CELEBRITY chefs who encourage mushroom picking have been named as a new problem facing the authorities in Epping Forest.

The City of London Corporation has been catching record numbers of illegal fungi pickers on its land and has said TV chefs who encourage wild foraging are partly to blame.

Senior forest keeper Jonathan Preston said: “One of the biggest problems we have got is a real issue with celebrity chefs promoting mushroom picking. Jamie Oliver and people like that.

“Epping Forest is right next to London and it's not like a forest in the middle of Dorset where you might get ten people there at the weekend.

“You can usually identify people because they're carrying plastic bags. We caught one person with five carrier bags full. We think there's a possible trend for commercial picking because a lot of what they pick is poisonous and we think they might be taking it back to a central place for sorting.”

More than 100lbs worth of mushrooms were confiscated last weekend by forest keepers in the latest crackdown on the activity.

The City of London Corporation, which maintains Epping Forest, has said the rise in fungi foragers is harming the delicate ecology of the land.

Forest services manager, Keith French said “Fungi play a vital role in the ecology of all natural habitats. They are natures recyclers as they break down organic matter from plants and animals. “Many creatures feed on fungi and they are host to some rare invertebrates that are unique to these ancient woodlands.”

The corporation carried out one prosecution for mushroom picking last year and already has six pending so far in 2010.

It has also issued around 20 formal warning to people this year.