NA­TURE

Our na­ture writer Barry Mad­den says it’s easy to be a “fungi” when it comes to hunt­ing mush­rooms and toad­stools . . .

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Be a fungi with mush­rooms

M ycol­ogy. Mean any­thing to you? Well, you can eas­ily be­come an am­a­teur prac­ti­tioner of this science by keep­ing an eye out for fungi – mush­rooms and toad­stools - that at this time of year pro­lif­er­ate.

Now is a great time to get out and about in your lo­cal park, wood­land or hedgerow, even your own gar­den, and rum­mage about to see how many of th­ese wildly di­verse or­gan­isms you can dis­cover. And there is a real worth in do­ing this, be­cause un­like birds, mam­mals and plants, there is a sig­nif­i­cant gap in our knowl­edge of what species oc­cur and where they can be found lo­cally. Whereas or­nithol­o­gists bom­bard county recorders with their myr­iad sight­ings, not many folk seem to cast their eyes down­ward to record fungi, which is a shame be­cause it can be a sur­pris­ingly re­ward­ing ac­tiv­ity that lends it­self well to a fam­ily ram­ble (chil­dren will love it). Fur­ther­more no spe­cial­ist knowl­edge is re­quired, all you re­ally need is: An en­quir­ing mind and sharp eyes (that’s where young­sters are so use­ful) A field guide (there are sev­eral pock­et­sized guides avail­able) or A com­pact cam­era or smart­phone that can cap­ture dig­i­tal images. So where do you be­gin? The an­swer is sim­ply any­where. Fungi are all around us and can be found grow­ing on walls, fences, lawns, tree stumps, rot­ting veg­e­ta­tion, com­post heaps, over­ripe fruit and even bread and house­hold food­stuffs.

There are more than 3,000 species on the Bri­tish list so you have plenty of scope. How­ever, although some moulds and fungi may be ed­i­ble, there are few that can be cat­e­gorised as a good meal, and there are al­ways those that con­tain deadly tox­ins. Best just to look at them, I think.

So there you are out walk­ing and you espy fungi; how do you iden­tify it? It could be jelly fungi, a morel, puff­ball, stinkhorn or earth­star. It may be red, blue, yel­low, green or black. It could be round, con­i­cal, up­turned or shaped and coloured like a seashell . . .

You are go­ing to need help. But that is where the fun be­gins and where you en­ter the realm of be­com­ing a valu­able wildlife recorder. You will need to ad­here to the prin­ci­ple of clearly record­ing what you have found, where you have found it (ideally us­ing a six-fig­ure grid ref­er­ence, although a spe­cific site within a par­ish is good), and when your sight­ing was made. In the case of fungi, an­other crit­i­cal as­pect would be to record any as­so­ci­ated habi­tats which will help with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, for in­stance grow­ing on a birch tree, or maybe grow­ing at the base of an oak. Per­haps there was a group grow­ing to­gether, or maybe it was grow­ing on wood chip­pings or on a cer­tain kind of plant.

If you can’t iden­tify it eas­ily from a field guide then you will need to get out the cam­era and take three photos, with­out flash if pos­si­ble. The first should be the gen­eral scene with the fungi in po­si­tion, the sec­ond should be a closer side on view, or close-up of any that are grow­ing flat against a struc­ture, and the last should be the un­der­side show­ing the gills. This third shot may be quite dif­fi­cult and I think it best not to pick the fungi for this pur­pose and leave them in situ to fin­ish drop­ping their spores. So if you can’t take the

third shot maybe you can scrib­ble down any dis­tinct col­oration or other features.

Once you’ve done this the re­ally in­ter­est­ing bit be­gins. Armed with your images you can be­gin to com­pare them more thor­oughly with your field guide, or even bet­ter against a wealth of in­for­ma­tion and images held on ex­cel­lent web sites such as www.first-na­ture. com/fungi

Still not sure? Don’t de­spair, be­cause help from the ex­perts is at hand. If you’re re­ally stuck you can send your pics to Nor­folk Wildlife Trust at www.nor­fol kwildlifetrust. org.uk. They have a great deal of knowl­edge­able folk at their dis­posal or can send them to a spe­cial­ist on your be­half.

Af­ter all this hard work you will need to make your record count and to this end you should send them to the Nor­folk Bio­di­ver­sity In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice at www.nbis.org.uk/ Al­lSpecies Sur­vey and its Suf­folk coun­ter­part at suf­folk­bis.org.uk where there is an easy to use sec­tion for record­ing your sight­ings - you can even down­load a spread sheet to help you with mul­ti­ple records.

There, you’ve done it – you are now an of­fi­cial wildlife recorder. You should feel justly proud.

Go on, make the most of th­ese mild au­tum­nal days and get out into the won­der­ful East Anglian coun­try­side. You will be sur­prised and amazed at how many dif­fer­ent kinds of fungi you can spot. Try to record them if you can, but most im­por­tantly just en­joy the fresh air and the di­ver­sity we have on our lo­cal patch. Happy hunt­ing.

You will be sur­prised and amazed at how many dif­fer­ent kinds of fungi you can spot

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