- Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn
Police are investigating the theft from the New Forest of a rare mushroom that may help to ease symptoms of dementia.
The bearded tooth mushroom - also known as monkey head mushroom or lion's mane mushroom - has been grown for hundreds of years in Asia where it is revered for its health benefits.
Hampshire Police were alerted by the Forestry Commission to the thefts after chunks of the rare bearded tooth mushroom were stolen from a specimen in the National Park.
It is a crime to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bearded tooth mushrooms under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, even for scientific purposes.
The offence can carry six months imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
A spokesman for Hampshire Police said: "On 13 November officers were contacted by the Forestry Commission who reported large quantities of fungi being taken from the New Forest.
"The matter is under investigation."
A Forestry Commission spokesperson said: ‘’We encourage everyone to get out into our forests and enjoy the signs of autumn. But people must act responsibly and leave rare fungi in their natural environment. New Forest keepers and rangers will continue to ask local people and visitors not to pick fungi in the New Forest National Park.
"The recent case highlights that there are still a few people who will take rare fungi from this special place, so it is crucial that people continue to report incidents to the police who will take appropriate action.’’
The New Forest is one of the most important sites for fungi in Britain. According to the Forestry Commission, some varieties of mushroom in the Park are so rare and vulnerable that they are included in the protected species list.
Natural England's mushroom specialist Tim Wilkins told ITV News that he found over 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest alone on his last count. Although he has yet to see a lion's mane mushroom in the wild.
The mushroom, whose scientific name is Hericium erinaceust, is believed to have a positive effect on mental health, and there have been several studies on the mushroom's ability to alleviate the symptoms of dementia, anxiety and irritability.
Researchers have also shown that the fungi can provide a caffeine-like energy boost.