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  • Writer's picturewyldeoakeartistry

"Because we can....."

The most common answer given to a social media question of why do people pick mushrooms to identify them and one that I have find smacks of human privilege and one which speaks of our Anthropocentric arrogance in our currently highly materialistic world. It is an answer which I have sat on and pondered over a few days and am now trying to find the social media post on which it was written but the answer bothers me greatly.


The author of the question sought to argue that to identify a fungal species surely a good book and a camera is all that is needed if the gills are vital for identification which is something I have stated within an academic blog. However, the comments were turned off as the author was accused of 'pick shaming' which in fact was simply not the case - he had asked a question without accusation but out of curiosity with few taking the time to explain their reasoning. I have just tried to find the post and been told that to identify a fungal fruiting body it is necessary to see underneath it so you can observe texture, shape, gills, the hollowness of the stem, whether the mushrooms changes colour upon picking, whether it has an egg sac, a veil covering, gills as opposed to pores or maze-like lines or folds or simple the growing substrate itself as what appears at first glance to be soil may in fact be a concealed tree stump (anonymous, 2023). However, I would question whether these observations can be done without picking? close observation using a magnifying glass, camera lens or simply gentle touch can reveal most of the above with the exception of the colour change and hollowness of the stipe itself. My personal preference, like the original author, is photography as demonstrated by this photograph taken just 2 weeks ago - but here I also add a further layer: I have rarely been interested, within academic or artistic study, in individual identification of fungal species. I am not a scientist and have no requirement for classification particularly as I have no desire to forage for edible mushrooms as my work seeks to create dialogue around the human-fungal companion species concept. This does bring into question whether those picking in order to identify do so out of personal interest, edibility, mycological conservation or scientific need - if purely personal interest then why the need to pick? surely a generalised overview is sufficient?

Additionally, I find myself conflicted with the suggestion of digging down into the substrate to ascertain whether it is soil or a decaying tree stump or log - that in itself creates an ethical issue around the disturbance of the mycelium and ecosystem. Research speaks of how picking all available fruiting bodies/mushrooms does not harm the fungi itself if spores have already been spread through enough reaching maturity with open baskets or containers being suggested to allow for continued spreading of spores (Egli et all, 2006. However, that same research does suggest how what does impact fruiting body growth is trampling through the compaction of the soil through the inevitable damage. However, it is further suggested that it is the mycelium, in possible combination with spore dispersal from elsewhere, that is responsible for regeneration but as the paper also acknowledges further research is clearly needed. I have read these studies during post-graduate academic study and as such have critically analysed them but also simply thought about them in more generalised foraying terms and what they do concur on, and is recommended by mycologists is ethical harvesting or identification methods i.e. only taking what you need to scientifically identify or if foraging for food a small percentage: some sources say as little as 5%. However, if I come back to the title of this blog - the 'because I can' does bring me back to the arrogance of human privilege which seems to give some, not all, people the right to just take what they want, due to human greed, without consideration of non-human others who may rely on those same fungal fruiting bodies, whilst still living, for food and/or shelter. There was a lovely Facebook video just this week of a squirrel happily munching on a large mushroom and a quick Google search reveals this is not a lone recording - there are also some of squirrels consuming psychedelic mushrooms with a somewhat inevitable effect. Non-human others whether animal or insect, other organisms are part of a fungal ecosystem and the what we, as a species do directly impacts upon them.

"Because I can" is not a sufficient reason to leave ecological devastation in our path even if that devastation is on a very small scale - and here perspective comes into play: what we consider small, or even minute, may not be to the non-human others of the fungal habitats. My whole work and research seeks to question and ask an audience to re-consider our perspective of the fungal kingdom and as a direct consequence its own non-human companion species. I am very much aware that this blog is subjective opinion but my subjectivity is formed by objective observation and the continuation of theoretical and scientific research which continues to underpin my work.

An additional issue has arisen as a consequence of asking the original author of the post to make themselves known to me - the issue of illegal picking of protected species which seems to be condoned within some social media groups. There seems to be a misconception that if a protected species is on private land then it can be picked regardless of conservation status which is of further concern: it is recommended that anyone who forays o for identification if unsure as a person could be damaging a rare species. A quick Google search revealed a list of 66 protected fungi in the UK as of 2013 but raising awareness of these species also potentially detrimentally impacts upon them too due to the aforementioned human greed - it is a doubled edged sword unfortunately. Finally, I am course very much aware that Anthropocentric arrogance and our perception of being the primary species is at the root of my work as I seek to propose a new Mycocene which is firmly founded in Donna J Haraway's companion species concept which would ultimately remove the 'because I can' statement. BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- Conservation Evidence (s.d.). Available at: https://www.conservationevidence.com/individual-study/230 (Accessed: 24 August 2023). Blizzard, T. (2017) Responsible and Sustainable Mushroom Picking, Modern Forager. Available at: https://modern-forager.com/sustainable-mushroom-picking/ (Accessed: 24 August 2023).

Egli S., Peter M., Buser C., Stahel W. & Ayer F. (2006) Mushroom picking does not impair future harvests – results of a long-term study in Switzerland. Biological Conservation, 129, 271-276. Haraway, D.J. (2008) When Species Meet. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press. Mushroom Foraging Etiquette: Fact VS. Myth (no date). Available at: https://www.myceliumsociety.com/2022/02/09/foraging-etiquette.html (Accessed: 24 August 2023). Participation, E. (s.d.) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Statute Law Database. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69/schedule/8?fbclid=IwAR0aq3Qbx1ghmui2pC5S6bjvf2CFctMat7OaT7rimHmdU545kODWsnlArtA (Accessed: 24 August 2023). Protected UK Fungi (s.d.) Wild Food UK. Available at: https://www.wildfooduk.com/protected-uk-fungi/ (Accessed: 24 August 2023).


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