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Wildflower meadows, a staple of the British countryside, are a buzz of activity, especially in the spring and summer. It’s not just the wildflowers and fungi that rely on their diverse vegetation, in fact, a range of wildlife can call these habitats home. By growing a meadow, you can also create a home or hunting ground for bees, butterflies, invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Here are some of the animals you might spot in a meadow:

Invertebrates

A Flower Beetle resting on a large Oxeye Daisy, image by Pip Gray
  • Creating a meadow can really make a buzz and life in the centre can be like rush hour for insects
  • You can see everything, from ants to grasshoppers and huge armies of beetles and bugs
  • For many invertebrates, the stems, roots and leaves of meadow grasses and flowers provide food and shelter
  • The Cockchafer Beetle, commonly known as the May Bug, relies on grassy areas to lay their eggs
  • The common Bird’s-foot-Trefoil alone is a food plant for 130 different species of invertebrates

Our friends at Buglife can tell you more

Bees

Buff tailed bumblebee feeding on Knapweed
  • Pollinators, such as bees, commute to meadows every day to feast on nectar and pollen
  • Managing a meadow appropriately will increase the number of wildflowers that it supports, thus increasing the foraging habitat for bumblebees and other foragers
  • Red-tailed Bumblebees, found across the UK, rely on a plentiful supply of wild plants including dandelions and red clovers to supply them with nectar and pollen
  • If you’re in a meadow, look out for bumblebees, burrowing bees, flower bees, carder bees and honeybees
  • There are about 270 species of bee in Britain

Buzz over to the Bumblebee Trust here.

Butterflies and Moths

  • Even in a small meadow, wildflowers can be a magnet for butterflies and moths
  • When you’re planting for butterflies it’s good to have a constant procession of flowering plants throughout the summer – something that is in flower for as long as possible – ideally from March to November
  • This means local populations of butterflies and moths will not have to travel too far to find food
  • The Meadow Brown butterfly is one of the most common species found in grasslands
  • While the brightly coloured Cinnabar Moth relies entirely on one of the sunniest wildflowers – the yellow Common Ragwort. The tiger-striped caterpillars munch on the plant before pupating underground over the winter, ready to emerge as moths the next year

Flutter over to Butterfly Conservation for a bit more

Birds

  • The many insects that call meadows home also support other wildlife like swallows, skylarks and yellow wagtails
  • Goldfinches and linnets feast on the abundant seed heads
  • While lapwings, curlew and starling search the ground for insects from early autumn to spring

Fly over to the RSPB for a bit more

 

Mammals

Brown hare
  • Meadows provide a place for wild animals to forage, breed and nest – and if the grasses are tall enough, they can provide shelter
  • A large number of small mammals can call meadows home – including mice, voles and shrews
  • They also attract birds of prey to meadows, especially owls and kestrels
  • Other mammals you might spot in a meadow include moles, rabbits, hares, badgers and grazing deer
    • And we can’t forget bats – who can be seen in the summer months flying low over grassland

Meander over to the Mammal Society to find out more

Reptiles and Amphibians

  • Allowing lawns or green spaces to develop into meadows can provide a great habitat for amphibians, reptiles and their prey – unlike closely-mown lawns
  • The tall grasses and flowers (vegetation) provide these animals with cover
  • Reptiles and amphibians also prefer native plant species and minimal use of pesticides as they mainly feed on invertebrates, other amphibians and small mammals

Slither over to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to find out more

Hazel Gloves Fungus’ common name comes from the finger-like projections of the stromata, cushion-like plate of solid mycelium. Found on Hazel trees in Britain, it is actually parasitic on the Glue Crust fungus Hymenochaete corrugate, and not the Hazel tree itself.

It was incredibly exciting to find Hazel Glove fungus. I knew about its importance as a rainforest indicator species and also its rarity status. I had seen many photos of it and so when I turned to take a second look at something I saw in the corner of my eye, I knew at once what it was.

I couldn’t share my unbridled joy at my discovery with anyone else in that moment, unless you include telling the singing Dipper I had just spotted or indeed talking to myself about it as I walked back along the trail. However, I was able to capture that moment on camera to relive again.

What does finding Hazel Gloves Fungus tell us?

Hazel Glove fungus is an indicator of good air quality and temperate rainforest conditions, making it a flagship species for this threatened habitat. Temperate rainforests are found in areas that are influenced by the sea, with high rainfall and humidity and damp climate.

They are home to some intriguing and sometimes rare bryophytes, plants and fungi. Plantlife are working in many ways to protect and restore this globally threatened habitat. 

Fungi need you to find them!

