Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Sussex Weald’

Fungi Friday 25th September 2020

The summer’s September siege has broken and autumn has washed in with cut-price temperatures and heavy rain. The fruits of this sudden shift will not be felt fully for a few weeks yet, so here is what I have found in the last of the warm September days.

Last week I visited a favourite nature reserve in West Sussex, managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was the first time I’d manage to get there in perhaps a year, due to the pandemic and the remoteness of the site. It is one of the only places I know locally where you find such an abundance of moss and lichen on trees, suggesting excellent air quality. This is the kind of thing you see in the New Forest, as well as more highland landscapes.

I found porcelain fungus, this time hiding high up in a tree.

It is a reminder to me that if you see signs of smaller mushrooms, it can mean there are much more in other places that you may not have checked.

Rooting shank is a common summer mushroom which grows on wood submerged in soil. It gets its name from the root-like growth which attaches it deep into the soil. I almost always find it at the base of a tree.

Above is a species that is one of the earliest mushrooms to fruit, spindleshank. I find them most often along the lines of roots near the butresses of oaks. It is symptomatic of root trouble, usually with oak trees. In this blog, there is no trouble, as fungi get a free ride here and no anthropomorphic view of their world. That said, I won’t be focusing on fungal pathogens anytime soon. Awkward.

Later in the week I made a visit to another Sussex Wildlife Trust gem, Ebernoe Common. It was a hot day and the fungi were few.

This lovely scene is one of Ebernoe’s more open habitats, where trees like willow and crab apple are more dominant. It harks back to how wooded landscapes in Britain and Europe once appeared. These areas would have been grazed and kept open by livestock, allowing more light-loving tree species like crab apple and hawthorn to come to the fore. Here I found some blushing brackets hovering like UFOs on a fallen tree.

Fallen trees were the only place I found any fungi at all. This lovely turkeytail was growing on some birch trunks at the side of a path. This may be a varience on the more common turkeytail found. I love the progression in colours towards the tip.

This is a pretty rad example of a variant species, again growing at the side of a path on some fallen wood. Stunning.

There were signs of what is to come over the next two months. This is probably shaggy scalycap (Pholiota), pushing its way through the bark of a fallen tree like Wotsits, a cheesey wheat snack. With the rain that’s washing in at the time of writing, we should all be getting ready for mushroom season!

Thanks for reading.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, September 2020

I walk my bike along the field edge, woodpigeons grazing the dry stubble of the field. It’s another hot day in Sussex and the land is thirsty and dry. In the distance, a hedge line with a number of small beech trees in it seems to have died. Ahead of me a small dustcloud rises and dissolves into some oak scrub. The shadows of dragonflies cross my own, a hawker coming close to my face, perhaps lured by the neon hi-vis helmet I’m wearing.

I’m heading for St. Leonard’s Forest knowing that some late summer and early autumn mushrooms are appearing. I just want to see what’s there, to maybe see something new. From the sloping footpath down into the woods, three mountain bikers appear, breathless.

‘Great sesh boys,’ one of them says. ‘I feel violated.’

Entering into this old heathy landscape, the whispering pines give a sense of endlessness. They remind me of the mountains of the Scottish Highlands and the Romanian Carpathians. Though this is southern England it feels so much like somewhere remote, wild and unchartered. I think that’s what makes these places so important.

The heather blooms still at the path edge, and up on the banks of crumbling soil where pine roots are exposed. I find small suede-capped bolete mushrooms in the shade and take pictures.

I get back on my bike and follow the old track where a couple of weeks ago deer roamed freely. Not today. I cycle slowly along the old ride that bisects St. Leonard’s Forest. In the ditches mushrooms appear: red russulas, blushers and some larger boletes. The sun shines in high contrast in the dark birch woods, where bracken still holds green. A hornet flies among fleabane flowers.

