Foraging on this internet page means "collecting wild fungi". Wild fungi both large and small are collected in many parts of the world and for many reasons, for example for food, medicinal use, or for natural dyes. Collecting is carried out in many different economic conditions. In some parts of the world collecting may be made for personal use as part of a subsistence economy. In other places it may be recreational. In some it may be commercial, and the scale of operations may sometimes be vast. The Society has not yet agreed a formal policy on foraging, but when considering foraging it may be helpful to take into account the following points.
Foraging may affect fungal populations. Up to now, only a few studies have been carried out. At present, in countries where foraging is recreational or carried out on a small commercial scale, the scientific evidence for any effect on populations of common species of edible fungi as a result of foraging is inconclusive. Much less seems to be known about the effect on the same species of large scale commercial foraging, and when whole truckloads of a single species are collected from a single site, it seems hard to believe that this will not in some way affect those populations. Where an edible species is rare or endangered, for example Pleurotus nebrodensis in Sicily, even low levels of foraging may present a significant threat to the species. It is possible that different edible species (with different levels of abundance and facing other threats which are different) may respond differently to a similar level of collection. It should therefore not be assumed that foraging for recreation or commercial reasons is harmless for these populations.
It is also necessary to take into account that the process of foraging may result in other damage to the ecosystem in which those fungi occur. Trampling with concomitant compaction of soil and disturbance or even destruction of vegetation may be significant, and very frequently fruitbodies of non-edible species may also be picked only to be discarded when their identity has become more clear. There seem to be no studies of the effect of foraging on non-edible species picked accidentally in this way, but it is entirely possible that those pickings will include some species with populations which are sensitive to collection, or which are themselves rare or endangered.
Foraging may affect animal populations. Fungal fruitbodies are an important food source for many animals (mostly smaller species such as rodents or invertebrates, but sometimes including larger and charismatic mammals such as the Barbary macaque in Morocco). By removing those fruitbodies, the forager is removing the food supply of those animals. If enough fruitbodies are being collected for a worthwhile human meal, the food supply of smaller animals will certainly be impacted. That impact may then be felt further up the food chain.
Foraging lowers the recreational value of a place for others. Fungal fruitbodies form an attractive component of ecosystems Where land is used for human recreation. Many people simply like to see fungi in the same way that they enjoy other aspects of nature such as wild flowers, trees or birds. Removal of fruitbodies by foragers and, in particular, the indiscriminate picking and then discarding of unwanted fruitbodies significantly reduces the recreational value of a place. Foraging, from that point of view, can be viewed as a selfish and anti-social activity.
Chefs and journalists have a particular responsibility in respect of foraging. Chefs, particularly celebrity chefs, and journalists who promote recreational collection and eating of wild fungi shoud bear in mind that the impact of their activities will be much larger because of the accompanying publicity. They are therefore asked to adopt a responsible and restrained approach to this topic.