Mushrooms, Fungi and Berries
Often adults worry about children in their care coming across mushrooms, fungi, berries and other species which can potentially cause harm. It is highly likely that children will find fungi and berries especially in Autumn. They add to the seasonal beauty and wonder of being outdoors.
In many schools and settings staff assume that children are not allowed to touch fungi. This is an unfortunate assumption. Within Scotland, it is perfectly okay for children to touch fungi and arguably, it is extremely likely that this would happen inadvertently. Feeling and smelling fungi are just as important as being able to see them. Very often children will have picked a berry before an adult has a chance to say “Stop!”
Ingesting fungi is when the harm is done. Thus no-one should ever eat a mushroom or a berry unless they are 100% sure it is edible. If in doubt, don’t eat it. The other rule is to always wash your hands after touching fungi. Any outing where fungi is likely to be encountered should have this included in a risk benefit assessment. Common sense says that children should wash their hands after being outside and especially before eating food. Encouraging children to check with an adult prior to foraging and eating any berries or fungi is a sensible precaution. Teach responsible behaviour from the outset.
Whilst it’s not against the law to pick fungi, there is a Scottish Wild Mushroom Code that should be followed. Common sense says that it is better to leave fungi for others to enjoy too. Similar expectations apply to berries. Caring for the environment and gathering sustainable, leaving plenty for others, including wildlife needs is important. Do not collect and sell mushrooms, fungi and berries. Collecting for commercial purpose or for profit is excluded from access rights.
For schools wishing to find out more about fungi, then the first port of call is the Fungi4Schools website. This has reams of advice and visitors from other countries may find the material relevant and helpful too. There is a useful series of activities called The Good, the Bad and the Fungi for 7-11 year olds. Fungi have an important role to play in the decomposition process. The role of microrganisms in producing and breaking down some materials is a Level 2 Science Experience and Outcome.
The activities include tasting shop-bought mushrooms, using parachute games to introduce some of the key ideas and a “Make a Mycelium” activity. One super activities demonstrates how a fungi gets its spots. To do this, you blow up a red balloon a little bit and put on a damp piece of toilet tissue to represent the universal veil. Then keep on blowing up the balloon and the toilet paper will split in a manner that is very similar to the white spots on the Fly Agaric – our traditional fairy toadstool.
The Nature Detectives website is also worth a visit for identification guides and some simple activities.