A woman who tried to save on household bills by foraging for forest mushrooms has paid a high price for the delicacy she never got to eat.

Sonata Sluizaite of Bower Close, Romford, was fined £80 and ordered to pay court costs of £284 after illegally picking three bags-worth of mushrooms from a protected area of Epping Forest.

Sluizaite pleaded guilty by letter at Chelmsford Magistrates Court to breaking a bylaw by removing the fungi on September 21 last year at Genesis Slade, Theydon Bois.

The court was told that she was caught by forest constable Glen Mulleady foraging in the forest’s ancient Genesis Slade.

Sluizaite was putting a carrier bag full of mushrooms into a rucksack when Mr Mulleady arrived on the scene.

When approached she told him that picking mushrooms was allowed in her home country of Lithuania and she didn't know it wasn't allowed in the forest.

Mr Mulleady said he confiscated a total of three full bags, though he believed they were for Sluizaite’s personal use.

The court was told that there are signs warning that picking the fungi is against forest bylaws.

The prosecutor told the court that many people illegally picked fungi for their own use but claimed there was also a growing issue with them being sold on to markets and restaurants.

“A single fungi off a tree can go for £100,” he added.

In a letter to the court, Sluizaite said children in Lithuania commonly went foraging with their parents.

“I didn't know I was doing anything wrong.

“We were going to eat them ourselves.

“I now have a criminal record for an innocent mistake,” she wrote.

She added that she hadn't seen any signs banning mushroom picking.

Over 1,600 species of fungi can be found in Epping Forest.

Paul Thomson, the City of London Corporation’s forest superintendent, said: “The large-scale commercial and personal foraging of fungi from London’s heavily visited green spaces is now unsustainable.

“Epping Forest has 55,000 ancient trees, each centuries old, and like many plants they have a mutually beneficial relationship with fungi, which cover the roots and exchange minerals in return for nutrients.

“One of our roles is to protect the ecology of Epping Forest.

“Concentrated foraging of fungi is disadvantaging our trees and microhabitats, depriving deer and other woodland species of food, and reducing the chances of fungi reproduction and survival.

“On such a large scale foraging is spoiling the experience of visitors wishing to explore the forest in its natural state.

“Fungi are there to be enjoyed by everybody for their beauty and variety, not picked indiscriminately, en masse, for personal consumption or for commercial exploitation.”

Confiscated fungi is returned to the forest floor to re-spore and continue supporting dependent insect life.