A walk on the wild side

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

At this time of year, the UK’s autumn woodlands are bursting with colour – but these vibrant displays aren’t limited to the tree tops. In amongst the leaf litter, this season’s fruiting fungi are spouting forth, adding gorgeous splashes of vivid crimson, golden yellow and orange to our woods.

These distinct growths – neither plant nor animal – play a vital part in the ecology of forests, nourishing trees with nutrients, helping the decaying process and creating habitats. With more than 3,000 different types of mushrooms and toadstools, the UK is blessed with a wide variety of different shapes, colours and sizes. From pale and delicate wisps to bold, big and truly bizarre: over 1 million microscopic fungi can be found in a single gram of woodland soil. Each is distinct in terms of its appearance, smell, texture, spores and habitat and are easiest to spot in autumn – and the good news is, just 14 are deadly.

Many nature reserves, including several of the RSPB’s fungi-rich woodlands, hold fungi forays throughout October and November each year. Offering great opportunity to learn more about the abundant medley of mushrooms exploding across the UK countryside these events range from foraging safaris to guided walks led by experts. Fungi like damp places, so participants are urged to study the dead leaves carpeting woodland floors and any rotting tree stumps or log piles – as here they provide vital food and shelter for wildlife including the small black beetle, slug and red squirrel.

RSPB Blean Woods, nr Canterbury, Kent
This RSPB nature reserve is a wonderful place for quiet walks in beautiful ancient woodland, offering five trails of up to eight miles long that meander through the woods.

the poisonous fly agaric or fly amanita © Andy Hay

Prepared to be wowed by a staggering array of fungi on the ground, on dead wood, branches and twigs, and even growing out of branches overhead – the most conspicuous is the fly agaric, with its white stalk and a eye-popping bright orange cap flecked with white spots, it’s a dandy. For details of autumnal events telephone 01227 464898

RSPB Carngafallt, nr Rhayader, Powys, Wales
Carngafallt’s moorland landscape looks especially colourful in autumn when carpets of mosses and lichens are at their most seductive. Walks through fungi-scattered trails enhance the mystical atmosphere of these most other-worldly ancient woodlands where powerful birds of prey are always present, including red kites, buzzards and peregrines. Tel 01654 700222.

RSPB Farnham Heath, Surrey
As part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this fine example of heathland restoration is characterised by bright sunny areas where wildlife now flourish. Autumn’s a great time to visit as the leaves are a blinding riot of colour and the woodlands are full of an amazing array of weird and wonderful fungi growing in the woods – over 150 species at last count! For details of reserve events call 01252 795632.

RSPB Wolves Wood, Hadleigh, Suffolk
One of the few remnants of the ancient woodland that used to cover East Anglia, this RSPB reserve is managed using the traditional method of coppicing (a special way of cutting the trees to let light in), which means that the wood is home to a wide variety of birds, plants and mammals. Autumn sees spectacular leaf change as greens turn to golds, browns, reds and yellows and a spectacular display of fungi takes centre stage – an awesome sight. Tel: 01206 391153

RSPB Chapel Wood, Braunton, Devon
This is fine broadleaved woodland nature reserve in a beautiful and historic setting sits on a steep hillside, crowned by an Iron Age hill fort, with a stream running down either side. As the trees change to their autumn finery, the woodland floor is brightened by exotic-looking fungi, such as fly agaric, bracket fungi, earthballs and coral fungi. Few locations are as pleasing mid-autumn when flocks of redwings and finches chatter overhead. Telephone 01392 432691

exploring fungii in the meadows© Andy Hay

RSPB Swell Wood, Taunton Somerset
The ancient oaks of Swell Wood are part of a continuous strip of woodland extending some 10 miles along the ridge from Langport to the Blackdown Hills. Woodlands are managed to benefit dormice, woodland birds, butterflies and plants and can be explored via two scenic nature trails. Few simple pleasures compare with marvelling at Swell Wood’s autumnal colours and spectacular views of the Somerset Levels and Moors – you’ll be staggered by many different types of fungi you can see in just an hour. Telephone: 01458 252805.

For details of the 200+ RSPB nature reserves located throughout the UK, click here.

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