Blog

Muggeridge Field path ๐Ÿ‚

There’s a field I pass by on walks near where I live. Recently I was walking along the path next to the field and took the photo above, the oaks turning to yellow across the landscape.

The shadow of trees to the right, combined with the sunbeam, make it look like half of the Green Manโ€™s face. At least thatโ€™s what I see.

There is a campaign called Keep Muggeridge Field Green where you can read more about attempts to protect it from being built on: https://keepmfgreen.wordpress.com/

Thanks for reading.

Oak timbers: Old Stack Cottage, Amberley

Follow @OakTimbers on Instagram

In early December I was passing through the village of Amberley in West Sussex. It’s a very quaint village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex. This rather well updated cottage is located at the roadside, at the end of the village’s main throughway. It was surrounded by rather sinister, leaden skies, as rain threatened to pass through. Thankfully it didn’t.

It’s very difficult to get photos of these buildings without cars nearby, but I feel that it gives a sense of the cottage’s place in time. The model and type of vehicle will likely be very different in 50 years time, when the cottage should still be there, such is the level of investment and care that goes into these buildings in this area.

On the left hand side you can see part of an old barn, with its sloping thatched roof and its clapboard-style entranceway, where wagons would once have been drawn in to unload.

Historic England have dated the building to the 1600s.

Thanks for reading.

Oak timbers | South Downs

Latest from the Blog

Salmon egg slime mould ๐ŸŸ

This is not a fungi post. If itโ€™s anything, itโ€™s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.

Winter oyster mushrooms ๐Ÿ„

A walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

Earpick fungus in Hampshire ๐Ÿ‘‚

Here’s an account of the final fungi walk of my calendar for 2022. It was held on Saturday 19th November on the birch and pine heaths of Bramshott Common, where Hampshire and Surrey cross paths. West Sussex isn’t far away either. It’s an area that is arguably Wealden in character, but inside the South Downs National Park.

I wasn’t able to take any photos during the walk, other than the header image (not visible in email). For a better account of the fungal communities at Bramshott Common, please see my blog from a couple of months ago.

Back in October this Ministry of Defence site contained basketfuls of mushrooms. On 19th November however, they had all gone on holiday. Where fly agarics had previously flung themselves onto paths, only one could be found across the entire walk, tucked away behind a heather shrub. Interestingly, I had been speaking to the person who did find it, moments earlier. She had grown up in Sweden and spoke about how as a child she was taught about mushrooms in school. This heathy, birchy, piney landscape must have been similar to landscapes she knew from Sweden.

The brown birch bolete parties of the previous visit had dwindled to the last man standing, spotted somehow among the identical shades of fallen birch leaves on the ground. As my scouse family says, well in that lad.

Cassius V. Stevani, IQ-USP, Brazil, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My personal highlight of the walk was when an attendee found a small bonnet-like mushroom among the leaves. I picked up the pine cone it was growing from. The spindly bonnet slumped, but it seemed to have bioluminescence. The one we saw is not the same species as the one in the image above (Mycena luxaeterna) which is found in rainforest in Brazil, but it had a glow and was a bonnet so that’s not too far off.

Does anyone out there know this magical bonnet mushroom in a European context?

Anyway, holding the pine cone up to show off the glow-in-the-dark mushlette – let’s call it that – I mentioned earpick fungus to the group, a species I had only seen once before that is found on pine cones. Looking at the cone again I noticed a small antenna poking up from the cone’s segments. It was earpick fungus! I wish I could have taken a photo with my macro kit but it wasn’t possible. I was surprised by how small and difficult to see the fungus was, only really spotted because it was so close to my face.

As I’ve said previously this autumn: visualise the mushrooms you want to see in the world. Sometimes it works out well.

Big thanks to Olivia and Dan from the South Downs National Park’s Heathlands Reunited project for putting on the walk, and to all the lovely people who came along and made it worthwhile!

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | South Downs

Latest from the Blog

Night photography: Jupiter snuggles up to the Moon ๐Ÿช

An article popped up recently highlighting the chance to see several planets in the sky at once. On the evening of the 29th December 2022, I took out my camera and tripod to see what was happening out there in the garden.

Grey heron at woodland edge

A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) at the edge of a woodland at Warnham Nature Reserve in West Sussex, Sunday 4th December 2022.

The heron was looking back and forth across the reeds and wetlands. The temperatures have dropped to more typical winter levels, meaning birds and mammals that don’t hibernate will be under added pressure to find food.

Recent mild Decembers have been replaced this year with colder than average temperatures.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Sussex Weald

Books: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester ๐Ÿ“š

Another short book review to point you in the direction of a great read.

On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester is a personal account of a life lived within a frame of chalk – Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire. It’s a story of major development threats, many of which prove unstoppable. We’re talking here about the Newbury Bypass and the Greenham Common protests of the 1980s-1990s. These are issues I don’t know much about, but I do have a hint of the landscape having worked nearby on occasion. Nicola’s accounts and research are enlightening and illuminating. The anguish is real, the Newbury Bypass is something she can see or hear from Gallows Down today (below), the hill that gives her the name for the book.

