Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Fungi of Hadrian'sWall Are Enjoying a Purple Patch; Environment

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Fungi of Hadrian'sWall Are Enjoying a Purple Patch; Environment

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY HENDERSON

THE frontier land of Northumberland is the finest in England for first-class fungi, according to a two-year study.

The results of the survey carried out by Northumberland National Park Authority grasslands along Hadrian's Wall has revealed the area to be the best place in England for variety of fungi species.

This places the Wall grasslands in a position of international importance for the habitat type that fungi favour.

Most of the showiest toadstools belong to a group known as waxcaps, which are fungi of unimproved grassland often rich in moss and grazed by livestock.

They are indicators of an ancient landscape that has had little ploughing or fertilizer added.

Waxcaps come in an array of bright, jewel-like colours and sport romantic names like Splendid, Persistent, Ballerina, Oily and Honey. Over the last two years, 25km of the grassland alongside the Wall from Walwick to Greenhead in the national park has been surveyed for grassland fungi.

Last year's wet summer was surprisingly unhelpful for the toadstools, which do not like too much rain, but excellent results were still recorded from the stretch under scrutiny, showing it to be nationally important and with three sites proving to be internationally rich.

The survey involved mycologists Liz Holden and Andy McClay as well as Hadrian's Wall and national park volunteers, with walkers and farmers invited to submit sightings.

Waxcaps have been described as the orchids of the fungi world and are easy to spot by their vivid colours, which range from yellows, reds, oranges and pinks to mauves, greys, whites, browns, blacks and greens.

They have thick waxy gills and the stems are often the same colour as the cap. They have a high water content within a waterproof waxy layer.

Some are covered with a slimy layer on the cap which enable them to survive drying winds. Waxcaps appear from September to November, although fruiting times are affected by weather conditions.

They may appear on a site one year but not the next, with the exact conditions which induce spores to germinate still a mystery.

Although this year has been warm and dry, the autumn rain is prompting a great crop of waxcaps in Northumberland.

A mix of these brilliant fungi at any one site indicates grassland dating back hundreds of years.

A particularly rare fungi has just been discovered by Maria Hindmarsh, project officer for the Hadrian's Wall Community Champions Project.

She found the Violet Coral fungus at a site near Steel Rigg on Hadrian's Wall while out with a group on one of the initiative's free public "exploration" days.

The purple Clavaria zollingeri, or Violet Coral, is common in parts of North America but is especially rare in Britain. Andy McClay, who led the group, said: "Violet Coral is so rare in this country that it shouldn't be gathered except for essential research. …

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