Walking in a waxcap fungi land

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

A few weeks ago Alex Prendergast attended a course on waxcap fungi, waxcap grassland and wood pastures at The Moorland Study Centre in the Peak District. The course was run by the British Ecological Society and Sheffield Hallam University and covered the role of these fungi as indicators of ancient grasslands and wood pasture, habitat requirements, site management, identification, survey techniques and methods for evaluating the significance of waxcap sites, as well as providing the opportunity to meet fellow fungus enthusiasts. There are about sixty species of waxcap (Genus Hygrocybe) in Europe. Most are brightly coloured and slimy with widely spaced waxy gills and are typically associated with old tightly-cropped, nutrient-poor dry grassland. After a morning in the lab, we had a rainy afternoon stroll around Longshaw Estate and recorded 12 waxcap taxa along with a range of other grassland fungi. Alex particularly enjoyed seeing (and smelling) the rubber-scented heath waxcap Hygrocybe laeta, a species rarely encountered in Norfolk.

Back in Norfolk Alex has since undertaken a waxcap survey on the campus of the University of East Anglia. This project aims to minimise the impact on notable fungi during the installation of a duct through a site in which 14 species of these fungi have been previously recorded. The survey uncovered a new taxon for the vice-county: Hygrocybe acutoconica var. kondadii f. subglobispora. This waxcap lives alongside other species of Hygrocybe as well as species of Clavaria, Entoloma and Geoglossum which collectively form the ‘CHEG’ group of fungi. The ‘CHEG’ fungi are indicators of ancient grassland and can be used to assess the significance of areas of this habitat, particularly where indicator plant species have been lost through overgrazing or mowing. This can then be used to map a route avoiding the most valuable areas. The best patch of ‘waxcap grassland’ on the site, with eight ‘CHEG’ taxa, including the strange black earthtongue Geoglossum cookeanum, was assessed as being of ‘regional’ significance.

In his free time Alex leads the Norfolk Fungus Study Group (http://www.nnns.org.uk/content/fungus-study-group-home-page), a band of mycologists dedicated to identifying and recording the fungi of Norfolk and surveying around thirty diverse sites each year. He has undertaken several fungus surveys as part of his work at the Ecology Consultancy, primarily for waxcaps. With the current understanding of this group of fungi building we hope to see an increase in demand for this type of assessment.

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