My daughter and I have had an interest in Waxcaps (Hygrocebe spp) and associated fungi since we were lucky enough to discover an important site for them at Penboyr Churchyard (os ref: SN 360363), a short walk from our home. We have been enjoying their display for several autumns now, including the rare Violet CoralClavaria zollingeri. This amazing fungi looks like violet fingers rising out of the ground and is on the Red Data list for endangered fungi.
We were delighted to find several kinds of waxcap on the Trust land this autumn, pictures of which can be seen below.
What is so important about Waxcaps? Well firstly, they are very attractive, emerging in a range of jewel like colours including reds, yellows, whites and greens. More importantly, they have become increasingly uncommon, or even threatened species throughout the UK due to changes in land management.
Waxcaps and associated fungi such as Coral, Spindle and Club fungi(Clavaria and Clavulinopsis spp) require undisturbed, low fertility semi-natural grassland (not ploughed or fertilised). The same conditions in the Trust hay meadows that create the ideal conditions for a profusion of wildflowers in the summer provide ideal conditions for Waxcap fungi in the autumn.
Yet, according to the Pembrokeshire Fungus Recording Network, it has been estimated that more then 90% of this habitat has been lost since the 15th century, through agricultural intensification, loss of land to development and neglect / abandonment of grassland leading to scrub encroachment.
If you are interested in finding out more, the Pembrokeshire Fungus Recording Network produce an excellent booklet called “An Identification Guide to Waxcaps in West Wales”.
If you are not lucky enough to have access to areas of permanent grassland, churchyards and burial grounds are an excellent place to look for such fungi. They often contain remnant populations of the flora and fauna once found in the surrounding countryside but have been protected from agricultural intensification. The charity Caring for God’s Acre are doing excellent work encouraging churchs and local councils to manage their burial grounds so as to benifit wildlife (including encouraging the use of the scythe!).
Why not go out and see what you can find in your fields, or your local park or burial ground?!