It must be some five or maybe six years since we joined a fungus foray led by Dennis Nelson for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, at High Close above Elterwater, and it did not take us long to realise that mycology was a subject which would extend our interest in Natural History and extend the season significantly in addition. More forays followed, both with Cumbria and Lancashire WLT, and it wasn't long before we were foraying on our own both to collect and identify fungi as well as to photograph them. Some two years ago, after attending a course for five days at the FSC Field Centre at Flatford Mill, we realised that progress was always going to be limited unless we were prepared to make the significant leap by acquiring our own microscope and some of the specialist literature. We obtained much useful advice from Pat Livermore of Lancaster, and still do, for which we are very grateful. Attendance at Derek Reid's annual course at Preston Montford Field Studies Centre proved enjoyable as well as informative. Despite the distance we are now in regular contact with the North West Fungus Group, mainly over the Internet, and this could prove helpful in future seasons when interesting or difficult finds arise.

Our intention to write up our records for 1996 was overtaken by the early start of the 1997 season and both are presented below.

Climate and Landscape

Rainfall in Cumbria is high, but that is to simplify. Average rainfall at Ambleside is about 2000mm a year, increasing towards Grasmere and reaching 2500mm or more at the south end of Thirlmere. Coastal areas and the north-east receive less than half this. Most of our foraying is so far in the wet areas, where summer droughts are rare, but spring ones less so. Even in the dry summer of 1995 we had downpours in July and August which meant that the region did not suffer from the dearth of fungi which affected so many parts of England, and no doubt the dune systems and limestone areas in the south of the county.

Oak and hazel woodland is predominant away from the limestone, along with birch on the lower slopes of the fells and in some of the damper areas. Larch has been widely planted, especially around Tarn Hows, and there is much alder in the wetlands and bogs which abound. Beech too, often so rich in fungi, is not uncommon, though not extensive except in some areas above Thirlmere. Here too, and on Claife Heights, are the spruce plantations. Disliked by so many people, for the mycologist they have considerable interest and are much to be preferred to sheep. Small stands of pines are scattered around sometimes within the spruce plantations, and are always worth a close look because of the particular fungi which grow there and nowhere else. Sphagnum too is widespread, not only in bogs but in the woodlands and on the fell-sides, maintained by the natural rainfall rather than wet boggy conditions. Some care is required when you reach a point in a Key which states simply, "Growing in sphagnum". It is sometimes difficult not to. Unimproved grassland is not as widespread as may be thought, except for the specialised habitat of the higher fells, since much of it is covered with bracken; Elterwater Common for instance. But it does exist and the current interest in waxcaps demands that such sites be sought out; churchyards may turn out to be fruitful.

A variety of landscape for a mycologist is one thing but equally important is access; and it is here that the National Park scores. The National Trust owns or manages about one third of it; there are National Park "Access Areas", and both Forest Enterprise and North West Water provide good access to the areas of woodland which they own. Footpaths are everywhere. Perhaps the areas around Ambleside do not provide (the larger) fungi in quite the same quantities as do Suffolk, say, or Gait Barrows, but the variety of the habitat compensates to a considerable extent.


From the start we took the decision to make repeated visits to selected sites in order to build up a fungal record over future years at those sites. Convenience, and knowledge of the area determined our choice as much as anything, though we have tried to include a reasonable cross-section of the habitats mentioned above. Not all the sites have been visited to the same extent, nor are they likely to be in future. If it is raining we can easily go for half an hour to the White Moss Common area to collect half a dozen or so specimens and then spend several hours indoors working on them.

1997 saw us extend our coverage to limestone woodland in the Witherslack area, and we made our first foray to the important dune system of Sandscale Haws.

Banerigg, Rydal Woods (Wetland), Loughrigg Terrace: these are three adjacent areas mostly with oak, birch and larch with occasional beech. The Rydal Wetland has much alder, willow and birch which produce their own special fungi, with oak around the drier edges. Below Loughrigg Terrace, near the outlet to Grasmere are areas of wet grassland with waxcaps. This is all part National Trust, part National Park Access Land, and easily accessible from the White Moss Common car parks.

Tom Ghyll (Glen Mary) and Tarn Hows west: Much oak, hazel and some larch on the way up to the Tarn, and small leaved lime in the Ghyll ravine. At the top, west of the tarn there is much larch and it is here that Entoloma nitidum is found. Areas of spruce and some pine give this site a diversity not often found in such a small area. It is not at all difficult to escape the crowds, though as so often many fungi do grow very close to the main path. You can hardly miss Lactarius torminosus here at mid-term in October. All National Trust Land.

Claife Heights: A large area with extensive oak woodland to the east of the ridge (National Trust) and Forest Enterprise plantations to the west. Our foraying starts at Belle Grange and continues up the footpath which leads north-south below the TV mast, with excursions into the plantations to the west.

Howe Ridding: At present a National Nature Reserve which is about to be transferred to Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Ash, hazel, and birch, with some oak, dominate this limestone area at the foot of Whitbarrow Scar. Although only some 10 kilometres from Gait Barrows NNR it is significantly wetter and the topography seems to ensure that it remains so even in times of drought. It is strange how most of the fungi are concentrated to the south of the area and in the north west corner of the site we failed to find any. Contains a very different fungus flora than the acidic areas to the north, and often in good numbers too. Lepiota are particularly good. Access is either from the car park near Witherslack Hall or from the west by the foot path which leads to Bell's Rake.