I follow a track down past bare-chested mountain bikers. Like deer, a group of people are crossing the track from one area of woodland to another. They have plastic bags full of things, reminding me of Czechia at this time of year. I slow down and hear a Slavic language being spoken. In a friendly way I ask them if they’re foraging mushrooms.

‘No,’ a younger man with glasses responds. He, too, is holding a plastic bag heavy with something.

I tell them I was just interested to know. I think they probably thought I was a warden or maybe some xenophobe. Really I just wanted to know where all the mushrooms were!

Further ahead the track thins and the woodland pinches: pine, birch and spruce. I get the feeling of a good place to find fungi. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the shape of large discs on a fallen tree. Bingo!

I dismount and take my bike off the path. There are two large bolete mushrooms growing from a log, another of the suede-capped variety half-chewed before them. I find more. Nearby, two small mammals, perhaps voles or shrews, follow each other underground in a way so direct they seem magnetised or attached like train carriages.

I take back to the track and grey-spotted amanitas appear at the track edge in their hundreds. They stand at the side like a crowd cheering me on towards the finish line.

The Sussex Weald

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Fungi Friday 28th August 2020

2020 has been a challenge for all three of us fungi photographers down here in southern England. But we are starting to see a change in the weather. Therefore, something is stirring in the Kingdom of Fungi. On a side note, did you know that the fungi was only given its rightful place, taxonomically distinct from plants in 1969? 1billion years on Earth and they were only just recognised as being separate from plants 51 years ago! Obviously scientific study hasn’t been going for a billion years.

One species which has appeared after recent rain is chicken of the woods. I’ve seen it in two different places, but the same habitat which means the species is responding to wider atmospheric change, not localised. You will see better shows from this pretty outrageous fungus, the rain had actually made it more like scrambled eggs.

As so often with chicken of the woods, it was growing on a fallen tree trunk, sweet chestnut in this case, and its orange colour flashed into the corner of my eye from the deep shade where it was growing.

My second major recent sighting drew me back to where I first found an interest in fungi: trees. Storm Francis has thrown their toys out of the pram in recent days and I was pretty astonished to see that some sycamore trees, young ones, had lost their leaves already. I am guessing there is a link between a lack of spring/summer rain and an earlier autumn, in terms of trees shedding leaves. That’s based on observation only.

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I don’t know if this is Francis’s work, but this standing dead horse chestnut has been brought down in the past week. It has some huge bracket fungi growing from one side, which will have softened the wood further. It’s important to remember that it’s rarely fungi that fell a tree, but the wind. Fungi just put in the groundwork. Great job.

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I am sure this is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus but I’m not sure which kind. I cycle past this every couple of weeks nowadays and always stop to feast my eyes on these gigantic fungi. If this is one single fungus, it could be 15 to 20 years old.

For more about brackets, check out this epic I wrote a couple of months ago.

There probably won’t be a #FungiFriday for me next week as I’ll be on holiday. Don’t fret, autumn is afoot (ashroom?) now, so get ready for the good stuff!

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 24th August 2020

Since the end of the heatwave my garden has been hammered by rain and wind. That is not what you need to write a weekly blog about taking macro photos. So I went to my local woodland and put the hard graft in to see what I could find.

A bracken and birch gladeBracken and birch glade

The place I visited is an area of oak woodland in the Sussex Weald. It was very windy, not the safest place to be in those conditions. I sought out a spot where I usually find fungi – of which there was nothing – and spent some time looking on the bark of trees and under leaves.

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I carefully turned over oak leaves and my first find was this quite unusual flying insect. I’ve looked through my book and can’t find it in there. My instinct says it’s a lacewing relative. If you know, please comment below.

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This capsule-shaped fly was hoovering up something tasty from the surface of an oak leaf. Soon I was to be haunted by similar mouthparts, on a very different kind of fly.

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I don’t wear shorts in the woods I wear TROUSERS. This is why. In shady areas of woodland which are protected from wind and sun, biting insects lurk. With horseflies, sometimes you don’t know they’re there. I spotted this beautiful insect on my trouser leg by chance. This weird, nervous adrenaline begins to pump when I encounter one of these insects.

