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Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife’s Lichen and Bryophyte Specialist, heads out to discover a wealth of extraordinary lichens which call Wales’ rainforests home.
I’m lucky enough to have worked in our temperate rainforests for well over a decade now, and although much of our recent work here at Plantlife has had a focus on rainforest areas of England, through our LOST project in the Lake District and the Building Resilience project in South-West England, both funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, I’ve had the opportunity to get out into some of our Welsh rainforest in past weeks and been reminded just how special they are.
The first of these visits was to the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn estate at Ganllwyd to look at some transplants of Lungwort lichens that we undertook 5 years ago. This was initially an attempt to rescue these lichens from an old Ash tree that was literally clothed in Lungwort lichens, of three varieties, that blew down in a summer gale. Transplanting these big leafy species is relatively straightforward to do in practical terms but hard to get right, the skill is in finding the right niche and one that’s away from the chomping teeth of slugs.
Success is far from guaranteed, and the majority of these transplants had succumbed to slug browsing. There were some notable successes though, with this ‘lob scrob’ Lobarina scrobiculata thriving on a Sycamore, all the better as this is one of the rarer lungwort lichens in Wales. The area where this was transplanted has spectacular communities of lichens on old Ash, Oak and Sycamore trees, probably the best display of lungwort lichens in Wales with abundant Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria, Parchment Lichen Ricasolia amplissima, ‘Stinky Stictas’ Sticta fuliginosa and Sticta sylvatica and Blue Jelly-skin Leptogium cyanescens.
Another site visit took me to a remote woodland near Trawsfynydd where we’re helping Natural Resources Wales work out how best to manage this woodland. Although only a few miles up the road from Ganllwyd this is a very different woodland to Dolmelynllyn being at higher altitude and exposed to higher levels of rainfall this favours different communities of lichen and bryophyte with what could be considered our ‘cloud-forest’ lichens and a rich ‘hyperoceanic’ bryophyte flora including many rare species.
Image by Dave Lamacraft
This has also reminded me just how diverse our rainforest is, in the same that way that no two wetlands, estuaries or mountains are the same, no bit of temperate rainforest is the same. They all differ according to geology, topography, aspect, climate, history, management etc; our temperate rainforest in South-West England is quite different to that in Western Scotland, with Wales somewhere in between. They are especially influenced by ‘oceanicity’ – the degree to which proximity to the Atlantic influences climate – and broadly speaking they are drier and sunnier to the south and much wetter to the north.
This basically means that you’ll never see the same things twice and there’s a lifetime of exploration to be had. I’d urge anyone to grab a hand lens (by no means essential, but definitely helps appreciate the small things) and head out to explore.
Agricultural grasslands dominate Wales’ rural landscape. Finding ways to restore species-rich habitats to farms is a priority for Plantlife Cymru.
Chris Jones, the Warden of Kenfig National Nature Reserve, recently found the very rare fungus, during a routine survey.
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.
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 love all the 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.”
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.
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.
Violet Coral. Trevor Dines
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.
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.
Parrot Waxcap Gliophorus psittacinus – Lucia Chmurova-Plantlife
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.
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!
Of Wales’ total land area is used for farming
Half the number of Waxcap Species can be found in Wales
Kenfig National Nature Reserve is an Important Plant Area (IPA) – Plantlife has been a partner in managing Kenfig.
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