The National Trust meets the commons problem

Families enjoying the centuries-old countryside pleasure of wandering through the woods and looking for wild mushrooms are being beaten to it by \”greedy\” commercial pickers, the National Trust has said.

Sigh.

Lee Hulin, one of the Trust\’s outdoor rangers, said: \”Our commons are there for everybody, so we are increasingly saddened that large scale harvesting limits the chance of seeing these lovely mushrooms for regular visitors.

\”This sort of plundering is spoiling enjoyment for everyone.\”

That\’s what happens to commons when access isn\’t limited. Do try and keep up at the back there will you?

And this ain\’t true either:

The amount paid varies from year to year but experts say commercial pickers can expect to make a profit of at least £20 per kilo.

No, they can expect to make an income of £20 a kg. From that you need to deduct their costs. And if you\’re being proper about it, their costs will include the costs of their labour. How much would you need to be paid to wander around the New Forst at dawn, in winter? £10 an hour? More?

15 thoughts on “The National Trust meets the commons problem”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    How much would you need to be paid to wander around the New Forst at dawn, in winter? £10 an hour? More?

    I know people who do that sort of thing for fun. If hunting was easier in Britain I might myself. But I wouldn’t do it to collect mushrooms. On the other hand it is better use of their time than sitting at home on the dole.

    Following the NT’s slow realisation that the prior owners of Kinder Scout were, you know, right about limiting access, I look forward to the NT’s gradual awareness of some other facts of life. Like water being wet. That sort of thing.

  2. There was a reasonably sized Polish immigrant community where I grew up and the University Polish Society used to take people picking in one of the local Forestry Commission woods. I never got good enough at it to be happy that I could tell the difference between “tastes nice”, “tastes nasty” and “oh, dear, you’ve just dropped dead.”

  3. SE: “I never got good enough at it to be happy that I could tell the difference between “tastes nice”, “tastes nasty” and “oh, dear, you’ve just dropped dead.””

    Just as well. Look at what happened to the ‘Horse Whisperer’ author!

  4. I do not believe that they can make £20/kilo profit from mushrooms that sell at less than £3/kilo in Tesco.
    Someone slipped a decimal point as well as confusing turnover with profit

  5. This “tragedy of the commons” stuff is fun but as ever we have to ask ourselves if it’s true.
    It’s fairly easy to mug up some general knowledge of which trees favour cepes and which favour chanterelles, etc. But specific knowledge of where to go when is a local or family tradition, around here jealously guarded from outsiders.
    Unless the Polish University Society has been acting as an unofficial Ordnance Survey for twenty years my guess would be it’s just a poor year for mushrooms.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    john77 – “I do not believe that they can make £20/kilo profit from mushrooms that sell at less than £3/kilo in Tesco. Someone slipped a decimal point as well as confusing turnover with profit”

    Naah. The article was just written by the guy who usually does their drug bust stories.

  7. ‘This “tragedy of the commons” stuff is fun but as ever we have to ask ourselves if it’s true’: it was known to be true for many centuries – people just compared the outcomes on stinted and unstinted commons. The only thing that’s untrue about it is the farcical claim that it was discovered by an Economist in my lifetime. As a trade, Economists seem particularly prone to lying in that way. I dare say it’s because incentives matter.

  8. “john77 – “I do not believe that they can make £20/kilo profit from mushrooms that sell at less than £3/kilo in Tesco. Someone slipped a decimal point as well as confusing turnover with profit”

    That’s a bit like saying you can’t understand why caviar’s so expensive because you can get perfectly good cod’s roe at 7£ a kilo. There is one whole world of difference between what you might pick in a woodland & those white things come out of mushroom farms.

  9. Incidentally, as the mushrooms in question are only the fruiting body of the actual ‘mushroom’, which can be twenty foot across & weigh tons, pop up literally overnight & rarely last more than a few days, what exactly is the problem? It’s better to leave delicious delicacies to rot in the vague hope some day tripper might notice them?

  10. How many families actually do this? I wouldn’t because despite being quite keen on wild fruit (blackberries and sloes), I’d rather pay someone who knows tasty wild mushrooms from deadly poisonous toadstools.

  11. There is a way they could be making £20/kg.

    A lot of years ago I played cricket at Stokenchurch and one October morning we were working on the wicket and the outfield was covered in people walking round and occasionally bending over to pick something.

    Intrigued I wandered over to find out what it was all about and was informed that it was a well known source of magic mushrooms, well known the cognoscenti that is.

  12. In the forested mountains of the U.S. west coast, a number of popular edible mushrooms thrive and are gathered (with other forest products such as various floral “greens”) by the foraging of teams (mostly Cambodian) who, typically, lease the foraging rights from owners such as Weyerhauser.

    The floral products are container-shipped to Amsterdam. Chanterelles, common mushrooms, and morels are sold domestically through brokers, and one mushroom in particular, the Matsutake (pine mushroom) is exported to Japan, where especially large specimens of good conformance may bring as high as $250 per lb.
    (price from about 25 years ago, when I was familiar with the trade). Some pursue the morel
    by following forest fires throughout the western U.S. (they sprout after a fire).

    By chance, I live close to one of the largest mushroom-raising areas in the U.S.–Kennett Square, where (mostly Italian) farmers raise the common mushroom, a staple in canned soups, as well as sold in supermarkets along with other produce. The area is about 25 miles south of Philly (SE corner of the PA). About 30 years ago, another place in PA came to rival (perhaps exceed) Kennett Square’s output: Butler, PA–up in the NW corner–found a use for many long-abandoned coal mines–providing the ideal in year-round temperature control.

    For many years, the principal fertilizer used for mushrooms was horse manure (harvested chiefly from racetracks, breeding farms, and the stables of mounted police in various larger cities). Campbell Soup was the dominant player in the horseshit-hauling business (and they also were a large buyer of the mushrooms both for their soups and for supermarket sale). Now the mushroom farms manufacture their fertilizer from a mix of soil, sawdust, wood chips, and chemicals. For a while, the mix has to sit and “ripen,” after which it becomes bedding for the mushrooms. After the mushrooms are harvested, the farmers have to pay to have it trucked away–by dealers in topsoil (into which homeowner market it’s sold). They (the farmers) are always happy to give the stuff away for free to anyone who pulls up with a truck–I’ve hauled 5 pickup-loads for my own use in past years.

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