Dame Eleanor Laing branded people targeting the ancient woodland’s expensive mushrooms “selfish” because deer and rare insects depend on them for food.
The MP for Epping Forest and woodland bosses have also warned the commercial pickers are damaging the woodland’s one million trees as the fungi protects the trees’ roots and provides vital minerals.
Dame Eleanor, the Commons deputy Speaker, told the Standard: “Epping Forest is a very special place. It has for hundreds of years been the lungs of London. I think it’s appalling that some people are abusing the freedom they have to come and enjoy the forest. It is so selfish. I’m pleased that the City of London Corporation have pledged to prosecute these people.”
The mushrooms are being sold to restaurants and markets for profit, according to the City of London Corporation which runs the forest. It has launched a crackdown on mass hoarders, fining almost 30 people £80 for illegal foraging and hiring wardens to patrol the forest for illegal scavengers.
As one of the UK’s last surviving ancient woodlands, Epping Forest is home to some 1,600 varieties of mushroom including the pink wax cap and sandy stilt puffball. Some can sell for hundreds of pounds a kilogram.
Mushroom foraging has become popular in recent years after being promoted by celebrity chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
The pastime is legal on public land in the UK as long as it is for personal consumption and the haul does not exceed more than 1.7kg. But the practice has now been banned altogether in Epping Forest after a string of scavengers took advantage of it.
Graeme Doshi-Smith, of the Epping Forest and Commons committee, said: “Their irresponsible actions are damaging the lungs of London.
“Our job is to protect this ancient woodland which is of national conservation importance. We will take swift action against anyone threatening rare species.”