Foraging for wild mushrooms is becoming increasingly popular and anyone on a mushroom identification group will know that ‘pick-shaming’ (mentioning that someone should not have picked a mushroom that they won’t use) is guaranteed to attract harsh comments and even a removal from the group! While these groups are wonderful for knowledge-sharing and ensuring that mushrooms are correctly identified, they most often fail to teach any sort of responsible foraging etiquette.
Foraged mushrooms in an inappropriate container for spore dispersal
spread their spores further. On that note: picking mature mushrooms that have released most of their spores is essential.
However, there are other less-obvious effects of mushroom harvesting that should be considered. Harvesters who do not consider the environment around the delicacies they seek will undoubtedly squash plants, other types of mushrooms, emerging new mushrooms and insects in their clumsy search. This may have long-term effects on forest floor dwelling species in popular mushroom-harvesting spots, as well as reducing the harvest for all as the season progresses.
It is considered good manners to leave behind at least half of the edible mushrooms in an area, for other human foragers. But, what about non-human mushroom-lovers?
With minimal studies done on mushrooms in general, especially on their importance in ecosystems beyond the obvious decomposition aspect, it is wise to be careful and respectful when it comes to handling mushrooms. While harvesting mushrooms won’t affect the mycelium, it will affect other species that have relationships with them. If animals and insects don’t have access to their usual nutrient-boosting mushrooms at a certain time of year, this could affect their ability to survive leaner seasons and periods of disease.
We have no idea of the ripple-effect that mass human mushroom-harvesting has on greater ecosystems, so let’s be responsible.
Squirrels are one of the many wild animals that consume mushrooms.
When harvesting wild mushrooms, follow the guidelines below:
*Pick just enough for your own consumption.
*Never pick an entire patch of mushrooms.
*Be aware of what else you are stepping on.
*Use a basket for spore dispersal.
*Do the ecosystem a service by picking up litter while foraging.
*Don’t pick more than one or two specimens before getting them identified – just because we can’t eat them doesn’t mean that other animals won’t.
*Pick relatively mature mushrooms that have dispersed spores, bearing in mind that some are inedible if too mature.
By Georgia Carter
Less than 1% of our freshwater reserves are available today, and it’s estimated that 80% of our wastewater - water polluted with chemicals and human waste - is returned to the environment.
These are shocking facts that act as a poignant reminder of what our carelessness has achieved, and it’s harming every living thing on the planet.
To protect precious water and keep it clean for all life forms, we need to adopt a few small yet effective habits when it comes to how we treat our water.
Caption: Less than 1% of our freshwater reserves are available.
Credit: Kazuend, Unsplash
Below are the best ways we as individuals can conserve our water from home:
1) Check your toilet/s, faucets, and pipes for any leaks. Leakages, when added up, can waste litres of water and cost you extra money every month. If you find that you have a leak, fix it straight away.
2) While this is widely known, it’s still important to emphasise as it's one of the most effective ways to save water - take shorter showers!
3) Install water-saving showerheads and taps, which may cost a little extra initially but will help you save money and the planet in the long run.
4) Turn off the tap while you’re washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or shaving. It may not seem like you’re using much water during these activities, but it all adds up in the end.
5) Only use your laundry washing and dishwashing machines when they’re fully loaded, making the most of the water required. Otherwise, litres of water are being pumped where they’re not needed.
6) Collect rainwater for all the little water-required tasks such as watering the plants and wiping surfaces. You’ll be surprised how much water you can actually save this way, and your plants will thank you!
7) Install an adjustable toilet flapper that limits the amount of water needed to flush.
8) Make use of a compostable toilet. No, this is definitely not for everyone and not just anyone can create one of these, but if you can, the benefits are tremendous. Not only are you saving water and money, but you’re also able to renourish and fertilise your plants.
9) Recycle water! Yes, water can be recycled - and easily. Keep a bucket in your shower, save some bathwater, or keep a tupperware in your sink. Reuse that water for certain tasks in the house, such as to flush the toilet or mop the floors.
10) Use a broom instead of a hose to clean outdoor areas.
11) Cover your swimming pools to avoid evaporation and therefore having to add more water into your pool.
