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If you’re taking part in No Mow May this year, then your garden will be well on its way to becoming a beautiful, biodiverse haven for nature. But there is a bonus to helping the wildflowers grow – as you allow lawn to become meadow, your garden becomes your very own carbon store, helping to reduce your carbon footprint.

When carbon sequestration is mentioned, most minds turn to trees. As a society we are more aware than ever before of the role of woodlands in combatting climate change and creating a space for nature. Much less discussed is the remarkable and equally vital role our grasslands and meadows can play in increasing biodiversity and capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.  

How do grasslands store carbon?

Wildflowers growing in a meadow with cattle behind

When we create healthy grasslands and meadows by mowing or grazing livestock, we are simply replicating the activity of the herds of large wild herbivores that once moved across our hills and valleys. These habitats – if the grazing is gentle, infrequent and low intensity – recreate prehistoric landscapes and provide a home for our wild plants, insects, birds and fungi. Natural and semi-natural grasslands (meaning those that are farmed but in a traditional, less intensive manner) improve the quality of our water, prevent flooding and help increase the resilience of farming to summer droughts. 

This grassland – and the healthy soil beneath it – also has an incredible and little-known potential to lock away atmospheric carbon. Soil carbon is a particularly valuable store; it is far more stable and long lasting than the carbon in trees, which is vulnerable to forest fires, pests and disease.

As plants live and grow, carbon from the atmosphere is drawn down into the plants’ roots, where the myriad creatures in the soil make use of it, locking it away beneath the ground. As the diversity of plants on the surface increases, so does the diversity of microorganisms, fungi and invertebrates beneath it. The more diverse the soil life, the richer the entire ecosystem – and the more carbon the soil can store.

The role of Mycorrhizal fungi

The almost mystical role of mycorrhizal fungi is now well known. They connect roots to the nutrients in the soil, trading sugars that plants and trees create from sunlight with locked away minerals the fungi extract from the soil. We now know that plants and trees can communicate through these fungal networks, alerting them to pests and diseases and passing nutrients to others in need.

Meadow on Dartmoor

Mycorrhizal fungi have another important role – they are critical in the ability of plants to transfer carbon to the soil. In areas of farmland, meadow and garden where the soil is ploughed, fertilised or dominated by a small number of grass species, these mycorrhizal networks are much less effective – with fewer species and a lower carbon storage potential. When we look after our farmland and gardens with care, mowing and grazing infrequently and gently, avoiding ploughing and pesticides, we nurture our mycorrhizal fungi, helping the soil to become a more potent carbon store.

How does No Mow May help?

By taking part in No Mow May, you will not only begin to create a home for wildflowers and insects, you will also create healthier soils that nourish your garden plants – and reduce your carbon footprint in the process.

England alone has around 640,000 hectares of private garden. If just a quarter of this area was transformed into wildflower rich meadow – by mowing just once or twice a year and collecting the cuttings – then these garden soils could potentially capture and store an additional amount of carbon equivalent to more than 3 million average cars’ annual emissions within a spade’s depth, and well over 10 million cars in soils as deep as one meter*.

A blossoming garden lawn full of wildflower

Lawns and gardens are of course just one part of the puzzle – the UK’s farmed grassland landscape offers tremendous potential for us to sequester carbon, while also protecting agriculture and biodiversity.

Farmers and landowners have a fundamental role to play – combining food production with sustainable grasslands that lock away carbon in healthy, ecologically rich soils. Some 40% of the UK’s land area is grassland – but much of this is intensively farmed, limiting its potential for carbon storage.

Globally, studies have suggested that 2.3-7.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalents per year could be sequestered through grassland diversity restoration. Carbon sequestration doesn’t just mean more trees. Healthy grassland, with the more sensitive grazing and less intensive farming that nourishes it, also keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. 

No matter how large or small our garden, we all have a role to play, and we can all make a difference. It’s easy to get started – just put your lawnmower away this May!

More about #NoMowMay

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

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.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

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…

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

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.

Every autumn one of the UK’s most colourful natural displays takes place: jewel-coloured waxcaps emerge through the grass across our countryside, cities and even some of our gardens. Let’s find them!

A pink mushroom

How to identify waxcaps

Waxcaps are types of mushrooms known for their shiny-looking caps. Together with other types of fascinatingly named fungi called pinkgills, earthtongues, club and coral fungi – they form a group called “grassland fungi”.

Waxcaps and grassland fungi come in a rainbow of different colours including vibrant violets, yellows, greens and pinks.

They also come in weird and wonderful shapes, which can help you to identify the species you’re looking at.

Where can I find waxcaps in the UK?

Chris Jones is the Warden at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve, one of our Dynamic Dunescapes sites, and has worked as a practical conservationist for over 25 years.

Kenfig is one of the largest sand dune systems in Wales and provides a unique habitat for a variety of rare and specialised species, including over 20 species of Waxcap fungi.

Violet coloured fungus with branches looking like coral on a green grassy area.

Chris’ tips on where to find waxcaps near you:

‘Waxcap fungi are commonly found in grasslands and meadows, and they are known for their ecological importance. They are often found in areas with short, grazed vegetation, but they can also occur in disturbed habitats, such as lawns and roadside verges.

Waxcaps are mostly found in the late summer and autumn, typically from September to November, depending on the local weather – but you can find them all year round.

Try looking for waxcaps on…

  • Meadows and pastures
  • Coastal grasslands on cliffs and sand dunes
  • Heath and uplands, such as hills and mountains
  • Urban grasslands including lawns, parks, church yards and stately home grounds
  • Roadside verges

The meadows where waxcaps are found are known as ‘waxcap grasslands’. These grasslands need specific conditions for waxcaps to thrive and are becoming rare.

On waxcap grasslands, waxcap fungi form partnerships with plants, where they exchange nutrients with the roots of host plants, benefiting both the fungi and the plants. This only happens in habitats with a high level of biodiversity, which the aims to identify.

Waxcap grasslands need:

  • Well-drained soil
  • To have not been disturbed by farming equipment for a long period of time
  • To have not been fertilised, so are low in soil nutrients
  • Short grass with plenty of moss

Waxcap fungi are fascinating not only for their vibrant colours but also for their significance as indicators of healthy grasslands. Their conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and preserving these unique and beautiful fungi for future generations to enjoy.

Many waxcap species are considered rare or threatened, primarily due to habitat loss and changes in land management practices such as tree planting and intensive agriculture. If you find any, please record them on the Waxcap Watch app.

I LOVE Waxcaps, they are AMAZING! It is ridiculously hard to pick a favourite, but if I had to choose it would be… all of them.’

Discover Waxcap Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

White Campion

White Campion

Silene latifolia

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!