Dob Ghyll and Harrop Tarn (vice-county 070): We expected little and found a considerable amount. This is a very exciting site which belongs to North West Water. The area of mainly beech adjacent to the car park is very productive; and so is the spruce in the ghyll, and more beech, on the way up to the tarn. By the tarn is a large plantation of beech again, with large areas of spruce. This is a cold site, with high rainfall, and the autumn fungi began to appear in the middle of June.

Sandscale Haws: An extensive dune system on the Duddon estuary, on the mainland, opposite the northern end of North Walney and magnificent with flora in July. Every kind of dune habitat is found here, with large areas of permanent pasture, and there is even a sphagnum bog. It is owned by the National Trust and wardened by Pete Burton who already has an impressive list of fungal rarities. We hope to make more visits here in future years.

Species Recording and Analysis

It has taken the best part of two years to develop a systematic recording system and it is likely to be revised in the future. At first we used a card index system, much of which was completed on the spot, but cards have proved too confining and loose-leaf A4 is much more flexible, and it offers the possibility of sketches. Our records would be better if we collected fewer specimens and thus gave ourselves more time to analyse them, but we would enjoy it less, and we do not like leaving behind a fungus we do not recognise. Some specimens can be identified from macroscopic features alone, an example was the St.George's Mushroom (Tricholoma gambosum) which we found for the first time earlier this week (April 98), but we give almost all species microscopic analysis, even if only to verify an identification from macroscopic features alone.

We use a binocular microscope, with oil immersion for spore analysis, which has a rather inadequate lighting system. It will be changed for a Köhler system for the coming season. Spore staining proves useful sometimes, but we have less success staining cystidia and hyphal structures. Like recording, systematic analysis with the microscope takes time to develop. Ideally we ought to examine all the microscopic features which are known to be important for the identification of a fungus. In practice we have followed a less efficient way of learning by experience and from keys, which features are essential for the identification of particular genera. This method means that you end up sometimes not measuring an important characteristic, at least until such time as experience teaches you what needs to be measured for any particular genus. Amateurs like us may find it useful to have available lists of the essential characteristics which must be determined for particular genera. Conocybe, Psathyrella, Entoloma and many others come to mind. Such information has probably to be linked to a particular key. Purists may say that this is not the way to do it.

The database, MS Works, is a very shortened form of that which the BMS recommends. The extra information required for the BMS database can be added to any particular record if required. No up-to-date list of recommended British names exists and our choice is not always consistent. We tend to be influenced by B&K the Swiss mycologists from Lucerne, and by recent Scandinavian publications, since much of this is very recent. Citations are not given, simply for lack of space, but we do realise their importance.

Repeat records for commoner fungi are recorded in our computer database but are not included in this publication. We are uncertain about what our policy should be in future years concerning the recording of common species. We think we should record them but would welcome advice. Not every common species was consistently recorded from all the sites we surveyed and this must be rectified in future.


If volumes of British Fungus Flora for all the Agarics were available then we might use nothing else. They are not, (and even volumes 1 to 3 are out of print) so we have no choice other than to use Fungi of Switzerland, Fungi of the Netherlands, Scandinavia and so on. Moser is very complete for Europe, but becoming out of date, and we have found it difficult to use for Entoloma and Inocybe. We much prefer the recent Nordic Macromycetes (2), and we use Moser now more for confirmation. In fact we use everything we have for confirmation, including Phillips and all the other field guides. The still incomplete Cortinarius Flora Photographica (from Scandinavia) proved very useful when we collected some Cortinarius at the end of last season. This shares, with Fungi of Switzerland, the very useful comparisons with similar species, which can be so helpful in avoiding, or being aware of, possible misidentifications. The value of such information cannot possibly be overestimated.

Reliability of Identifications

In retrospect more of our records should have been sent to Kew for confirmation, but we only do so after we have completed a significant amount of analysis, and then not without including details of this analysis, which is very time consuming. We do not intend ever to send a specimen to Kew or anywhere else with the simple request, "What is this?" There is always another year. With some collections we never managed to arrive with confidence even at the genus; with others we came close to a species, but we do not include such in our database. As an example, Galerina cinctula was originally excluded because we were missing at least one important characteristic, but following our note in the BMS Newsletter (February 98) we have finally included it, but it probably has to be regarded as a record which is not proven beyond doubt. Such records are not really a problem. That belongs to those positive identifications which are incorrect. We hope there are not too many of these.

Some of the notes to the species are deliberately expanded to illustrate the way in which we have arrived at some of our identifications. Specimens have occasionally been dried, in a rather haphazard way so far, but we must do more, since this gives a more experienced mycologist the option of verification if he or she thinks it necessary.

Finally, we would welcome any comments and advice. Mycology is probably the most challenging hobby we have ever attempted and at the height of the season it can sometimes be difficult to keep going. It is then that contact with other enthusiasts is so valuable. To us, it seems as if e-mail over the internet will become an ever more useful tool to help out with some of those problem specimens. It is the work of few moments to type in the salient features of a fungus, and one stroke of a key sends it to as many mycologists as you wish. Perhaps this needs some consideration at a more formal level by the BMS.

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