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Horseflies have a nasty bite and there is something unsettling about their predatory focus on you. I was desperate to get a photo because of how beautiful and mesmeric their eyes are. I managed to lure the horsefly but keep the trousers away from my skin far enough to stop the bite. Above you can see how intelligent it is. It’s trying to bite through the seam in the trouser lining.

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Unlucky for the horsefly, it didn’t manage to break through. After a while, it became so ‘annoyed’ that it started aiming for my face so I just left! The thing I always forget is that horseflies follow you and don’t give up easily. I did have the images I was hoping for, though.

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I haven’t mentioned wasps this week. But there are just so many species out there that it’s almost inevitable one will turn up. This is probably one of over 2000 species of ichneumon wasp that we have in the UK, which you can read more about here. Those long antennae are an indicator, for my untrained eye.

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That wasn’t the last wasp I saw. I was checking out the trunk of an oak tree, having just watched Thomas Shahan’s latest video where he did the same (I’ll embed it at the bottom of the post, it’s worth watching). I saw a black fly-like insect about the size of a moss frond running up the trunk. It was really hard to photograph but I got some pics in focus.

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I could see that it was a gall wasp, the first one I have ever managed to photograph. We should be thankful to these wasps because without them we would never have produced the major written works our own species has managed to produce so beautifully.

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What am I on about? These are galls, a growth which forms on oak leaves. Within the protective casing you see above is the egg or developing larva of a gall wasp. In the autumn the casings will fall away and the insect will hatch out in the spring. Galls come in many shapes and sizes. Some oak galls are used to create ink, and have been used across the world in producing texts and other works for thousands of years.

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Oak apple galls are the most famous (not pictured here). The galls are used to produce the inks that penned the American Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta, among so many other important texts. Another thing to thank wasps for!

Thanks for reading.

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Photos taken with Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens, Nikon SB-700 flash with diffuser

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Horsham, West Sussex, August 2020

It’s the hottest August day since 2003 so I’ve waited to go out until the evening. The sky holds all manner of clouds as the sun slips away. There is a purple hue to the sunset, a heft, as if the atmospheric pressure is close to breaking. Down in the valley where the Arun flows, a cloud hangs below the trees. I can’t work out whether it’s mist, surely not on a day like this.

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I glimpse the mist over the fields, but instead it’s a cloud of dust. On the horizon the sound of tractors rumble deep into the lingering evening heat. Following the old footway south I can see the tractor’s dust and so cover my face. With the advent of face coverings in shops and busy places due to Covid, it’s something I’m an expert in now. To the side, a tractor cuts the hay. I wonder what hay there is even to cut this year, it’s been so dry. The dust tells part of that story. I remember one of these fields back in April or May, brimming with buttercups, fresh and green. It lost its verdant glow so quickly as the rain dried up.

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I follow the byway uphill, stepping out of the way of two older men roaring down the track on e-bikes like they’re either escaping or attending to a crimescene. I pass a favourite local oak and thoughts turn to the autumn. Along the side of the path a green metal fence has been put up to stop people and dogs, I presume, from accessing fields where sheep, horses, and jackdaws, graze. Each time I come here I watch another tree in the horses’ field get closer and closer to a full ring-barking. One ash tree has already died this year. Anxious, I look for an oak tree which otherwise could live for hundreds of years. This evening the horses are gathered around something at the fenceline. I can only guess that there isn’t the grass for them to eat and so they’re being given hay.

I follow this new green fence and cross away towards the old park, where ancient sweet chestnuts and aging oaks dot the open landscape. In the distance cattle are grazing like moons in the grasslands. On the clay track back down, oaks overhang, laden with thousands of acorns. It makes me think of all they were once used for: coffee, flour, their galls used to make the inks that mark the Magna Carta and American Declaration of Independence. In America acorns were the staple of ‘balanocultures’, Native American communities who stashed and cached acorns as resources.