Nicola Chester is clearly a gifted writer in her evocations of the Wiltshire hills the book spends much of its time in. She isn’t writing for the sake of ‘being a nature writer’ but expressing a deep need to find meaning and belonging in the place where she lives, and all the diversity of non-human life that lives and dies in the land around her family home. The details of the book remain with me in fragments like memories that I can’t sometimes differentiate from lived experience.

Nicola Chester launches her book in the mist on Gallows Down

Personal stories intertwined with nature can often miss the mark, becoming too much a platform for a person’s story, rather than how it might relate to the landscape. But in this book, the personal story, especially at the end, is one of the most affecting things I’ve read in a long time

The story of Nicola’s loss of her father cut right through to me, having experienced something only a year ago that felt almost identical. I have to thank her for her honesty.

The book also makes clear how precarious rural life remains for many people, especially for families without property or the wealth of many rural landowners. This is a story that is rarely told, because ‘the countryside’ is sold as an idyll, a place of wealth and peace where anxieties are few. On Gallows Down will show you another world.

Nicola’s accounts of local landowners and the excruciating processes of trying to get people on side to her ecologically-minded way of thinking ring true. She goes to show how passion and love for nature, and wise diplomacy in human conflict can rival the power and authority of a landowner, despite their untouchable wealth and privilege.

This passion play can go wrong for individuals in a community setting, but Nicola comes across as a master of campaigning and negotiation, a deeply compassionate person. So much of what she says echoed things I’ve witnessed first hand in similar situations, but in different parts of southern England.

There is the sense that this is a book only one person could write, with Nicola’s experience, love and knowledge of a certain part of England. On Gallows Down will always stand up to me as a classic of English biography, landscape, place and nature writing.

On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester

Thanks for reading.

Splitgill fungus, another weird one! ๐Ÿ„

I encountered splitgill fungus again at the end of October. It’s a very attractive species due to its interesting ‘split gills’. But it also has a fascinating biological story. I considered outlandish titles for this blog post, including ‘the fungus that has 20,000 sexes and sometimes lives in humans’. After researching a bit more, that 20,000+ figure was so common it looked like clickbait. I have standards, people.

Visually splitgill fungus is known for its vein-like gills, as seen in some of the images here. Otherwise it’s known for its potentially serious impact on the lungs if you’re ever incredibly unlucky enough to have it make a home in, well, you. As Covid-19 has reminded us, despite our attempts to lord it all over nature, we are a habitat in ourselves, with fungal spores also being present in our bodies as they are pretty much everywhere in the environment.

The splitgill apparently has 28,000 sexes, which may not be as remarkable as us simple humans think. I don’t have the space to go into sex in fungi on this blog, it’s complicated, but it’s also not the same as it is for humans.

The splitgill is also perhaps the most widespread fungus in the world.

It’s a species I most often find on deadwood, usually on fallen beech trees in Sussex. It’s particularly visible in the winter months.

One of the best articles online about the splitgill mushroom is this one, from February 2000! I was a teenager just encountering chat rooms then via my parents’ 56k dial-up modem. Coincidentally, the author of this blog, Tom Volk, passed away in recent weeks. He obviously has contributed a great deal to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the fungal kingdom.

As mentioned earlier, splitgill fungus is also known for some extreme medical issues in isolated cases. Not that you should worry about it:

This is a very interesting YouTube video on the Learn Your Land channel. It lays out all the information about the fungus affecting people medically, and some examples, in a much more interesting way than I can here. Do have a look if you want to know more.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

Latest from the Blog

Wishing you a very jelly Christmas ๐Ÿง 

On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we mayโ€ฆ

Looking for birds in the frost and fog ๐Ÿฆ

As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.โ€ฆ

Oak timbers: Arnside Cottage, Hampshire

I was travelling into East Hampshire for work in August and realised it would probably be one of my last chances to photograph a cottage I had passed several times. Arnside Cottage is, as you can see, situated at the road side, in the village of Clanfield in East Hampshire. Technically it has been adaptedโ€ฆ

The South Downs: old ash tree

This week’s single photograph is an old ash tree in Amberley, West Sussex, taken on 2nd December 2022. This tree may once have been part of a laid hedgerow, hence its wider base. Ash trees are disappearing from the British landscape thanks to the invasive fungus known as ash dieback. I do try and record the older ash trees when I see them. This tree’s left-hand branch is pointing to one of the highest hills locally, Amberley Mount, up on the South Downs. The bracket fungus seen higher up the tree is probably shaggy bracket.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: The South Downs

White saddle: one of the weird ones๐Ÿ„

On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season. There had been heavy rainfall in recent days and the beech leaf fall had begun, meaning that the mushrooms were beginning to disappear. This often marks the end of the main mushroom glut in autumn, from my experience.

