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Truffle-hunters are sniffing out the prized delicacies in woodlands across England.For many years those in the know have kept quiet about discoveries of a hugely valuable treasure found buried across the country.
But now the secret is out: truffles are thriving in English woodlands and some lucky countryside-dwellers are making a modest fortune by selling the “black diamonds” to top restaurants.
One British farmer has discovered what could be the biggest truffle find in Europe on a 10-acre site on his land in Wiltshire.
The farmer, who did not want to be named for fear of triggering an invasion of truffle-hunters, harvests up to 220lb of the delicacies every year without even needing to use a specially-trained dog to sniff them out. By contrast the typical annual harvest from a single site in truffle-mad Italy is around 45lb.
The Wiltshire farmer has sold his truffles to more than 100 restaurants at a price of about £150 a kilo (2.2lb).
He described how he created the perfect environment for truffles by accident when he started planting new woods in 1990 for firewood and as a windbreak under a Government forestry scheme.
“I had no idea what a truffle was then. But 15 years later we found, strewn across the path, these black things a badger had dug up,” he told Country Life magazine.
Experts said England has always had large numbers of truffles, which grow best in south-facing woodland with a chalky soil and lots of sunlight, but for many decades they have not been harvested.
The lucrative fungi have been found across the country, from Brixham in Devon to as far north as Darlington in County Durham.
Modern farming methods resulted in the destruction of some of the natural habitat where truffles thrived, but recent moves to replant hedgerows and woodland are reversing this trend.
Tom Lywood, who hunts for truffles with Italian Lagotto dogs, said: “Truffles and conservation can, and should, go hand in hand.”
There is also promising evidence that it is possible to impregnate trees with truffle spores, raising the prospect of artificially helping to boost the country’s harvests.
Truffles were found just before Christmas last year in a recently-planted oak and hazel woodland in southern England that had been inoculated with seedlings supplied by Dorset-based Truffle UK.
Nigel Hadden-Paton, of Truffle UK, said: “All we can guarantee is that the seedlings are inoculated – what we can’t guarantee is that they’re going to produce. For that, we have to place our trust in the hands of the good Lord.”
There is even an upside to Britain’s miserable summer for truffle fans. The recent wet weather has raised hopes of a bumper crop this year.
Worldwide production of black truffles has plummeted over the past century from 1,000 to 2,000 tons in 1900 to about 150 tons now.
Pigs were traditionally used to root out truffles, but hunters now tend to prefer dogs, which have the advantage of being less likely to eat a valuable find.
Even more valuable are white truffles, which cannot be grown in England. They are mainly found in Istria in Croatia and Alba in Italy, and can be sold for as much as £3,000 a kilo.
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