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Spangle galls

Off the hill, the path is penned in by lush growth of grasses, brambles, St. John’s wort and knapweeds. There are oak saplings too. Their translucent green leaves are pocked with the pin cushions of spangle galls. These galls are home to the larvae of gall wasps. Next month the galls will fall to the ground and wasps will continue their development through winter, ready to hatch in April and begin the process once more. The seasons, they’re inescapable.

The Sussex Weald

 

 

 

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Fungi Friday 7th August 2020

Since March I have owned a bicycle. Living in Sussex, you are largely dependent on a car to get around. My bike is the first one I’ve ever owned, and I’m in my 30s. Growing up on a hill, it never seemed like something I’d need. For the first time this year I drove further to visit a special nature reserve in the Low Weald of Sussex: Ebernoe Common.

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Ebernoe is a National Nature Reserve belonging to Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT). It’s a very special place for bats and is rich in all kinds of fungi. It’s ancient wood pasture, with large meadowy areas dotted with trees. SWT don’t allow foraging on their nature reserves (from what I know) and so people should respect that. When I visited, the woods were very dry, as they were in the Wealden woods reachable by bike near where I live.

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There were some mushrooms on the ground but most had dried up and split in the heat. I think the one above (a phone pic) is something like rooting shank. If it doesn’t make it past my phone, that’s a sign it’s not in great shape.

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Something I wish I’d spent more time looking at and getting more than a phone pic of, was this fungal map of the world. This is a beech tree that had fallen over a footpath and been chainsawed across to re-open the path. This fungal effect on timber is quite desireable commerically, where it’s known as ‘spalting’. What you can see here are the zones of a fungal mycelium within the heartwood of the dead tree. It looks like a map of a country, perhaps the north-eastern corner of a nation like Sweden with its archipeligos. I’ve heard these patches referred to as ‘war zones’. They are certainly competing for territory.

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Like so many weeks over the summer stages of this blog, I found lots of bracket fungi. These were almost only Ganoderma species. The fruiting bodies were sticking out of the old rootplates of fallen trees like trainers or ‘sneakers’.

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I visited a heroic veteran beech tree that holds a gigantic bracket of the same species as above. This is a tree I visit in the autumn, when a huge number of species can be seen on it, as below:

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Here I can see giant polypore on the bottom left, honey fungus in the middle and lots of Ganoderma on different levels. The softening of the tree’s remaining wood will provide habitat for a huge range of invertebrates and other life. This is a habitat we have lost so much of over the past 70 years, as woods have been tidied and aforested for commercial production. That seems to be changing.

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Beyond fungi, into a different species group but one that behaves in a similar fashion, I found a few slime moulds. This patch was splotched like someone’s old melted sandwich on a mossy log. Slime moulds are not in the fungal family. I learned recently that fungi were only separated from plants in 1969! Well done humans, literally a billion years later.

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Here was an older specimen of the previous slime mould. It had been broken into by something that was probably eating it. It looks like a meringue, to my eyes. Also looks like an eye.

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It was nice to head out further afield to seek out some ‘shrooms. But I have become so used to cycling or walking to the woods that it felt weird driving. It’s not lost on me that nitrogen dioxide, emitted by cars, is driving declines in fungal life as it alters the chemical make up of the soil. This is also impacted by air travel. I will make an effort to keep my emissions as low as possible. In terms of finding fungi, one of the problems with driving is that you cut yourself off completely from the world. When you’re walking or cycling somewhere, you’re immersed. I think I know what I prefer.

Thanks for reading.

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This is not an omlette

Fungi Friday 30th July 2020

Welcome to one of those weeks that is little more than a lament at how dry southern England is. This week I’ve been in two different woods and the story is the same – the recent rain in Sussex has not given much of a boost to fungi. I managed to zoom round a local woodland one lunchtime and found a couple of things.