12) Water your plants during the early hours of the day. This will not only prevent evaporation and help your plants retain moisture, but will also ward off any pests for the day to come.
13) Add organic matter to your garden beds to help them retain water so you don’t have to water them as often as before.
14) Minimise or end your consumption of chemical products. There are numerous organic swaps for harmful products, such as chemical-free shampoo, eco-friendly face wash, and environmentally conscious hand soap.
15) Dispose of all hazardous materials correctly. These are your oils and paints that make their way down the drain, infecting the entire water system. It’s often better to collect these materials and throw them away rather than disposing of them via the drain.
16) Participate in river, dam, and ocean clean-ups!
17) Consume less of everything. That means less plastic, less processed food, less electricity, you name it - it all requires huge amounts of water to create and work.
Caption: There are numerous ways to save water when it comes to your garden, such as collecting rainwater, watering your plants in the morning, and adding more organic matter to your soil.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Adopting a few of these necessary habits and behaviours has a dramatically positive effect on the environment and those who depend on clean water - which is all of us.
Written by: Kelly Steenhuisen
…Until we deal with invasive species.
In previously colonized countries, one mark on the landscape is rarely noticed but continues to negatively affect people in these areas: invasive plants.
The scorch marks green over and people move on, however, the problem still persists and the fires will rage again until it is fixed. The devastating fires in Cape Town, South Africa are the most recent example of how dangerous these colonial remnants can be. A fire allegedly started by homeless people on Table Mountain, was fueled into an inferno by the highly flammable Stone Pine trees planted by Cecil John Rhodes, causing it to spread over to the University of Cape Town – gutting the iconic library and other buildings. Palm trees closer to the university and ivy on the walls, led to fire right up to its destruction of history.
While homelessness is indeed an under-addressed side effect of the heartless, broken society that we live in, it is not why UCT’s library was destroyed and neither is the indigenous fynbos that needs an occasional fire for optimal health. There will be more fires on Table Mountain – whether started by homeless people or hikers, hot weather or glass bottles – and there should be, as the natural fynbos needs an occasional burn. However, a natural fire would not have raged as hot, huge or quickly as the one that burned away sacred history and priceless seeds.
South Africa has become home to many invasive plants, including plantation trees like: pine, wattle and gum, that are able to burn ten times hotter than the Western Cape Province’s native fynbos vegetation, and are known to explode when subjected to extreme heat. Not only does this make wildfires much more difficult to manage and more likely to burn buildings, it also increases the intensity of the fire beyond that which would be beneficial for the fynbos – preventing new indigenous seeds from sprouting whilst creating perfect conditions for invasive tree seeds to germinate. Loss of vegetation on the slopes of Cape Town’s beautiful mountains will lead to delicate species extinction, erosion, soil quality degradation, less food for animals and will affect hiking for locals and tourists alike.
The fynbos biome of South Africa is home to around 9000 plant species, making it one of the most diverse in the world, and many of these special plants are critically endangered. For this reason, some areas of the Western Cape fynbos have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. These areas would only naturally burn every 15 years. Humans on the mountains for various reasons increase the frequency of fires but, invasive plants fuel them into infernos. Too frequent burning degrades the fynbos by burning plants that are too young to survive fire and those that have no yet developed the necessary seeds to facilitate fire-fuelled plant succession.
A research team found the same phenomenon – invasive pine trees in the place of indigenous fynbos vegetation and natural forests - to have significantly increased the severity of the devastating 2017 fires that hit Knysna, South Africa. The famous Knysna fires burnt 15 000Ha over four days, killing seven people and countless animals.
While it is important to accept that living in Africa means living with fire, the fires that have made the news over recent years have not been natural and climate change will only exasperate this in future. The government department, Working on Fire, has been slowly removing invasives between fire events but, it does not seem to be enough… not to mention the spraying of poisons by this and other departments.
As citizens across the world, we can all make a huge impact by planting only indigenous and edible species in our private gardens, educating ourselves on invasive, indigenous and endemic plants and their interaction within our local ecosystems, volunteering and campaigning to remove invasive species from public spaces near us and putting pressure on government departments to step up their game.