I have since sent in my record to the county fungi recorder with a 10 figure grid reference, only to discover that this species has not been officially recorded in that area before, which only heightened my sense of achievement.

Recording fungi and sending your finds to local wildlife recorders creates a more accurate picture of the wild and wonderful world around us – and helps people like us know where to target conservation efforts.

It’s estimated that more than 90% of fungi are unknown to science, and only 0.4% of the fungi we know about have enough data to be assessed for global conservation status – letting us know if they’re critically endangered or not.

Learn more about fungi

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

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It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

The Wildlife in our Meadows
Duke of Burgundy butterfly on cowslip.

The Wildlife in our Meadows

From bumblebees to birds and moths to mammals – meadows are micro-cities of wildlife. Here's what to spot in your wildflower meadow.

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

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Hazel Gloves Fungus is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, learn more about this rainforest fungi this Reverse the Red month.

The autumn spectacle of multicoloured waxcaps is an important indicator of ancient grasslands that have been unploughed for decades, and which are rich in carbon and soil biodiversity.  

Unfortunately, many of these irreplaceable grassland fungi sites continue to disappear under tree planting, new houses, intensive farming, transport infrastructure and more. It is certain that many more are also lost unseen, because of a series of interlinked issues that place the conservation of fungi far behind that of other taxa like mammals and birds. 

What issues do grassland fungi face?

The first, and perhaps most important, is the shortage of skilled field surveyors able to identify and record fungi (known as mycologists). Fortunately, there does seem to be an increasing interest in fungi amongst the public. The 1,500 members of Plantlife’s #WaxcapWatch Facebook page is a reflection of this, and is very encouraging.

However, the number of people working professionally as field surveyors remains very low. Most ecological consultancies, who undertake survey work to protect wildlife during development, don’t employ mycologists. 

This lack of expert recorders and recording means that we still have very little data describing the distribution of fungal species across large parts of the country, especially compared to other taxa.

What happens when there is no data?

There is huge pressure on land use today. We need land for farming, for tree planting, for renewable power generation, for housing: the list goes on. Our ability to deliver nature’s recovery depends on us making good decisions when planning these activities. That in turn ensures that nature is protected, and actually restored, in line with government targets and policies. 

However, picture this: plans are afoot to build a large new housing estate on formerly sheep-grazed agricultural land. Ecological surveys are required. However, a search of databases doesn’t reveal any fungal records, because no field mycologists have ever visited the land.

The ecological consultancy visits the site in summer, because that’s when plants, birds and mammals are best surveyed. They don’t employ a mycologist. The plants in the fields aren’t that interesting- and so the proposal gets the go ahead. In fact, the fields are incredibly rich in waxcaps, but nobody knows, and nobody looks. The site is lost without ever being recognised for its biodiversity. 

The impact of development on our hidden fungi

This is a very real problem that Plantlife is currently observing in multiple cases across Wales at present. Fungal surveys are difficult to do, and often considered unreasonably burdensome for developers, even for large projects. As a result, we are losing precious ancient grasslands before we’ve even been able to recognise them for what they are. You can’t compensate for an impact on something you never knew was there. 

It’s also likely to be an increasing problem in the coming years with large infrastructure projects being planned. For example, in Wales there is a huge amount of work scheduled to reinforce our electricity supply grid, with new cabling going in across the country. Julie James MS, the Minister for Climate Change in Wales, has said the presumption will be that new cables will be underground, to reduce the visual impact. Will the impact on fungi be adequately identified and mitigated? At present, that seems unlikely. 

What can we do to help grassland fungi?

All is not lost, and there are many things we can do to address this problem. 

  • We need government, local authority planners, and developers, to recognise that current systems regularly fail to identify sites that are important for fungi, and make sure that the impacts on our internationally important ancient grasslands are better addressed.
  • We need better legal protection for fungi. For example, there are presently only 27 species protected under Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, compared to 51 birds and 188 invertebrates.
  • We need more investment in surveying fungi before committing to land use change. That means training and employing more field mycologists, but also making more and better use of new techniques such as eDNA surveys. These surveys can identify fungi present in the soil, and help to reduce our dependence on surveys during the autumn fungal fruiting season.
  • We need more data. We can all help with that, by recording fungi when we see them. Even if you aren’t an expert, you can take part in our Waxcap Watch, which only asks for the colours of grassland fungi you see. This helps to identify sites of potential value. When the value of a site is understood and recorded, it makes it easier to fight to defend that value.

More ways we’re saving wild plants and fungi

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A group of protestors holding a banner which reads 'A world rich in plants and fungi'

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Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

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Yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel among grass and other bog plants.

