Northumberland field is a gem for fungi fans

A field in Northumberland has been found to be a nationally important site for colourful fungi

Tarset waxcap by Shaun Hackett
Tarset waxcap by Shaun Hackett

A ballerina has put a Northumberland field at centre stage in the world of fungi fans.

The Ballerina is just one type of rare waxcap – a jewel-like fungi – found in the field in Tarset in Northumberland National Park.

They are fungi of unimproved grassland that is often rich in moss and grazed by cattle or sheep.

The waxcaps are indicators of an ancient landscape untouched by plough or fertilizer and can be recognised by their array of bright colours of red, pink, white, orange, yellow and green waxy topped caps.

The ancient waxcap haven is owned by Northumberland National Park resident and smallholder, Jan Ashdown, coordinator of the Tarset Archive Group which responded to an appeal by biodiversity ranger Shaun Hackett for information for a national park survey.

Jan reported sightings of various types including the Crimson waxcap – a striking blood-red, waxy-topped toadstool and an indicator of rich fungal sites.

When Shaun visited the site he was delighted to find dozens of the spectacular toadstools throughout the field.

The total of 18 species found so far makes the Tarset field a site of national – verging on international – importance.

Jan, who uses the seven-acre field to graze her flock of rare breed Shetland sheep, said: “The waxcaps are beautiful. They are like jewels in the ground.”

As well as the Ballerina, further searching revealed a number of other rare and uncommon fungi such as Citrine waxcaps and the Blushing waxcap – a very uncommon species recorded from only a handful of sites in Northern England.

Then a waxcap was spotted – Hygrocybe canescens – that has not yet even been given a common name – and has been confirmed as the very first sighting in England.

Another find was a different type of grassland fungi – the Dark Purple Earth Tongue – which is only known at a handful of sites in England and is classed as a threatened species throughout Europe.

Rothbury-based Shaun said: “Northumberland National Park is one of the most lightly populated areas of the country and the stock farming way of life hasn’t changed for centuries.

“The farming community of Tarset already has wonderful ancient hay meadows so it is fitting that they also have one of the country’s best waxcap sites.

“It is accepted by mycologists that Britain is the best place in Europe for this assemblage of fungi and finds like this help confirm the commonly-accepted idea that rural upland areas such as the farmed landscape of Northumberland National Park will prove to be a stronghold in Western Europe.”

Meanwhile, two seasons of surveying grassland fungi along a 25 kilometre stretch of Hadrian’s Wall looks as though it will confirm the world heritage site as one of the best places in the UK for waxcaps.

One of the finds was the rare Date waxcap. Full results for this survey are expected soon.

In Europe, waxcap grasslands and their associated fungi are of conservation concern as formerly commonplace unimproved grasslands have declined dramatically as a result of changes in agricultural practice.

By 1993, 89% of European species appeared on one or more national red lists of threatened fungi.

In the UK, some grasslands have gained a measure of legal protection as sites of special scientific interest because of their waxcap interest.

The national park is gradually identifying and mapping the old waxcap grasslands from Hadrian’s Wall to the Scottish border and wants to hear from anyone who thinks they have seen outcrops.

The best method is to take a photo and email it to shaun.hackett@nnpa.org.uk. Please include grid reference or detailed specification of the location.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer