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This autumn, help us find the Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
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For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, a hand lens works much better than a magnifying glass. Learn how to use this handy piece of kit and discover top tips on buying your own.
Using a hand lens will not only make it easier to identify plants such as lichens, but you’ll also be able to see the beautiful, intricate structures on a plant which are not easily visible to the naked eye.
A hand lens is a pocket-sized magnifier, which you can pick up from your favourite natural history or ecology suppliers to kick start your botanical explorations. When looking for your new hand lens, start with one with x10 magnification, and expect to spend £10-£20.
Hand lenses are not used in the same way as a traditional magnifying glass but are held close to the eye. Here’s how to do it:
1. If you are right-handed, hold the lens in your right hand as close as you can to your right eye (and vice versa for left-handers). If you wear glasses, you can take them off or not – whatever is the most comfortable.
2. Hold the plant between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand and bring it very close to the lens until it comes into sharp focus. Don’t move the lens.
3. Always try to have contact between the hand holding the lens and your cheek, as well as between your left hand and your right hand. This gives you maximum control and allows you to keep the plant and lens steady. With practice this will become easier and easier, and you’ll find you can do it without shutting your other eye.
Now wonder at the marvels of even our smallest wild plants and fungi, and discover the hidden botanical world around you!
Lecanora through a hand lens
Discover the hidden world of lichens through a hand lens
Three Hagges Woodmeadow Site Manager Kara shares what volunteers do, from coppicing to nature surveys, and how you can get involved.
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, you'll need a hand lens. Learn how to use one and get top tips on buying your own.
This autumn, help Plantlife find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
Britain is home to some of the most important waxcap grasslands in the world. However many species are becoming rare and declining; they need identifying and protecting.
Waxcaps are an indicator of rare, species-rich grassland. Knowing where waxcaps and other grassland fungi are thriving helps us pinpoint where fragments of ancient meadows survive, so we can protect them for the future.
Not just important for the hundreds of wildflowers they can be home to, these ancient grasslands are also crucial in the fight against climate change. Species-rich grassland can store up to a third more carbon than areas with just a few species.
It’s easy for anyone in England, Scotland and Wales to take part in the Waxcap Watch – all you need is a smart phone or access to a computer!
Click through the instructions below to guide you from start to finish.
Alternatively, after you click the link above and select ‘Open in browser’, you can launch the survey in your web browser without having to download Survey123 app.
After you submit your first survey, the next time you open the Survey123 app click on the WaxcApp icon (red waxcap with Plantlife logo) and then ‘Collect’ to fill out another survey.
Visit a field, park, road verge, pasture, heathland, dune or cemetery; in fact, you can visit any grassy area which is open to the public, or for which you have the landowner’s explicit permission, between September and late November when waxcaps look their best.
They can be found growing in:
The easiest way to search an area for waxcaps is to walk in a zig-zag pattern at a slow pace, as some of the mushrooms are only a few centimetres tall!
Use the app to complete a few questions about the place you are visiting and to record which colours of waxcaps and grassland fungi you can see.
There is no restriction on the number of surveys you do – the more the better as this will help build a picture of what can be found at your site throughout the fungus season. Different fungi will come and go as the months change. Some fungi are visible only for a few days or weeks at each time.
Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, will be at COP28 to speak up for the vital role of wild plants and fungi in the fight against climate change.
By taking a part in our survey you will help us to:
Much of this app is based on the work by Gareth Griffith, John Bratton and Gary Easton. Original publication: Griffith, G.W., Bratton, J.H. & Easton, G. (2004) Charismatic megafungi; the conservation of waxcap grasslands. British Wildlife. October 2004, pp 31-43.
You are responsible for your own health and safety; Plantlife do not accept any liability or responsibility for the wellbeing of surveyors. Similarly, they do not accept any liability or responsibility for damage to, or loss of, personal property.
We always recommend visiting sites and undertaking surveys with someone else and taking the following precautions:
– Check the forecast and make appropriate arrangements. If the weather changes you may need to rethink your plans.– Take care on uneven or slippery ground and keep to footpaths where necessary.– Take a mobile phone and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.– Most fungi are non-toxic; even toxic ones are safe to hold. However, always wash your hands after handling fungi.
