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