Fungi pickers are “damaging Epping Forest’s delicate wildlife ecology” on a large scale, according to forest managers.

The City of London Corporation, which manages Epping Forest, has been clamping down on fungi foraging which it says is harmful to the forest and often done for financial gain.

The corporation has been issuing fines, and prosecuted over 27 people since 2014, with offenders getting criminal records.

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Last year, one person was caught with a 49kg haul, enough to fill multiple large black sacks, as the corporation says mushrooms are being illegally picked en-masse and sold to restaurants and markets.

The City of London Corporation’s Epping Forest and Commons Committee chair Ben Murphy said: “We are urging people not to pick mushrooms in Epping Forest.

“Their irresponsible actions are damaging the green lungs of London.

“Our job is to protect the future of this ancient woodland which is of national and international conservation importance.

“We will not tolerate criminal activity in Epping Forest, and we will take swift action against anyone damaging wildlife and threatening rare species.”

The forest is home to a wide range of fungi species, some of which are designated as being of national importance.

Many of the ancient woodland’s 440 endangered species are scarce wood-loving fungi and picking them is damaging to more than just mushrooms as they are vital to the health of Epping Forest’s one million trees, some of which are up to 1,000 years old.

Fungi protect the trees' roots and provide them with water and vital minerals. Without them the valuable forest biodiversity that has developed over the past 10,000 years is threatened.

Conservators are also warning that animals such as deer rely on fungi as a valuable food source and many rare insect species depend on them for survival.

According to the corporation, Epping Forest has the UK’s largest collection of ancient trees including pollards of beech, hornbeam, and oak, and is home to around 500 rare and endangered insect species.

The forest relies on more than £4 million in yearly funding from the City of London Corporation as well as donations from the public.