Foraging with a field expert

Last week, as part of our Wild Britain campaign, we visited the Sussex Downs forests where we met up with Nik Westacott who has been gathering wild mushrooms for the last twenty years.

Date
October 14th 2013

Autumn is a perfect time to head to the forest to hunt for mushrooms and this year’s long summer and mild autumn weather has set up some of the best conditions for fungi to thrive.

There is an estimated three thousand fungi alone in the British Isles, so it is almost impossible to identify each one. Many are fine to eat, however foraging is not for the uneducated, as there are many wild mushrooms that carry deadly spores of poison. We would always advise you are accompanied by an expert.

Last week, as part of our Wild Britain campaign, we visited the Sussex Downs forests where we met up with Nik Westacott who has been gathering wild mushrooms for the last twenty years.

Armed with his knowledge and his trusty field guide, Nik de-briefed the small gathering and described some of the varieties that we might come across along the way: Cep, Chanterelle, Shaggy Ink Cap, Horn of Plenty and Puff ball mushrooms.

Nik was keen to point out that when collecting fungi in the countryside one should only take enough for a humble supper and leave some behind for another day. Also reminding us to tread carefully through any flowering plants and generally respect the landscape.

Our first stop was the local churchyard where we discovered a large patch of Shaggy Ink caps, which can only be described as looking like white wigs.
After learning about this variety we headed off into the woods. In an instant we spotted some Chantrelle mushrooms, the prize of the forest! Nik cut them and brushed off the leaves and forest dirt with a small brush - something we all had a turn at as he explained the best practices for gathering wild mushrooms.

We continued to identify over 6 varieties through the open forest and our basket filled up easily within the hour.
We learned how to identify each fungi through characteristics such as the size of the cap, the gills and spores, the habitat, the soil and even by checking the smell.

After scouring the forest floor for further specimens we came across one the UK’s most deadly species, the Death Cap, serving as a further reminder of the importance to have an expert like Nik with us.

Back at Nik’s home we were rewarded by a medley of the mushrooms that we picked earlier, cooked to perfection with some herbs and cream and finished with a finale of Pears which were scented subtly with mushroom essense. A true mushroom lovers treat!