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Fancy a half-term adventure for the whole family, that gets the kids outside and interested in nature? Well, the answer is on your doorstep…fungi hunting.  

Fungi are one of our most fascinating creations, and best of all, they are right under our noses – perfect for children to spot. You don’t even need to go to a nature reserve, the hunt for fungi can begin in your back garden or local greenspace.  

With autumn well and truly here, I have found myself delving into the weird and wonderful world of fungi – very much aided by my children’s interest. The questions about what is this strange looking mushroom, what are these neon blobs, or gelatinous goo on the log – prompted my own interest in jolly-well finding out.

As it turns out, fungi are as diverse and complicated a group as one might expect. And it’s quite astonishing how brilliant children are at spotting them. (I suppose being that much closer to the ground and having 20:20 vision is probably a large amount to do with it!)

Parrot Waxcap

Where to find Fungi?

You can find fungi in so many places, here are just a few:  

  • Among grasses in gardens or green spaces  
  • The forest floor 
  • Under leaf litter or on fallen logs  
  • At the base and on trunks of trees  

What to bring ?

  • A notepad and pencils 
  • Phone or camera  
  • Some snacks for those hungry fungi-hunters  
  • A hand lens is helpful, but not essential  

On our first trip out, we found more than 30 species in just one hour, ranging from the colourful circus like fungi, to the downright weird freak show of stinkhorns and slime moulds. We have been to woods in the Blackdowns, Dead woman’s ditch in the Quantocks and even round the corner at Thurlbear. All of these places gave us a range of fascinating finds, just by stepping off the path and looking around. Even if you don’t know the species, a few quick photos from different angles and a social media post, will soon increase your knowledge.

Some amazing names

I think the children particularly like the sheer surprise element in fungi finding, you really don’t know what could turn up. Plus, the names are a delight – from The Sickener Russula Emetica, Green Elfcup Chlorociboria Aeruginascens, Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria Amethystina, Bearded Dapperling Cystolepiota Seminuda, Snapping Bonnet Mycena Vitilis, Yellow Brain Tremella Mesenterica and Turkey Tail Trametes Versicolor. Some of them ooze blood like droplets, turn bright blue when sliced, smell like honey or puff magic smokey spores when prodded! There are literally so many reasons for not only kids but the kids in us to be fascinated by this world of mycelial magic in the woods.

Family exploring in a woodland

Here are some top tips for those first-time fungi hunters:  

  • You don’t need to go to a nature reserve, you can often find fungi in your garden or local green space
  • Despite some being poisonous to eat, looking or even touching fungi is not harmful  
  • It’s fine to get close, take photos and examine their incredible beauty – without any worry or danger  
  • It’s always advisable to wash your hands before eating when you’re out exploring nature 

This Autumn, we’re also asking for your help to find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps. Click here to take part and find out more about our #WaxcapWatch– and you might even be able to help us find some important species-rich grassland in the process.  

And if you’d like to learn a bit more…

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No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

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Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Give plants and fungi a vote at the general election
A group of protestors holding a banner which reads 'A world rich in plants and fungi'

Give plants and fungi a vote at the general election

We depend on Plants and Fungi, however their future depends on what elected politicians do for nature. Use your vote to give plants and fungi a voice at the 2024 general election.

A Date Waxcap has been found by the warden

Chris Jones is the warden at Kenfig NNR. He is also a passionate fungus recorder. In 2022 he made an important discovery…  A Date Waxcap, Hygrocybe spadicea! “A gorgeous shade of brown with yellow gills that I have only seen once in 20 years of looking for waxcaps, it was indeed a lucky day!” 

Chris describes how the describes how the discovery came about: 

“Kenfig National Nature Reserve is a magical place for me. It is 1339 acres of sand dune marvels and beauty, some days there is a new species surprise around the corner.” 

“I am fungi obsessed, I loveallthe mycological delights but my favourites by far are the colourful grassland fungi, the waxcaps. About 23 call Kenfig their home.” 

“We found the Date Waxcap on the day the volunteers decided to do a Dune Waxcap Hygrocybe conicoides survey on the frontal dunes – this waxcap is quite common in sand dunes. It is very variable in colour, from a deep red through oranges and yellow. As we talked and walked, in the corner of my eye, I spotted it! The unmistakable colouration of the Date Waxcap.”

The Importance of Welsh Grasslands 

Being a land of grass, here in Wales we see permanent pastures and rough grazing all around us. Most of these are intensively managed for sheep and cattle. However, less intensively farmed grassland can offer very important habitat for grassland fungi. This includes waxcaps, but also other important groups. One of the most stunning examples must surely be the Violet Coral Clavaria zollingeri

Waxcap Fungi 

Waxcaps are named for their shiny, waxy and often brightly coloured caps. They can look like blobs of red, orange, green or yellow wax in the turf.  Here in Wales, we have some beautiful species such as the Pink or Ballerina Waxcap Porpolomopsis calyptriformis, and Scarlet Waxcap Hygrocybe coccinea. In fact, despite our small size, Wales is home to over half the number of waxcap species found in Britain.

