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Dorset’s ’shroom raiders!

Posted by Luci Ackers on 3 April 2018
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Dorset may be rightly famous for its Jurassic Coast, the Isle of Purbeck and Portland Bill, but one of Britain’s smallest counties boasts other attractions – natural, but somehow otherworldly. We’re talking fungi: neither animal nor vegetable, but often very edible – in fact, utterly delicious.

But how to find them? And, just as importantly, how to distinguish the ones you can eat from the ones you, most definitely, cannot?

Dorset and Langton House holidaymakers should consider themselves fortunate. On the doorstep is a band of men, women and children with a mission: to put the fun in fungi. The Dorset Fungus Group.

Every weekend from late summer until the first frosts of winter, the ‘DFG’ heads off to forage for mushrooms.

The group was established in Lytchett Matravers, close(ish) to Langton Matravers and Langton House, in 1995 by a small band of enthusiasts who wanted to further their knowledge and share their interest in fungi. Today they are Dorset’s only club to specialise in this fascinating subject.

The group meets on Sunday mornings and visits various locations (notably Brownsea Island) where they might find interesting species and collect samples for identification and, sometimes, to eat; that is, if they are 100% sure that they’re edible! Most forays last for between two and three hours and usually start at about 10am. After each visit they record the species they’ve found, especially is they are rare or unusual.

You don’t have to know anything about fungi to join this friendly bunch on their outings; members are more than willing to pass on their knowledge.

Birthplace of the Scout Movement and largely owned by the National Trust, Brownsea Island, easily accessed by boat from nearby Poole, is a haven for birdlife – grey herons, little egrets, common terns, Sandwich terns and, in winter, a large flock of avocets – and other wildlife, particularly a growing colony of red squirrels. There is also a large population of non-native sika deer on the island, and a small (but noisy) number of ornamental peacocks.

At the end of a foray, it falls to fungus identifier and foray secretary Mark Pike to scrutinise the hunter-gatherers’ bounty, and sort the delicious edible varieties from the rather less toothsome, indeed dangerous, toxic types.

“Nothing can beat a morning stroll through attractive countryside with well-informed folk who are always on the lookout for something new or unusual,” says Mark. “Above all it is the satisfaction we get from observing the wide diversity shown by fungi, and why it is important to know the ‘lookalikes’, some of which are poisonous. Some of our local and national folklore deals with the magic and mysteries of mushrooms and toadstools, which our ancestors didn’t really understand – hence the legends of fairies dancing round them, gnomes sitting on them and so on. Happily we’ve come a long way since then!”

Holidaymakers at Langton House who fancy joining the DFG on one of its Sunday-morning forays should check out the group’s website: https://www.dorsetfungusgroup.com/.

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Luci Ackers

Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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