Code of Conduct for collection of fungi in the UK
On 3rd September 1998, a code entitled The Wild Mushroom Picker's Code of Conduct was published by English Nature in conjunction with the Woodland Trust, The National Trust (of England, Wales & Northern Ireland) and the Forestry Commission. The code itself is accompanied by a coloured leaflet, under the separate title of The Conservation of Wild Mushrooms. This serves as a preamble to the code, explaining what fungi are and why they are vitally important in ecosystems and as a resource for humans. Prominence is given to the role that fungi play as habitats for over 1000 British invertebrates, and there is a picture of the rare erotylid beetle Triplax russica, which occurs in and among fungi on dead wood.
The leaflet addresses the question as to whether collecting poses a threat to fungi and their dependent organisms. As far as the fungi themselves are concerned, it is made clear that evidence of harm does not currently exist. However, the need to apply the precautionary principle is stated. The final section of the leaflet outlines the possible application of UK laws to collectors of fungi.
The code itself is divided into five sections, some of which are directed at different interest groups. The first section gives general guidelines, including advice to obtain landowners' permission and to follow the Country Code. It also emphasises the need to avoid damage to habitats, such as leaf litter and dead wood.
The second section of the code is directed at those who collect for the pot; i.e. individual fungus-eaters rather than commercial pickers. As well as warning people about poisonous species, these guidelines stress the need to collect edible fruit bodies only in moderation and to avoid picking or destroying those of species which are not to be eaten. The recommended limit for a site visit is a total of 1.5 kg or half of the fruit bodies of any single species present, whichever is the lesser. A warning is also given that culinary collecting on many protected sites, such as nature reserves and SSSIs, is not likely to be allowed and should never be done without prior consultation with the site owner or manager.
The next section, "Guidelines for scientific collecting", is aimed mainly at those who collect fungi for the purposes of study. It acknowledges that specimens have to be taken, while urging that no more should be taken than are strictly needed for study. It also states that the results and significance of the findings should be made known, both to the site owner or manager and to museums and databases. The next section, "Advice for foray leaders", echoes the guidelines on scientific collecting, while also emphasising the additional safeguards that may apply when large groups of people are involved. It also adds a warning to avoid the use of rakes except where absolutely essential, in which case the raked areas should be restored as far as possible.
The final section is "Advice for landowners and managers". While suggesting that foray groups are generally to be welcomed this advice also raises the idea that owners may wish to set limits on the number of visits. It also indicates that it will "probably be inappropriate" to limit picking to scientific collection on nature reserves or other protected areas like SSSIs. It furthermore points outs that, on SSSIs, the picking of fungi may require consent from the statutory nature conservation body. Unlike the rest of the code, this section also deals specifically with commercial collecting. It sets out some of the limitations which landowners may wish to impose, for example regarding the species that are to be collected and the area covered by the permission. Other possible limitations mentioned relate to the quantities of fruit bodies, the collecting methods and the season.
On the whole, the code seems to represent a moderate application of the precautionary principle as far as fungi themselves are concerned, and a warning to those who have not hitherto been aware of the importance of fungi as invertebrate habitats. It is to be hoped that the arguments about dependent organisms may persuade people that collecting without restraint may be more damaging than they formerly realised. On the other hand, some people may quite reasonably ask whether the designation of a site as "protected" is sufficient reason to discourage owners and managers from allowing collecting. Most field naturalists have traditionally supported such designation, but their support could falter if they come to feel that it tends to result in the unnecessary curtailment of their private study, or indeed of their personal freedom.
Both the code and the accompanying leaflet are available free of charge in the UK from English Nature's Enquiry Service (Tel. 01733 455101).
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