CAMPAIGNERS are calling for mushroom picking in the New Forest to be banned after woodland bosses admitted they were powerless to stop it.

A year after claiming to have prohibited fungi filching, the Forestry Commission has conceded that people are legally entitled to harvest a small amount for their own use after all.

It comes after campaigners accused the commission of a misleading attempt to prevent people from collecting handfuls of mushrooms.

Commercial picking in the area - a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - has been illegal for many years.

Last autumn the commission said it was “no longer permitting picking on any scale” - but has now issued another statement in which it merely asks people not to take mushrooms.

A spokesman said: “Last year’s experience has shown that we need to make the legal position clearer.”

Michael Jordan, chairman of the Fungus Conservation Trust, said: “The ban wasn’t enforceable in law and was basically ignored by the public. The commission realised it was backing a dead horse and has given in.

“The harm done to the countryside every autumn has been awful. Areas have been stripped bare, often for commercial benefit, by people who have caused damage by trampling as well as picking.”

Fellow campaigner Sara Cadbury, a farmer from Brockenhurst, added: “Nothing should be taken from the Forest. It’s an SSSI and a very special area.”

The commission announced an apparent ban last August amid increasing concern over the amount of fungi being taken.

Bosses said the organisation was “no longer permitting picking on any scale” but has acknowledged that taking a small amount of fungi for personal use is not illegal.

Last year professional forager Daniel Butler said the organisation was wrongly trying to stop people taking part in a lawful activity.

Last night a commission spokesman denied that the organisation had misled the public, claiming the 2016 statement referred to a no-picking “code”.

But she added: “We are not seeking to prosecute people who are just picking for themselves - it is not illegal. Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited.”