The subject of wild fungi in the UK is fascinating and full of misconceptions. From a survival point of view Fungi present an interesting dilemma, they are a common and proliferate food source with over 3,000 species growing in the UK, easy to pick and often growing abundantly, but they offer little in nutritional value and although the amount of poisonous species in the UK is small (around twenty) the consequences of eating the wrong fungi can be disastrous. To be fair the amount of actually tasty and edible fungi is much less than 3,000 in the UK and many are only really worth eating within a few days of their prime despite some species especially bracket fungi literally hanging around for months. It has been suggested that our prejudice against eating fungi comes from a Christian taboo and the association that the use of fungi has with some native Pagan religions. This supernatural reputation is added to by the nature of fungi, they spring up quickly as if from nowhere, thriving on dead and decaying matter, often resembling body parts themselves and of course there is the hallucinogenic effects of some varieties which have been used in shamanistic religions throughout the world. Another problem is that misidentification is fairly easy, unlike other edible plants they have few differing characteristics and variations of size and shape even within the same species can be considerable. Finally although as mentioned the number of poisonous species is small they do tend to look like many of the safe varieties.
Nutritionally fungi contain more protein than vegetables and can contain a good amount of vitamin D but their very low calorie count (please note if you are on a diet that this doesn’t mean fried mushrooms are good for the figure!) and the risk of poisoning means that most military survival courses will tell you to leave them well alone. That said there are some very tasty varieties in the UK both in flavour and texture. Fungi grow nearly anywhere at all times of the year but since they don’t contain any chlorophyll they favour dark environments and without chlorophyll they can't make their own energy so gain theirs from decaying matter. A good rich leaf litter is ideal so fungi will thrive in broadleaf woodlands and in pastures where animals provide natural manure. Under hedgerows and in dense undergrowth are all good places to look. They need moist warm conditions so a warm summer and a wet autumn will produce a good crop. A hot summer or dry climate will mean more fungi in shady places such as woodlands; warm wet weather will mean more in pasture and fields. Although some survive in the winter, frost kills most and any specimens found in winter are likely to be hard and rubbery.