Sussex Fungus Group at Kidbrooke Park

A week ago was one of the field meetings of the Sussex Fungus Group, led by Nick Aplin. We’d arranged for a visit to Kidbrooke Park, now owned by Michael Hall School in Forest Row, and so a group of us from the Forest Row Natural History Group accompanied the more regular attendees of these fascinating meetings.

Kidbrooke was originally laid out in the eighteenth century, but then remodelled by Humphry Repton between 1803 and 1808.[1] Consequently, it contains a great variety of diverse habitats, from the unimproved grassland of the South Lawn through to Ancient Woodland and some fine dead wood.

However, it was somewhat wet, and got a bit wetter during the course of the morning. Even so, we had a good turnout, and almost everyone stayed until the end, captivated by the range of species that were still around relatively late in the season.

Picture of Yellow Club (Clavulinopsis helvola)

Yellow Club (Clavulinopsis helvola)

We started and ended the day with grassland species, which form a relatively small portion of fungi species anyway. Even so, because of the disappearance of ‘unimproved’ grassland, especially since the war, many of these species are much rarer than they used to be. As Nick noted:

We started off and ended on a lawn which was quite rich in ‘CHEG’ species and here we recorded 6 species of Waxcap along with Dermoloma and Entoloma species. In hindsight I would have liked to spend some more time here ‘getting to know’ the Waxcap populations, but most were found towards the end of the foray

The ‘CHEG’ species Nick mentions are those in the following groups[2]:

  • C: Clarvariaceaea (fairy clubs)
  • H: Hygrocybe (waxcaps)
  • E: Entolomataceae (pink gills)
  • G: Geoglossaceae (earthtongues)
Picture of Butter Waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea)

Butter Waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea)

This classification was one of many devised since the 1980s to assess the fungal biodiversity of grasslands, and various parts of the South Lawn turned up Yellow Club (Clavulinopsis helvola), and Silky Pinkgill (Entoloma sericeum), plus the yellow Butter Waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea), the Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica), the rather splendid green Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus), the white Snowy Waxcap (Hygrocybe virginea), Golden Waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana), and Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis).

This was exciting because, according to one assessment method for grassland fungi[3], finding six different waxcaps on a single visit makes the site of regional importance. I can understand why Nick would have liked to spend more time there.

Picture of Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus)

Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus)

Picture of Earthy Powdercap (Cystoderma amianthinum)

Earthy Powdercap (Cystoderma amianthinum)

Still, we did move on, getting a bit wetter, and Simon Gillman showed us some other areas with good collections of fungi, though apparently not a patch on what was there a few weeks ago. The larger fungi here included Butter Cap (Rhodocollybia butyracea), Wood Wollyfoot (Gymnopus peronatus), and Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum).

Picture of Butter Cap (Rhodocollybia butyracea)

Butter Cap (Rhodocollybia butyracea)

Picture of Wood Wollyfoot (Gymnopus peronatus)

Wood Wollyfoot (Gymnopus peronatus)

Along the track in the woods beside the Valley Field there were a few Shaggy Parasols (Chlorophyllum rhacodes), much reduced in number now since the deer had clearly eaten them all. Other large fungi were still about too, including a few Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) and the Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens).

Picture of Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens)

Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens)

Heading deeper into the woods, Nick showed us the rather pretty recycler fungus Plicaturopsis crispa (no English name…). This was in the Red Data Book of rare species in the past, and is still uncommon according to the distribution map, though is likely to be under-recorded, since this was the second time in a few weeks that I’d seen it with Nick.

Picture of Plicaturopsis crispa

Plicaturopsis crispa

Common species were about too, of course, and the Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) certainly lived up to its name.

Picture of Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus)

Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus)

Nick is a big fan of microfungi too, and several plants of Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) were covered in blotches on their leaves, which were revealed to be caused by a small orange rust fungus on their lower surface. Since many of these fungi are specific to the host plant, they can often be relatively easily determined.[4]

Pictture of Melampsora hypericorum

The rust fungus Melampsora hypericorum on Tutsan

The pink Bleeding Bonnet (Mycena sanguinolenta) was also in the ancient woodland, and Nick showed us the almost blood-like colour of the fluid that exuded from its broken stem.

