Nearly 80 mushroom pickers have been warned by police in the past five years for stealing fungi in the Royal Parks, according to the latest statistics.

The findings, including two prosecutions in the past year, were revealed as the Royal Parks warns about damage caused by foraging for mushrooms.

Autumn is the peak time for mushroom growth, with ecology experts worried that eco-systems and food for wildlife are being stripped from Bushy Park and Richmond Park.

Julia Balfour, head of ecology for the Royal Parks said: "Picking the mushroom does not kill the fungus, but can hinder reproduction and therefore diminish the population.

"Mushrooms are an important food source for many animals in our parks, and they are host to some rare species of invertebrates including those associated with ancient trees.

"They are also a beautiful addition to the landscape of the Royal Parks with 400 species of fungi in Richmond Park alone."

PC Paul Barber, from the Royal Parks operational command unit of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We’ve noticed a steady rise in mushroom foraging over the years which could possibly be attributed to celebrity chefs’ endorsement.

"In some cases, we have caught individuals with enough mushrooms to fill a small dustbin."

Foraging damaging deprives animals of food and damages eco-systems.

One 47-year-old picker was given conditional discharge and fined for breaching Royal Parks regulations in Richmond Park last year.

The majority of warnings are issued in Richmond Park.

Andy Overall, from the London Fungus Group, said: "Due to the natural and historic nature of the Royal Parks many rare and in some cases endangered species of fungi thrive among acid grasslands and ancient oaks.

"With the number of people foraging fungi in the Royal Parks thought to be on the rise, this will no doubt have some impact on the fabric of the parks, be that an impact on the habitat, the other animals and insects that use the fungi, or our enjoyment of seeing the fruitbodies of some of the more spectacular fungi.

"Larger fungi are for all people to enjoy, not just the few."