Wood­land fungi foray

Seek out our most spec­tac­u­lar fungi species on an au­tumn wood­land trea­sure hunt. Pete Dom­mett and his fam­ily vis­ited their very own for­est (well, sort of)

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Pete Dom­mett en­joys shar­ing his life­long in­ter­est in the out­doors with his chil­dren.

Som­er­set

“Come and look at this one!” My son, Will, is stand­ing by a sil­ver birch stump, where strange pale blobs are burst­ing out of the bark.

“It’s a marsh­mal­low tree!” he jokes. We’ve joined a fungi foray at Dom­mett Wood Na­ture Re­serve in the heart of Som­er­set’s Black­down Hills. We share our name with this wood­land but sadly there’s no fam­ily con­nec­tion. But with the golden light of an au­tumn af­ter­noon fil­ter­ing through the still-green tree canopy, it has a wel­com­ing, homely feel.

FUNGI HEAVEN

“This is a typ­i­cal beech wood and fungi love beeches,” says our guide, Michael Jor­dan of the Fun­gus Con­ser­va­tion Trust (find guided fungi for­ays on its web­site, www.abfg.org).

It’s not long be­fore Will and his brother Tom un­cover more sur­prises hid­den in the leaves and beech­mast. The grubby yel­low globes look like long-lost dogs’ ten­nis balls, but Michael is vis­i­bly ex­cited by the boys’ dis­cov­ery – they’re earth­balls. Break­ing one apart to re­veal a cen­tre the colour and con­sis­tency of caviar, he of­fers us a sniff: there’s a sharp tang of burn­ing rub­ber.

“Use all your senses,” Michael en­cour­ages. “Look closely, touch, smell.” And taste? “I al­ways give the same an­swer to the ques­tion ‘can you eat it?’” he ex­plains. “And that’s ‘Yes, but maybe only once’.” It raises a laugh from the group, but out of the 17,500 or so species of fungi in the UK, only a frac­tion are po­ten­tially deadly poi­sonous – how­ever, it’s best not to take a chance.

We get stuck in and find a fab­u­lous ar­ray of fungi with a vast va­ri­ety of shapes, sizes, colours and tex­tures. There’s the beau­ti­ful amethyst de­ceiver; translu­cent porce­lain agaric; red-capped beech­wood sick­en­ers; vivid yel­low sul­phur tufts; and, on a fallen branch, tiers of tiny, stripey, tur­key tails.

On the trees’ tan­gled roots, Michael points out can­dlesnuff fun­gus – wispy black and white wicks that release a puff of smoky spores when swiped with a fin­ger. Tom is en­grossed by bleed­ing stereum, a flesh coloured crust that seeps a red liq­uid when scarred with a finger­nail. Will’s marsh­mal­lows turn out to be birch poly­pores.

We pick our way through bracken and bram­ble to the bot­tom of the wood. The chil­dren run ahead, whoop­ing wildly – al­though a stealth­ier ap­proach might be re­warded with a flash of roe deer. It’s wet­ter here and fallen beeches are be­ing slowly de­voured by gi­ant gan­o­derma brack­ets, as woody as the trees them­selves, while colonies of jelly fungi cling to rot­ting logs, look­ing like they be­long un­der the sea.

Head­ing home, my pock­ets are full of nuts, oak ap­ples and chips of flint – nat­u­ral trea­sures that we have col­lected in this won­der­ful au­tum­nal wood­land.

Dom­mett Wood is nine miles south of Taun­ton, near Buck­land St. Mary, ½ mile off the A303 at Ea­gle Tav­ern junc­tion. The en­trance is on Folly Lane. ST 278 139. www.som­er­setwildlife.org

“A fab­u­lous ar­ray of fungi, a va­ri­ety of shapes, sizes, colours and tex­tures”

Au­thor Pete’s sons Tom (left) and Will dis­cover yel­low sul­phur tufts grow­ing on a rot­ting beech stump in Dom­mett Wood

BE­LOW Head­ing home af­ter a suc­cess­ful fungi foray

ABOVE RIGHT Some fungi have char­ac­ter­is­tic odours, so Pete ap­plies the smell test to an earth­ball

ABOVE Will takes a closer look at an amethyst de­ceiver

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