As Britain’s love of wild edibles continues to gain momentum, with foraged food gracing menus up and down the country, The Royal Parks warns that flouting its ban on collecting mushrooms, sweet chestnuts and other increasingly popular wild ingredients depletes vital food sources for wildlife and may cause long-term damage to park biodiversity.
October and November are the peak time for mushrooms, which provide a vital source of food for animals in the parks and a habitat for many invertebrates, including rare and important species. Picking mushrooms, the fruit of fungi underground, can hinder reproduction, limiting the ability of fungi to thrive. Fungi recycle vital nutrients from dead plants and make these available to living plants, a process that is especially important in public parks where soil tends to be nutrient-poor.
The removal of sweet chestnuts, currently in season, is also of particular concern in Richmond and Bushy Parks, which are home to roaming deer herds. Following the breeding season, lean and exhausted deer must gorge on chestnuts and conkers to gain weight before the winter months, to help them survive.
Julia Balfour, Head of Ecology for The Royal Parks charity, said:
“This sharp increase in the number of people removing nuts and fungi is extremely concerning. Many people enjoy foraging in hedgerows and woodland at this time of year, but please don’t extend this to our parks.
“Fungi play a crucial role in the balance of the eco-system as they are natural decomposers. Fungi recycle vital nutrients from dead plants and make these available to living plants. This process is especially important in nutrient-poor acid grassland, a fragile and important habitat found in several of the Royal Parks, which we are working hard to conserve and enhance.
“Protecting wildlife and the biodiversity of our busy parkland is an ongoing challenge for The Royal Parks, and we need the public to work with us on this.”
Worryingly, there has also been some evidence of ‘picking-for-profit’ at the parks in recent years.
PC Paul Barber from the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit of the Metropolitan Police said: “We have apprehended people making off with shopping bags full of chestnuts, which raises concerns about commercial use. The parks are here for the public to enjoy – they are not anyone’s personal larder. Removing plants and other wildlife can lead to prosecution.”