It’s definitely feeling autumnal now as the evenings draw in. This autumn has been a particularly good one for fungi thanks to the damp weather and mild temperatures. The RSPB Tudeley Woods Reserve, part of the Hadlow Estate, is home to many birds, animals and insects, but also a rich mosaic of fungi species – with almost 1,200 species recorded on site.
Fungi are extraordinary – neither animal nor plant – they are in a kingdom of their own – and this season has seen an incredible autumnal array of mushrooms and lichen across the Reserve.
Fungi play a vital role within the woodland ecosystem: breaking down organic matter such as leaves and wood into new nutrients which are fed back into the soil, helping plants and trees thrive. They also provide a rich food source for mammals, birds and insects in the colder months. The important part of most fungi, the mycelium, lives underground but in autumn the fruiting bodies of the fungus appear on the forest floor or on trees to produce spores.
Many fungi have developed intimate links with trees where they are able to provide nutrients to the tree in the form of minerals. These are transferred by linking to the tree roots. In exchange, the tree will provide sugars and starch to the fungus. If that was not enough, the fungal underground system is able to relay messages between trees. For instance, a stressed tree may ‘request’ an emergency nutrient supply. Additionally, if a tree suffers an attack by insects the fungi are able to help generate chemicals to deter the insect’s feeding. We call this the Wood-wide Web!
Last month we hosted mycological experts who came to survey the woodland in the hope of confirming the continued presence of several known rare species. They found a number of beautiful fungi specimens including two species classified as vulnerable by the IUCN: the Zoned Tooth Fungus Hydnellum concrescens and Velvet Tooth Fungus Hydnellum spongiosipes.
The woods are also rich in lichen and mosses, with some particularly attractive examples of lichen:
- Pixie Cups Cladonia chlorophaea agg
- Bushy Reindeer Lichen Cladonia rangiformis
The Estate woodland at Pembury Walks is ancient, semi-natural woodland which has been managed over centuries with coppicing and traditional forestry practices. The result is a rich mosaic of habitats which provides a home for local wildlife and a wonderful display of autumn colours for walkers and visitors to enjoy.
We advise that no mushrooms should be picked or touched because there are many species that are poisonous if eaten, which look very similar to certain edible mushrooms. Leaving fungi where they are means that others can enjoy their beauty and the wildlife that feeds on them can find the supply they need.