Northumberland rare fungus find goes to Kew Gardens

Byssonectria terrestris, a rare fungus which was found in Northumberland, is now part of the national collection at Kew Gardens

Byssonectria terrestris
Byssonectria terrestris

When it comes to knowing what it likes, Byssonectria terrestris is extremely particular.

The rare fungus, which grows on moss as a modest cluster of tiny orange pinheads, needs a very specialised habitat involving burnt wood and deer urine.

And after a wildfire at a bog near Rothbury in Northumberland, the two requirements came together to produce the first sighting of the fungus in Britain this century.

It is normally at home in the northern forests of Russia, Scandinavia and Canada and doesn’t yet have an English common name.

The chance discovery came when Abi Mansley, the Border Uplands co-ordinator with Northumberland National Park Authority, carried out one of her regular peatlands site visits to a bog at Greenleighton.

She was joined by John Hartshorne from Otterburn-based Albion Outdoors, which organises field trips and aims to inspire students with an understanding of ecology and knowledge of the natural world.

John had been leading groups of fieldwork students from Newcastle University on the site, and also on the visit was Paul Muto from Natural England.

Woodland in the area had been partially burnt in a wildfire in the spring of 2012 and the visit was to see how the habitat was recovering.

Abi said: “While stepping across the burnt area John pointed out the orange fungus and wondered what it might be.

“I like to identify things so I took a photo of it and a GPS reading of our location. “

Abi contacted the North East’s Environmental Records Information Centre in Newcastle and North East fungi specialist Gordon Simpson.

Gordon said: “There is no doubt in my mind that the sudden enrichment of the bog due to the potash from the wildfire made the habitat suitable for this fungus. It will happily grow on burnt conifer litter and burnt wood, as well as burnt peat.

“Some theories also have it that the fungus is closely associated with deer urine, which would be plentiful in this area .”

Gordon discovered that the fungus isn’t listed in many British or European books because it is so rare.

He said: “There are only five records in the British Mycological Society database from 1871 to 2007 and this is the first record for Britain this century.

“As the sample is so rare, I am sending it to Kew for drying and preservation in the National Collection – the best collection in the world”.

Katherine Pinnock, co-ordinator for the Environmental Records Information Centre (ERIC) in the North East, said: “How it found its niche on the site is amazing.”

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