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Balmy English winter a boon to forest foragers

An unseasonably warm winter means an extended season for hunters of mushrooms and berries in England.

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    Fergus Drennan (l.) teaches students about safe foraging.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

An unusually mild winter in parts of England has meant an extended season for the country’s growing number of professional foragers.

Instead of shivering under frost and snow for long periods, some edible weeds, plants, berries, and mushrooms have continued to grow, allowing foragers like Fergus Drennan to gather produce for the table.

He has been foraging for nearly 20 years, and says the warmer temperatures had been a fillip compared with last year’s freezing weather, which was the worst in a generation.

“I can’t remember it being so mild, but I’m not complaining,” he says.

According to the national weather service, temperatures in central England averaged 43 degrees F. from Dec. 1 to mid-January, putting it on course to be one of the 10 mildest winters since records began 353 years ago.

There are no official figures on how many foragers are operating across England, but foraged food has become more popular among restaurant chefs. Mr. Drennan himself supplies restaurants and also holds courses on what to pick and what not to pick.

“Never eat anything unless you’re 100 percent sure [it is safe], otherwise you can get ill,” he says.

Drennan is careful not to overpick in an area and to gain permission from landowners if necessary.

“There are so many things to eat which we just ignore because we’re too used to supermarkets and modern living,” he says. “This is nature’s larder.”

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