England and Wales
Grassland fungi can be found across a variety of different sites, many of which are publicly accessible, such as playing fields, parks or cemeteries. Where there is no open access, keep to public rights of way (footpaths and bridleways). If you plan to carry out a survey on private land, please make sure you obtain the landowner’s permission to access the site.
Make sure you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when carrying out this activity.
Share your waxcap finds with us on social media using the hashtag #WaxcapWatch
Plantlife and NPMS staff tested 10 popular plant identifying apps out on the field and picked 3 of the best for you to take out on your next wildflower hunt.
These days it seems there is an app for everything, including finding out what creature critter or plant you are looking at. But are they useful? Are they accurate?
We tested 10 popular apps out on the field to put them through their paces, and picked 3 of our favourites. We looked at ease of use, accuracy, costs involved and what additional features they have.
Our favourite app from the ones tested, this is free to download with no intrusive adverts or other costs involved.
The aim of the Flora Incognita research project is mapping plants, therefore they record and use the location of where the plants are found.
That means using this app is not only beneficial to your learning, but also makes an important contribution to biodiviersity monitoring and research.
This app combines traditional plant identification with the latest methods of AI. To identify, simply click on the plus symbol which takes you through your options.
Ease of use 5/5Identification skills 4/5Range of features 4/5
Claiming to be ‘the botanist in your pocket’, this app uses advanced artificial intelligence and was accurate for a wide range of species, from Sea Thrift to trickier species such as Mouse-ear Hawkweed.
Advertised as £24.99 a year, you can use the app indefinitely to identify plants without paying: when you open the app you come to a pre-home screen where you click cancel.
Other benefits include the app’s ability to identify common grasses, sedges and fungi – but we recommend some caution with these due to the cryptic nature of IDing these species. Picture This also has common questions and answers for each plant, along with stories and other interesting facts such as flowering times.
iNaturalist was created with the aims of recording your observations and sharing them with the ability to crowdsource identifications. The app is free and has a range of handy features that make uploading a breeze, including an automatic location based on the photos’ GPS tag, and the ability to record other wildlife such as insects and birds.
We found the app very accurate to a plant’s genus, a group of similar species, and sometimes even down to the specific species when multiple photos are added. This makes it the perfect tool for you to take your plant ID knowledge further with a field guide.
Seek is a simpler version of iNaturalist with an easier interface for the family. We found Seek had less accuracy in the field, so if you’re looking for something more thorough, we recommend downloading iNaturalist.
Ease of use 5/5Identification skill 5/5Range of features 4/5
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Reverse the Red
We know there are some endangered animal species in the world, but did you know some of our plants are also threatened by extinction?
The good news is saving them is possible. Here are three plants species that are endangered in Wales and the fabulous work that’s being done to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
This is our only native species of Cotoneaster in Wales, Cotoneaster cambricus, and in the 1970s it was down to as few as only 6 plants in the wild, making it international critically endangered!
It’s only found in the Great Orme IPA near Llandudno, where our vascular plants officer, Robbie, works alongside the National Trust, Conwy County Borough Council, Natural Resources Wales, PONT, and the tenant farmer, Dan Jones, to graze the land in a way that benefits the species.
This, paired with efforts to plant out young plants have been a resounding success, and we’ve gone from 6 to well over 70 plants. We are now working with research students, Dan and Treboth botanic garden to understand the impacts that changes to grazing practices have on this species, so that we can understand how best to manage for it in the future.
What we’re finding is that managing to support this species is having knock-on positive effects on other species on the Great Orme, which demonstrates how targeted species recovery work can have a cascading positive benefit beyond that species, out into the wider ecosystem.
This small, sunny Welsh plant, a member of the dandelion family, is internationally critically endangered. It makes its home on the most inaccessible mountain slopes of Eryri (Snowdonia), where it is safe from disruption.
However, due to the changing climate, even these sanctuaries are becoming inhospitable, it is both literally and figuratively out on the very edge.
