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A MASSIVE increase in "fungi for free" harvesters, inspired by the gourmet recipes of television?s celebrity chefs, is threatening Scotland?s wild mushrooms, environmentalists warned yesterday.
An estimated 800 commercial gatherers and thousands of amateur enthusiasts are now enjoying the easy pickings from woodlands in a ?1.5million annual harvest.
But there are increasing fears that the growing popularity of mushroom collecting could destroy the habitats of Scotland?s rarest fungi.
Environmentalists are also concerned that new access legislation due to be enacted by the Scottish Parliament could lead to friction between landowners and commercial mushroom pickers.
Yesterday, in a move to defuse potential conflict, to prevent unwitting members of the public from poisoning themselves, and to ensure the survival of Scotland?s wild mushrooms as a sustainable resource, a new pickers? code was launched by the Scottish Wild Mushroom Forum, a group consisting of representatives of conservation bodies, landowners, commercial pickers and buyers.
Alison Dyke, the forum?s facilitator, said five years ago there had been only an estimated 400 commercial harvesters operating in Scotland in an industry which was worth ?500,000.
She revealed: "I would have thought the numbers of harvesters have at least doubled, and that the industry is now worth ?1.5million."
Most of the mushrooms that are commercially harvested are chanterelles and ceps, or penny buns, destined for the gourmet restaurants in Edinburgh and Glasgow and as far afield as Switzerland.
But Ms Dyke said the championing of "food for free" by television chefs had led to the countryside being invaded by amateur harvesters looking for gourmet fungi on the cheap, unaware of the potential dangers.
She warned: "There are mushrooms out there which could kill you - things like the appropriately named death cap.
"People, however, could well be picking mushrooms that are quite rare, and destroying their habitat."
She stressed: "I am not against people going out and harvesting mushrooms. The more people who are interested the better, providing they understand the implications of what they are doing."
Ms Dyke said the new access legislation, due to come into force next year, would specifically exclude commercial pickers from the right to harvest on private land.
Attn PWN hunters: If you should come across a bluing Psilocybe matching P. pellicolusa please smell it.
If you detect a scent reminiscent of Anethole (anise) please preserve a specimen or two for study and please PM me.