Waxcap postcard survey gets underway

A survey of waxcap toadstools is getting underway and you can help record any sightings.

All you need to do is mention of the colour and location of the fungi you spot and fill in the postcard.

Ramblers, dog walkers, visitors, farmers and shepherds can pick up a Waxcap survey postcard from Northumberland National Park information centres or download the postcard from: www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/waxcapspostcard.pdf .

Waxcap (c) Shaun Hackett, Northumberland National Park

Waxcap (c) Shaun Hackett, Northumberland National Park

The wet summer may not have been to everyone’s liking but National Park Ranger, Shaun Hackett is hopeful that the signs indicate a good year for those autumn gems of grassland fungi, the multi-coloured waxcaps.

Last year’s survey resulted in some notable new sites and the recording of very rare species including the Date Waxcap – a first for the County. In our unspoilt countryside many more sites remain to be discovered.

Ranger Shaun Hackett said: “We would be very grateful for help in identifying species and sites for these important fungi in the National Park.  Just recording the presence of the different colours will be a big help for rangers and ecologists to identify sites and decide which ones need conserving.

Waxcaps have been described as the orchids of the fungi world and are easy to spot by their bright rainbow colours that range from yellows, reds, oranges and pinks to mauves, greys, whites, browns, blacks and greens. They have thick waxy gills and the stems are often the same colour as the cap.

This family of fungi goes by the name of Hygrocybe, meaning “moist head”. They have a high water content within a waterproof waxy layer. Some are covered with a slimy layer on the cap which enable them to survive drying winds.

Spotting Waxcaps

Waxcaps appear from September to November, although fruiting times are affected by weather conditions. They are ephemeral and may appear on a site one year but not the next,  but the exact conditions which induce spores to germinate are still a mystery.

Already a number of waxcaps are starting to appear in Northumberland this year, thanks to regular rainfall during the summer. Mossy grasslands where there has been no ploughing or artificial fertiliser applied, such as the upland meadows and pastures in the hills and moorlands of the National Park, unfertilised lawns and short turf in old churchyards are the perfect environment for waxcaps.

A variety of these brilliant fungi at one site indicate ancient grassland which may date back hundreds of years.   It is thought by some that waxcaps improve the soil structure at a deep level, while other fungi serve the same function in the upper levels of the soil. Other characteristic grassland fungi include the unusual and delicate fairy clubs, pinkgills and earthtongues.

It is felt that the UK still retains some of the finest ancient grassland in Europe and it may be that the uplands of Northumberland National Park are a haven for these declining species.

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