To fast forward to the end, just as I was on my way out of the woods and putting my camera away, I noticed what looked like discarded tissue in a ditch at the edge of the track.

I soon realised that these were white saddles (Helvella crispa).

This is a very unusual looking fungus and isn’t the typical gilled mushroom despite their appearance of having a stipe and something resembling a cap. They’re actually ascomycete fungi, so spore-shooters, rather than the often gilled basidiomycetes.

Here’s an update on the status of the violet webcap which I blogged about again in 2022. It won’t thank me.

The sun shifted into the line of this false deathcap (Amanita citrina – about to become several different species!) and made a very nice autumn scene.

Brittlegills are some of the most photogenic little mushrooms, largely due to their clean stipe and gills, and fruit gum-like caps. I’m not sure of this species but I like it.

A Medusa-like group of honey fungus (the most feared fungus in the world).

A younger patch of fruiting bodies, where you can see the lovely honey colour.

I’ve not encountered much stagshorn this year, perhaps only during this walk, which seems unusual.

A puffball at the point of puff.

Elsewhere in the weird fungus stakes is this scalycap growing out of a hole in a beech tree. It was as large and intrusive as it looks here.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

Latest from the Blog

December leaves ๐Ÿ‚

One of my favourite things to photograph in winter is a frost-encrusted leaf. Where the frost remains long enough it allows for us non-early risers to enjoy some at lunchtime (to look at, rather than eat). On the morning of Thursday 8th December I could hear sycamore leaves falling in the garden. There was aโ€ฆ

Muggeridge Field path ๐Ÿ‚

There’s a field I pass by on walks near where I live. Recently I was walking along the path next to the field and took the photo above, the oaks turning to yellow across the landscape. The shadow of trees to the right, combined with the sunbeam, make it look like half of the Greenโ€ฆ

Oak timbers: Old Stack Cottage, Amberley

In early December I was passing through the village of Amberley in West Sussex. It’s a very quaint village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex.

The Sussex Weald: Autumn sunset at Cowdray Park

A new blog post series of single images, maybe, to counteract the decline of Twitter and the TikTok-isation of Instagram?

This image was taken at Cowdray Park near Midhurst on Monday 14th November. It was a stunning autumn evening, with trees in shades of gold, yellow and orange all the way to the sumptuous Downs.

Flushing woodcock in Dulwich ๐Ÿฆ†

On Saturday 12th November I led a fungi walk for London Wildlife Trust at Dulwich Wood in south-east London. I only managed one photo on the day because I was working and leading the group around, but it was a pretty good one nonetheless.

When doing a pre-walk check I accidentally flushed a woodcock from the vegetation off the main paths. I never like to do something like that but they are so difficult to see, camouflaged down there in the leaf litter. Itโ€™s good to know they are still able to use to woods as a stop off on passage. It also suggests they are using woods nearby which have no public access, because this is one that has hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, so ones free of ‘disturbance’ must be even better.

John Gerrard Keulemans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This isnโ€™t new in Dulwich. Local ornithologist Dave Clark once told me a story of a woodcock smashing through someoneโ€™s window and landing in their bedroom. Because woodcock migrate, often by night, they sometimes get it wrong. Their long bills and speed of flight also mean they will crack glass quite easily. The bird in question was scooped up and taken to a vet, from what I remember it survived and lived to fly another day.

There’s a really nice episode of the Golden Grenades podcast featuring woodcock that you can listen to here. It features Kerrie Gardner, a superstar writer, photographer and sculptor who is a friend of this blog!

On the fungi front, the mushrooms were very few and far between considering the time of year. There was a shaggy theme to what was there, in that two of the sightings were shaggy parasol and shaggy bracket. The most common species group were the bonnets (Mycena), along with small polypores like turkey tail and hairy curtain crust, which are all on decaying wood.

Some more phone pic bonnets on fallen oak wood

My sense is that the extreme heat and drought this summer, where temperatures reached 40C, has had a worse impact in smaller woodlands in places like London. More rural, larger woodlands are able to hold water and moisture more effectively, therefore being able to feed fungal communities far more easily. Those woodlands also have running water in the form of brooks, streams and woodlands that aid soil moisture. Londonโ€™s woods look far drier in November than those in West Sussex, even after torrential rain.

Itโ€™s also very mild, around 15-18 degrees on the 12th November, which shows just how far-reaching climate change already is. The milder weather may mean mushrooms fruit for longer though, with the colder temperatures held off until maybe January or February. Itโ€™s just so hard to predict these days.

ยฉ jonatan_antunez, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

One interesting thing that a couple of people on the walk discovered was a species that was new to me. On a scaffold board used for steps, a small blue polypore (example photo above) was peeking out. Having seen it elsewhere on social media in the last week, I can confirm it was blueing bracket. I’m back there soon so will aim to get some *actual* pictures next time.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | London