Commercial gangs of foragers are stripping the New Forest of its edible fungi in order to exploit the soaring demand for wild mushrooms, forest officials claim.
With the wild mushroom season beginning forest rangers are said to be on "high alert" to stop the gangs who are believed to be able to make as much as £2,500 per day by selling them on to high-end restaurants.
The gangs are said to be breaking a civil by-law against collecting more than 1.5kg per visit.
Despite the claims, neither the National Trust, nor the Forestry Commission were able to confirm the size of the problem while others have raised doubts over the reliability of the story.
Wild mushrooms are worth up to £50 per kilogram, so commercial foragers would need to be picking up to 50kg per day.