Picture of Bleeding Bonnet (Mycena sanguinolenta)

Bleeding Bonnet (Mycena sanguinolenta)

Nick also notes that he:

vaguely remembered that Mollisia amenticola, a tiny cup fungus hadn’t been recorded in Sussex before, so we had a short but deliberate search for female Alder catkins (the only substrate on which it grows) and surprise, surprise someone found it

So, though this is certainly a case of a hugely under-recorded common fungus, it was quite nice to get a county first on the day!

It was about then that we found our first slime mould of the day. These unusual organisms are not fungi, and are a bit of a biological rag-bag, but can live as single cells and aggregate together, and move![5]

Picture of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa

Slime mould 1: Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa

Picture of Didymium melanospermum

Slime mould 2: Didymium melanospermum

Near the southern boundary of Kidbrooke was a tree that kept us occupied for some time, as Nick notes:

Beech is quite dominant and on one single fallen trunk we recorded about ten species, including two attractive Slime-moulds. [One picture shows] both the yellow plasmodium and the grey-blue sporangia of Badhamia utricularis

Picture of Badhamia utricularis

Slime mould 3: Badhamia utricularis

The second slime mould on the Beech was spreading over the moss:

Picture of Physarum leucopus

Slime mould 4: Physarum leucopus

and the other fungi there included a nice array of jellies and other oddities:

Picture of Purple Jellydisc (Ascocoryne sarcoides)

Purple Jellydisc (Ascocoryne sarcoides)

Picture of Beech Jellydisc (Neobulgaria pura)

Beech Jellydisc (Neobulgaria pura)

Picture of Common Mazegill (Datronia mollis)

Common Mazegill (Datronia mollis)

By now the party was slightly reduced in number and very wet as we crossed the fields, finding the occasional Dewdrop Mottlegill (Panaeolus acuminatus) and Yellow Fieldcap (Bolbitius titubans). The famous Dragon Logs held out some promise, but in the end didn’t seem to harbour much more than a few Common Bonnet (Mycena galericulata).

Picture of Dewdrop Mottlegill (Panaeolus acuminatus)

Dewdrop Mottlegill (Panaeolus acuminatus)

In all we recorded over 60 species, which was quite wonderful for mid-November. It would certainly be interesting to visit again next year a little earlier in the season and see what else we can find. I suspect that many years of searching, and doing so throughout the year, would produce a very long species list for the site as a whole. Huge thanks to Michael Hall School, and to Simon Gillman for leading the way and pointing out the best places.

Picture of Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis)

Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis)

At this point most people departed, but three of us popped down to the cemetery for a lightning visit. Last year Iona recorded eleven or twelve different waxcap species there, plus Smoky Spindles (Clavaria fumosa), which is not at all common. By the assessment measure I mentioned above, this makes the cemetery a site of national importance. Even though most of the waxcaps had by now gone, Nick still managed to get identify five (including Hygrocybe acutoconica), plus two Clavaria species. It is certainly a site that needs repeated, regular study as an article on waxcaps from British Wildlife makes clear.[6] Clearly, the Parish Council and Michael Hall School are doing exactly the right thing in looking after these very special bits of grassland in Forest Row.[7]

[1] “Kidbrooke Park.” National Heritage List for England. Historic England, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000305>.

[2] “Waxcap Grassland.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waxcap_grassland>.

[3] Rotheroe, Maurice. A Comparative Survey of Waxcap-grassland Fungi of Ireland & Britain. Rep. no. F76-01-71. N.p.: JNCC, 1997. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.aber.ac.uk/waxcap/downloads/rotheroe97-comparativesurvey.pdf>.

[4] Henderson, D. M. The Rust Fungi of the British Isles: A Guide to Identification by Their Host Plants: With an Appendix Correcting and Updating the 2000 Checklist. Kew: British Mycological Society, 2004. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.aber.ac.uk/waxcap/downloads/Henderson2004-BritishRustFungiHostPlantGuide.pdf>.

[5] “Slime Mold.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slime_mold>.

[6] Griffith, Gary W., John H. Bratton, and Gary Easton. “Charismatic Megafungi – the Conservation of Waxcap Grasslands.” British Wildlife 16.1 (2004): 31-43. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.aber.ac.uk/waxcap/downloads/griffith-waxcapbritishwildlife04.pdf>.

[7] The Fungus Conservation Forum. Grassland Gems: Managing Lawns and Pastures for Fungi. N.p.: Fungus Conservation Forum, n.d. Plantlife. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.plantlife.org.uk/uploads/documents/management-guide-Grassland-gems-managing-lawns-pastures-for-fungi.pdf>.

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