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The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"Mushroom picking really is a national pastime"
 real 28k

Monday, 25 September, 2000, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Russian mushroom pickers threaten aircraft
Tawny grisette mushroom
Collecting mushrooms, such as this tawny grisette (Amanita fulva), is a Russian passion
By Steve Rosenberg in Moscow

The local authorities of a small town in Russia's Far North have been forced to issue strict laws to keep rogue mushroom-pickers away from the local airport runway.

No-one's dared go onto the runway since the fines came in

Air Traffic Controller
The pickers have been causing havoc, preventing flights from landing and creating a major security risk.

It may not be an Olympic sport just yet, but for most Russians mushroom picking really is a national pastime.

Come the autumn, everyone is hard at it, combing the fields and forests for fungi.

Crippling fines

But in the small town of Krasnoselkup, residents have been risking their lives for the pick of the crop.

And all because the very best mushrooms - so they say in Krasnoselkup - grow on the runway of the local airport.

Undaunted by rapidly approaching planes and helicopters, mushroom pickers have been flooding onto the airstrip with their baskets, often forcing aircraft to abort their landing.

It has become such a problem, in fact, that the local authorities have been forced to act.

They have introduced heavy fines for anyone caught picking on the runway: the equivalent of $1,000.

For most people in Krasnoselkup that is nearly three years' wages.

The money will be used to compensate airlines that have suffered disruption, as well as airport staff that have to deal with the offenders.

On the telephone from Krasnoselkup, an air traffic controller called Nadezhda assured me the heavy fines were having an effect.

"No-one's dared go onto the runway since the fines came in," Nadezhda said.

Fleeting opportunity

Like most towns in the Russian Far North, the climate in Krasnoselkup is not very kind to mushroom pickers.

There are nine months of snow, and just a few weeks a year when you can fill your basket.

That might explain people's willingness to throw caution to the wind.

But for anyone brave enough to risk it and venture out onto the runway, these prize mushrooms could turn out to be the most expensive in Russia.

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