It’s not just our farmed grasslands that are good for fungi, either. Other habitats such as old lawns, churchyards and grass in parks and gardens can all be incredibly important. And of course, sand dune grasslands too, just like Kenfig. They just need to be sensitively managed.

Challenges faced by Grassland Fungi

We know many grassland fungi are declining and threatened. They are under-recorded, so their habitat may be destroyed due to a lack of knowledge. Waxcaps are also very sensitive to changes in their environment. Some cannot tolerate the regular ploughing, re-seeding, and fertilising on intensive farms. Consequently, some species, like Date-coloured Waxcap Hygrocybe spadicea are now very rare. 

We are still learning about these beautiful fungi. We have too few fungi experts (mycologists) in Wales. We also have many unanswered questions about their distribution, ecology and conservation needs.  

However, we do also have some amazing places for wildlife, places that we already know are important for grassland fungi. Kenfig NNR is one of these. Kenfig is an Important Plant Area (IPA), and Plantlife has been involved in its management for many years. Most recently this has been through our Green Links project based in Bridgend. 

Waxcap grasslands are an important part of Plantlife Cymru’s work. We are seeking to understand more about their distribution and management. We would also like to see them better protected from both accidental and deliberate damage.

How to get Involved

Would you like to get involved with waxcap recording? You can download a site survey app that helps us find new, important places for grassland fungi. You don’t need to be able to identify species- just their colours! 

Download a free Survey123 app on your smartphone or tablet: 

Google Play (Android) 

Apple Store (iOS) 

Hit this link on your smart device: https://arcg.is/PLT5X   

Select ‘Open in the Survey123 field app’ and then ‘Continue without signing in’. A message will pop up asking for access to your phone’s camera and storage – please click Yes / Allow 

You are ready to go! 

Elfcups are red

Roundheads are blue

Fungi and plants,

Share a connection? it’s true…

Although February might not be a month you associate with fungi, the organisms are still there under the surface – it’s just the fruiting bodies like mushrooms and toadstools we tend to see in autumn.

It’s under the surface where a large proportion of fungi are directly connected to other plants roots via the fungi’s mycelial network, root-like structure made of branching, thread like hyphae.

On February the 14th whilst we humans are celebrating deep connections with loved ones, plants and fungi are exchanging resources through their own deep connections. Virtually all plants on earth form these relationships, with only about 5-10% of plants not relying on these fungal friendships.

 

Mycorrhizal matchmaking

Mycorrhizal is the name we give the type of fungi that can tap into the root cells of plants. The fungus gets its energy requirements and carbon from the plant​, and the plant gets nitrogen, phosphorus and zinc from the fungi, as well as improved access to water.

This network of fungi mycelium and plant/tree roots is often affectionately referred to as the ‘Wood Wide Web’.

The infamous, bright red toadstool Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria has mycorrhizal relationships with birch trees, pines and spruces, so they are mostly found near some of these species.

Although you are unlikely to find any Fly Agaric toadstools at this time of year, if you look hard enough there are still some fungi species with visible fruiting bodies….

Will fungi be your Valentine?

Fungi are vital to life on earth as well as providing an entire kingdom of wonder and magic. We still don’t know 90% of the fungi species estimated to be present on the planet. From the species we do know about we benefit from them in so many ways – from nutrient recycling, edibility, making food products, medicines, manufacturing, biomaterials as well as natural wonder.

We are already starting to lose known species, with approximately 400 UK species Under Threat on the IUCN Red Data List. Globally we are risking losing species we don’t even know about yet, with all their potential uses and beauty lost forever.

 

Make it official with fungi this Valentines day….

Scarlet Elfcup Sarcoscypha austriaca is one of the most striking species being bright valentine-heart red and is one you can find out and about now.

Spotting these bright red pixie-like cups on the woodland floor amongst mosses and twigs, is certain to fill most hearts with as much joy as a dozen red roses surely?

Learn more about fungi

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?

It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

The Wildlife in our Meadows
Duke of Burgundy butterfly on cowslip.

The Wildlife in our Meadows

From bumblebees to birds and moths to mammals – meadows are micro-cities of wildlife. Here's what to spot in your wildflower meadow.

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Hazel Gloves Fungus is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, learn more about this rainforest fungi this Reverse the Red month.