats going on around us in the wild would not be a benefit, rather the contrary I fear. We too are custodians of the land, we see daily changes and feel our way whilst aware that we are responsible for our own actions. I have not yet met a true forager that does not nurture his spot as he wants to return year in year out to harvest his wild produce!
Yes my protein intake goes way up in Autumn, thanks to larvae whilst eating over thirty, forty or more good edible mushroom species over the year, some of which have them and many that do not - species, luck and conditions allowing! Its unavoidable sometimes and even when you can't see them to the eye either the eggs are present or so small they are not apparent. Indeed this is food for others, hence the rule applies not to take all; leave what has gone over, leave whats young, don't tread heavily, avoid compaction, etc etc... I hunt in rotation, for example. If these rules were respected for the organisms in question, and applied, future crops would return for us all, invertebrates and many other woodland creatures included! There is no mention of the slaughter of insects whilst using indiscriminate insecticides, herbicides used in conventional farming, forestry and now mosquito control.......the only pesticide I use are my teeth and a fly swat.
I hunt truffle in the woods all over and there is always plenty to share between the wild boar, badgers, rodents... right down the chain to the truffle fly and beetle. The truffles that are spoilt get left in the woods. A minimal depth is dug whilst harvesting and, as a result, many are left in the ground to do their job within their community. Most times, I would prefer to eat my protein from truffle/mushroom fed larvae than meat from the supermarket, as gross as that may sound to some!
Discussing these issues with big landowners, who are predominantly interested from the revenues of their timber production, coupled with differences regarding sustainability and conservation, makes it difficult to achieve any long term research or management with a view to fungi. To me, sustainable and conservation mean indefinitely, forever or for as long as possible; not so sure this is always a part of the management plan for sustainable timber production, especially with a view for the associated fungi and much needed truffle associations in poor soils. Delicate areas which I see changing on a day to day basis which could be managed otherwise to be productive for timber, truffle and comply with Gov. directives towards bio-diversity, which would in turn be management for the truffle community and its conservation, even if trees and truffle were being harvested. However, cost, money and labour is always an issue, but at what price! Incidentally, no one is interested and on a personal level, and for these sacred areas its heartbreaking!
Quite rightly they all insist that I am sustainable and practice within the codes of conduct when I acquire my licenses, but when approached with long term plans for the conservation of these areas they are ignored, some on the basis that they have no time for it, it would interfere with ongoing management (not really) etc etc... resulting in ignoring pioneering forestry, overall minimising woodland production/produce and not maximising land usage in poor soils and ignoring conservation in the long term....it makes no sense of any sort! Frustrating to the hilt! Satisfied only that there is a skill and trained dogs, quite clearly the only sustainable tools required to hunt with, but I somehow feel its not enough.
I would like to do more to ensure future productions through management of these precious semi-wild orchards/plantations. I am grateful that I tick their boxes and my level of sustainable practice is sufficient purely by having my dogs. However, when faced with these double edged standards and little interest in long term research and management predominantly carried out by me makes these bans seems somewhat of a farce!
I feel that there is potential for us all to work together and we can all perhaps live up to the quote made by Mark Williams of the Foragers Association, that "picking wild fungi actually helps the populations to grow". Yes, I agree, aided by codes of conduct in place, woodland management and research that will lead to a greater understanding through a kinaesthetic experience which starts out in the field. This will only materialise through active presence, observations, research, guidance and education. Without it we will be a very sad society that is completely out of touch with our environment. This is not a way forward for our overall growth.