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The Waxcaps of Wales
Plantlife Cymru are developing a project focussing specifically on an important type of grassland fungi called waxcaps. They have received nearly £25,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a 3 year project which is due to commence in the autumn of 2017.
Fungi are most often associated with woodland but the meadows and hills of Wales are home to an array of unusual species specific to grassland. These grassland fungi communities exist due to Wales' oceanic climate, long history of grazing and hilly terrain.
Welsh grassland fungal communities have some extraordinarily beautiful and unusual species that have descriptive names such as the Ballerina Waxcap, Olive Earthtongue and Violet Coral. Waxcaps are one type of attractive looking grassland fungi that are named for their shiny, waxy or sticky caps which range in colour from pink and red to yellow and green.
Why are waxcaps important?
As well as their aesthetic appeal, waxcap species are important as they thrive in low-nutrient conditions and so indicate ‘unimproved’ grassland. Their sensitivity to soil disturbance and chemicals means they are under threat from ploughing and the application of fertilizers and herbicides.
Grassland habitats comprise some 83% of the land area of Wales, but most of these grasslands have been 'improved’ through ploughing, re-seeding and the application of fertilisers and herbicides and are therefore poor habitats for these fungi.
Despite the agricultural improvement that has taken place, Wales still currently supports 112 species of grassland fungi which is about 55% of those found in Britain as a whole. Many of these are now uncommon or rare and five species are scheduled on the Section 42 list of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, 2006. These 5 species, due to their rarity are of principal importance for conservation of biological diversity in Wales, they are the Big Blue Pinkgill (Entoloma bloxamii), the Elegant Earthstar (Geastrum elegans), the Dark-purple Earthtongue (Geoglossum atropurpureum), the Date-coloured Waxcap (Hygrocybe spadicea) and the Olive Earthtongue (Microglossum olivaceum).
So what's the problem?
We are still learning about this enigmatic group of fungi and the few fungi experts (mycologists) that exist in Wales still have many unanswered questions about their distribution, ecology, fruiting patterns and detailed conservation needs.
Part of the difficulty associated with answering these questions is that there are only a few people who can confidently identify these fungi in the field together with the sporadic and seasonal fruiting nature of the fungi.
DNA analysis of soil samples can help us identify where these fungi communities are present. Aberystwyth University, led by Dr Gareth Griffith, have been undertaking an important programme of DNA research work. This work is helping us to steadily improve our knowledge about Welsh Waxcaps however this is not enough in isolation, there is still a need for many eyes that can identify the fruiting bodies in the field.
What does the project hope to achieve?
This project aims to increase the profile of the international significance of 'waxcap grassland' habitats in Wales and to create a better picture of the extent and condition of waxcap grasslands in Wales.
Through the project we want to engage with people across Wales to raise awareness of these fungi generally though creative activities, a website and public events. However, we also aim to increase the skills and understanding of specific groups of people such as land managers.
We aim to offer tailored training for specific groups such as site wardens, outdoor educators and teachers as well as developing the next generation of field mycologists through a dedicated apprenticeship style training scheme.
If you're interested in becoming a project partner, a participant, or want to find out more please contact Anita Daimond – Waxcap Development Officer - at firstname.lastname@example.org.