Its preference for inaccessible places, makes it problematic (to say the least) to monitor. However, conservation and extreme sports aligned when Robbie, Alex Turner and Mike Raine went out on ropes to survey for this mountain treasure. Their efforts have revealed that the plant’s population has increased from 2 individuals, to 4!
While that is still terrifyingly few, it represents a doubling of the global population of this species, and gives us hope that with support, these populations can recover.
We are delighted to have received funding for Natur am Byth!, Wales’ flagship species recovery project which we are part of, along with nine other environmental charities. Robbie will be leading on the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri (Mountain Jewels of Snowdonia) to provide an invaluable lifeline to species like Snowdon Hawkweed.
Once the project begins in September we’re going to be working with the National Trust to manage the grazing of sheep and goats on the mountain, which will hopefully create more undisturbed habitat for this species to colonize.
This mountain jewel is part of a suite of species that was once widespread all across the UK and Europe, the Arctic-Alpines.
Following the last Ice Age it would have been found over a large extent of Britain, but colonisation of species from the south as temperatures have risen has saw it retreat to all but our highest mountain tops, where the annual temperatures are sufficiently cool.
This species is classed as threatened on the UK level red list, even though globally it’s been assessed as Least Concern (it can be found across the alpine landscapes of Europe). Each species is really important part of our natural heritage and to lose a species native to a country represents a significant loss, not only culturally, but ecologically too.
Rosy saxifrage is one such species that we’ve lost, it is now extinct in the wild in Wales. But efforts are underway to reintroduce it to a trial site later this year. Fantastically, the plants that will be used are of Welsh provenance, saved from a cutting taken in the 1960s, meaning that our national genetic identity for this species will be preserved and allowed to repopulate our landscape one more.
Our species are the fundamental parts of biodiversity – the more species there are in a habitat, the more diverse that habitat is. It is this diversity that allows ecosystems to function healthily and be more resilient.
This means, when we lose species to extinction, it undermines our ecosystem’s ability to adapt and respond to climate change and other existential threats. This is the primary reason why recovering species is one of our priorities at Plantlife. With partners, we plan to recover 100 plant species, and move them out of high extinction risk categories, into lower risk categories.
We are proud supporters of the global Reverse the Red campaign – a movement dedicated to spotlighting all of the work that’s being done to try and stop extinctions and prevent further species decline.
Tune in across the month to find out more about the species that we and our partners are working on to Reverse the Red and fight back against extinction.
Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.
This ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Yet in local communities around the UK, people are running fantastic campaigns to stand up for wildlife and protect their local sites from being destroyed.
If you believe that wild plants and fungi are at risk at a site near you, here’s a few ideas for what you can do:
Find out which species are found on and around the site – fungi, plants and animals. Your local Wildlife Trust, environmental records centre or a botanical group might already have information about the site’s wildlife. If not, organise your own survey – this is best done in the summertime. You may be able to get help from your local botanical society or other local experts. (Remember to get the landowner’s permission beforehand if necessary.)
Share any records of species found with your Local Records Centre and/or a national monitoring scheme. These will be verified and then taken into account by the local planning authority and others. (It’s always important to share your wildlife sightings, as this is vital to help us understand what’s happening to wildlife across the UK – and you never know when your data might help to protect those species that you’ve enjoyed spotting.)
Check the ecological assessment or environmental statement which should be available as part of the planning application or development plan. Assess it against your own information and ask questions such as: Did the field survey include lichens, mosses and fungi? Was it done at a time of year when any species present could be found (i.e. not in winter)?
Raise any concerns directly with the ecologist (if there is one) in the local planning authority, with your elected councillors, with your friends and neighbours and with the local media.
Many planning applications are approved with conditions to protect local wildlife – in this case, you can monitor whether these conditions are actually followed during and after construction of the development. In England, you can monitor whether Natural England’s Standing Advice on Protected Species is being followed.
Where you think a site is at risk from a change in its use – such as ploughing, drainage or chemical spraying on a wildflower meadow – then the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) regulations may apply. These regulations protect land that hasn’t been ploughed or had fertiliser added in the past 15 years and the landowner must apply for permission before changing its use.
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