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To give a sense of the impact of warm dry weather, even in the space of about ten days, check out the difference here. What is now a very dehydrated piece of birch wood was previously alive with slime moulds and all kinds of other life.

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It is mainly a matter of rehydration, however, and when the temperatures drop and more rain arrives, the show can go on.

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This is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus growing on fallen wood. I only later noticed that a snail is hidden away in a nook of the fruiting body! You can tell I was in a rush. I wrote a lot more about brackets recently.

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This is smoky bracket, not an omlette. I have seen this small community of brackets growing over the past few weeks. Again, it was only later that I noticed the other life, in this case a resting fly.

I was pretty disappointed in this mushroom hunt but then it was somewhere between 25-30 degrees (Celsius). The area which I’ve mentioned before, that has been opened up, is now experiencing more trampling, including mountain bikes coming through. From my experience of woodland management, that was predictable.

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But some management that was really positive was the creation of dead hedges of logs and branches in a well-shaded area. This was where the mushrooms were hiding! I found a nice patch of oysters that were swamped/protected by brambles. This is a nice edible mushroom, not that I’m picking.

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I also spotted this small mushroom, such a joy to find something. I like its veiny-cap and the reddishness. I’m not sure of the species.

Dry times such as these make alternative topics a pressing need. At the moment I’m researching an article on fungi and Chernobyl, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, July 2020

Evening. The sun kindles embers in dangling birch leaves. The songs of birds have gone, spring is a memory. I think of autumn: the cool that grows where the sun can no longer reach. My footsteps crunch and snap in the dry, leaf-littered banks beside the gill. This stream was dammed centuries ago for the Wealden iron industry. But it still runs, just not now. The hammer pond it’s been forced to feed is now the realm of private fishing.

The beeches twist and turn on the slopes, in this light you might have thought they’re creeping up behind your back. It is so quiet that any sound feels like a warning. I hear the first faint murmur of a tawny owl.

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The bracken is high and it’s hard to see around the bend of this winding desire line. On the hill the sun lends the ranks of pines some splendour. But it’s the heather battling down in the bracken that holds most promise. Men have stolen the sun from this heath with forestry, but the pines have been forgotten. Nature lies in wait, its disruptive forces breaking rank in a way so slow it’s not known until it’s done. This place will not be the same in decades to come.

Blackbirds and thrushes shuffle song-less in the shrub layer. The dryness amplifies the sound of their size to large mammal. That old fear ticks and tocks in me. A barometer I forgot I had.

Out on the woodland ride the ditches promise an explosion of new flowers: fleabane, ragwort, valerian, hogweed, and hemp agrimony where small cream moths nectar. One is held aloft, frozen in mid-air. Peering round, I see the camouflage of a crab spider hidden among the florets.

The Sussex Weald

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Brittlegill mushrooms

#FungiFriday 25th July 2020

It’s a great relief to be able to share some fungi from the Wood Wide Web this week. There has been steady rainfall in recent weeks which gave the sense that some summer shrooms might be ready to appear. At this time of year I’m looking for the early indicators of autumn’s fungal moment, which appear in the form of brittlegills or Russulas, in scientific language.

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A mixed secondary/ancient woodland in the Sussex High Weald

The fungi described this week are garnered from two walks in the woods of the Sussex Weald in West Sussex. The first walk was a short evening wander to a mixed woodland with signs of ancient woodland flowers like bluebell, but with lots of birch, hazel and some oak. It then pretty abruptly turned to pine, which happens quite often in the Weald because of the arrival of sandier soils where the Weald clay ends, and the prevalence of forestry.

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It was much more dry than I had hoped but mushrooms are tenacious things. This nicely illustrated a new fungal phrase I learned in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweet Grass (p.112 in the ebook). You can listen to an interesting podcast with the author about mosses.Tthe Native American language of the Anishinaabe describes “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight” as ‘Puhpowee’. And so was this very small brittlegill pushing through the leaf litter.

