Understanding and working with nature is at the heart of our ethos at Symondsbury Estate, so we’re excited to be running our first foraging walks this September with Nick Phillips, forager extraordinaire and owner of Grown Up Mushrooms. This is a man who has an infectious passion for fungus and securing its place in the world, and fascinating stories to tell.
In this chat with us, Nick talks about his rather unusual way of spreading mushroom spores(!), his journey from scrumper to fungus expert and the importance of foraging sustainably.
Why should people come on one of your foraging walks?
These walks are in-depth, hands-on experiences which will open up the underground world of fungi and highlight the fantastic joy of the greater natural world that lives on Symondsbury Estate. There will be identification techniques, stories and folklore of plants and fungi, plus methods for understanding the natural world around us. I teach sustainable foraging techniques, showing you how you can spread the fungal kingdom in your own back garden, and talk about the medicinal properties of flora and fungi – all while we enjoy the goodness of a freshly brewed cup of mushroom tea.
How did you get into foraging?
Foraging has always been part of my life – my grandmother and mum would both process and cook wild produce for us to eat and it was very much a family activity together, picking blackberries, wild raspberries, gooseberries and more. My mum even sent us off scrumping from the neighbour’s apple trees! I began honing my mushroom knowledge around 12 years ago when I when I lived in London. I would be off to the woods at every opportunity, looking out for the deadly and delicious varieties predominantly. It’s good to familiarise yourself with what to avoid first and foremost.
How and why have mushrooms become your ‘first love’?! What makes them so amazing/interesting?
When I discovered the immense variety and complexity of the fungal kingdom, I was hooked; the feeling of finding a new variety or a new patch gave me such a hit it became like an addiction. It tweaks so many senses; hunter gathering instincts, our natural desire to explore, the brilliance of nature’s work, the satisfying sense of achievement, yet also the disappointment of finding nothing at all. Even when this happens, the fulfilling pleasure of being out in nature and finding incredible trees or mossy understories never fails to inspire me.
How did you first discover Symondsbury Estate?
Having grown up in nearby Chideock and attended Symondsbury Primary School, the ways of Symondsbury Estate are part of my being. I am connected to the land, knowing it inside out, having walked its paths countless times. Colmers Hill feels like a spiritual landmark in many ways, and the beauty of places like Shutes Lane have always lived with me even when I was living abroad. My name is still carved in the sandstone walls there from when I was a child. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when I first discovered the Estate, but I remember planting trees and making fences atop the Hill when I was very young. It thrills me to be able to lead groups on land which I have interacted with all my life.
What is your ethos when it comes to foraging?
As a member of the Association of Foragers, I’m all about foraging with respect and understanding. I never pick more than I need and use my intuition too. If I get a strong sense that I must leave a certain patch alone I will. Any off-cuts I don’t use get made into a paste which I then spread back into the woodlands to help the spores multiply. I have even driven with mushrooms on my windscreen to help them spread as I drive!!
What is particularly interesting about Symondsbury for a forager?
I personally feel most complete when out with a bag on my back, basket in hand and a whole day of exploring ahead of me. What’s special about Symondsbury is that there is a great variety of environments which mushrooms like to thrive – established pasturelands, mature woodlands, rewilded zones – habitats which are in danger of becoming increasingly rarer in this county. Dorset has very few woodlands, well below the European average, so it’s great that Symondsbury has these protected areas that people can come to and hopefully discover what mushroom secrets they hold!
Foraging Walk with Nick Phillips
Wednesday 25th October and Sunday 12th November