Concern for beauty spot as foragers target Hampstead Heath

Unique flora and fauna on Hampstead Heath could disappear forever should foragers be allowed to run riot on the natural beauty spot, according to Heath authorities.

Superintendent Simon Lee of the City of London Corporation is seeking to crack down on foraging, the increasingly popular trend which he claims is threatening to destroy the Heath’s special environment.

He has warned foragers that they could be taken to court and fined if they are caught uprooting fungi and other precious plants.

“With more than seven million people visiting the Heath every year, our overwhelming concern is that there are some very valuable habitats that if people continue to forage, increasingly there is a risk that we will lose that very valuable habitat very quickly,” he said.

“We can and we could potentially take someone to court and they could receive a fine.”

Foragers armed with shopping bags for their pickings have been stopped by officers on the Heath.

Some have admitted to police that they sell on their proceeds for commercial gain.

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In the past, nature groups on the Heath have been allowed to pick occasionally, but new licenses now prevent any foraging that could harm the survival of mushrooms and pignuts on the Heath.

But Mr Lee did confirm casual blackberry picking would be allowed to continue unregulated.

Ham&High foraging columnist Matilda Moreton said the ban seemed unnecessary as trained foragers knew not to pluck fungi, preferring nettles, elderberries and blackberries instead.

She suggested the ban was to clamp down on commercial picking on Hampstead Heath, which could see amateur hands harvesting an entire crop of mushrooms with little thought for the environment’s survival.

“What I often say is what all foragers’ books say, ‘pick a little bit and leave plenty for other people’,” she said. “Don’t pick the whole blooming lot and certainly never dig anything up.”

Dominic Farlam, a trained forager from environment awareness group Transition Belsize, leads nature education walks on the Heath which has more than 350 species of plants.

He said; “We take people on walks to learn about their environment and explain the concept of foraging, but we don’t actually take anything. We go into the country where we are allowed to pick things and we leave the Heath well alone.”

In October 2010 Epping Forest in Essex came under attack from commercial pickers who put the survival of the open space’s ecology in danger.