I have never really tried to identify brittlegills to species level because they are so numerous and similar. I would guess this species is the charcoal burner. But I could be wrong about that.

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This is one of the red brittlegills from August 2018 in the Weald, something to expect in August through to September.

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It’s a very dim view due to the light but my companion found this fungus within a fungus. It’s a species of oysterling. You can see a black springtail (or maybe even a tick?) on the left hand side for scale.

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The second walk was in the afternoon at another Wealden woodland I am getting to know quite well. I recorded an Instagram story guided walk of this experience which you can see here. If you have the Gram.

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Again it was well-nibbled brittlegills that could be found. This is probably the work of a small mammal with some input from a slug. I’ve seen grey squirrels pick these mushrooms, and spin them around by the stem and nibble down the gills. That interested me because grey squirrels are an American species. Brittlegills are also found in North America, so perhaps they are just returning to their roots. Does belittle the idea that grey squirrels don’t belong in European landscapes, the evidently do. Yes, I know about red squirrels.

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I’m sure these species are not in any way appetising for the reader. This is probably one of the green brittlegills. It looks a bit ghoulish but I was pleased to find it. All these finds were just at the edge of footpaths.

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A common summer mushroom is rooting shank, one of the toughshanks. ‘Shank’ has a pretty dark meaning in modern language, particularly in London, but it’s an old name for leg. That’s where the names of red or greenshank come from in the bird world. Americans call similar species ‘yellowlegs’. I prefer the olde Englishe names.

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Rooting shank is quite an abrupt shroom, it just shows up where it likes. You can find it from now through to September from the woodland floor to stumps and buttresses of trees. This dream of a shroom was in the White Carpathian mountains in the borders of Czechia/Slovakia but I first saw it in urban south-east London.

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It’s not a fungus, but this dog vomit slime mould was a lovely find (believe it or not). This amazing video gives a much better explanation of what this slime mould is up to:

I have recently learned that slime moulds have memory!

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It was only after taking this photo of the slime mould’s birch log that I realised how much was happening. You can see the early stages of small polypore fungi moving in from the outer edge as the wood degrades. I think the greyish blobs next to the slime mould may be Lycogola species, sometimes known as wolf’s milk. Lyco means wolf. The puffballs, Lycoperdon mean ‘wolf’s fart’. Oh dear. And we don’t even have wolves in the UK anymore, just in Downing Street, LOL!

Thanks for reading.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, June 2020

Rain spots my shirt as a storm threatens overhead. The heat in Sussex has been blistering this week, with a breach of the thirty-degree mark yesterday. Today it is much cooler. I waited until the late afternoon to head out while the last embers of the heatwave petered out.

I’m amazed to see that the leaves of a fallen beech limb are still alive, still in their early spring state. It brings me back to those promising early weeks when spring appears.

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There is something sad about these paused beech leaves, perhaps because the tree has died with the fracture that has meant the leaves are so easy to reach and photograph. The tree had become rotten through its heart and base. A spring storm smashed through it and now here it lies. The leaves are beautiful, corrugated, and a fresh green.

Passing through a screen of holly and oak, I enter into an opening where giant beech trees live with great limbs like giant octopi. Everytime I come here someone has had a fire on the roots of the main beech tree. This is frustrating. The tree will be harmed by damage to the roots. The roots of a tree sit closer to the surface of the soil than you might think. This time, there is more than one firepit and signs of small trees like hazel being cut, sawn up and piled, either for another fire or a den. These old trees have clearly taken a beating over the years and I worry that people don’t understand their fragility, especially to fire.

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In the raised buttresses of this veteran beech white sawdust has been left, the trail of saw blades having cut into the tree’s bark. In a sheltered nook of exposed roots a bunch of freshly cut twigs and small sticks has been piled for kindling. Could this have been a place where someone wanted to start a fire, could people really think the tree would not be harmed? I gather the sticks and scatter them among the holly.

The Sussex Weald

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