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Don't eat our delicious, lobster-flavour mushrooms, pleads Forestry Commission

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The bearded tooth (Hericum erinaceus) fungus growing in the New Forest
The bearded tooth (Hericum erinaceus) fungus growing in the New Forest

EXTREMELY rare woodland fungi which are on an endangered list have been taken from the New Forest by unlicensed foragers who ignored signs from the Forestry Commission not to pick them.

The bearded tooth (Hericium erinaceus) fungus was taken from three different locations during a period in October.

Having icicle-like spores and said to look like white hedgehogs, they are said to taste delicious, rather like lobster cooked in butter. They are also believed to have medicinal properties, helping with memory loss and anxiety.

There were only 11 of the fungi growing in the New Forest in total before the three were stolen, and a spokesperson for the Forestry Commission (FC) believes they were deliberately targeted by the thieves.

They said: “Unfortunately, they were probably meant for someone’s table as they are edible. They are such beautiful fungi, so impressive and so rare. It’s extremely upsetting that they have been taken.”

The bearded tooth was growing on beech trees and cut off probably with a knife. The FC has released photos of one fungus before and after it was taken.

Capable of growing to large dimensions, the mushrooms are only seen in very few forests in the UK. They grow naturally in the New Forest, where there are many beech trees, and are on a Red Data list, to which all foragers have access, that points out it is illegal to pick them.

They are only allowed to be taken with authorisation for scientific reasons. Picking the fungi means that their spores will also have gone and they will not now re-produce.

Police are investigating the theft, along with Natural England and the FC.

The FC spokesperson said: “It was a deliberate act, they have clearly been cut. It could have been done by one person, or several. We just don’t know. We monitor the bearded tooth so we know the first one was taken on 1st October and the other two on 26th October.

“It’s a completely illegal thing to do, so whoever did it can be charged with an offence. We are just hoping that someone spotted them doing it or saw something suspicious so we can find them.”

The FC has been running a long campaign urging people not to pick mushrooms in the New Forest, leaving them to be enjoyed by other visitors.

Foraging is not illegal in the national park but commercial picking is. Taking any protected species is also against the law.

“New Forest keepers and rangers will continue to ask local people and visitors not to pick fungi in the New Forest National Park and help spread the message,” added the spokesperson. “We encourage people to get out into the Forest to enjoy the signs of autumn, but they must act responsibly and leave rare fungi in their natural environment.

“We are urging anyone who has any information to please call the police’s non-emergency line on 101. We need people to report incidents to the police, not just on social media – otherwise it won’t be dealt with appropriately.”

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