7 October 2015

Fungi - eat or be eaten

Fungi eat or be eaten !

Having just got back from a Tree Safety Management training course and recently hosted a fungal foray guided walk , fungi are featuring prominently in my worklife at the moment . They are also behind some big challenges facing the National Trust  in the Lake District .

Autumn days of mellow fruitfulness

It is at this time of year that the Ranger team are out and about checking our trees for issues that might make them a risk to our visitors or property.  We deliberately choose this time of year because this is the time that many fungi are fruiting and are making themselves visible around the base or trunk of the tree. For some trees next to busy roads, paths  or houses , the presence of certain types of fungi can indicate a problem that might make the tree unsafe over time and because of this they may need some work doing to make them safe . This can mean the removal of a single branch , the removal of several branches to reduce the weight or height of a tree or in extreme cases,  and as a last resort,  the felling of the whole tree. We always try to do the minimum amount of work to a tree to make it safe.

Honey Fungus at the base of a tree can be bad news .

Fungi are an essential part of the ecosystem, many of our plants and animals , including humans , are dependent on the success of  different forms of fungi for their survival . Many plants and trees rely on tiny networks of fungi in the soil for the absorbtion of  minerals and nutrients . Fungi assist the recycling process by rotting down vegetation, without them we would be standing on a mountain of debris from years of growth.

Wet Rot at Townend

Wet rot in an oak beam at Townend

The success of certain types of fungi can be bad news though.  Imagine what it feels like to press against a 400 year old solid oak beam and feel it crumble beneath your fingers. That was just what we were faced with at Townend House  ( Troutbeck ) when we scraped away the top layer of render to check the condition of the beams holding up this grade 1 listed farmhouse.  The  discovery of this wet rot means a lot of expensive work over the winter  to find ,repair or replace all the damaged beams potentially costing £100,000.

Fungal Foray

I recently agreed ( actually someone volunteered me ! ) to host a ‘Foraging with the Farringtons ‘  walk around Harrowslack on the west shore of Lake Windermere for the Hawkshead  Womens Institute . In previous years , in the company of  a knowledgeable expert we have found  95 species of fungi some edible some not . This has been a cold year in the lakes and the fungi were being a bit shy , after rummaging around I managed to gather 5 species on our walk  some nice Chanterelles, a couple of Birch Boletes , Yellow Russulas ,  a small puffball and a hedgehog fungus  all pretty easy to identify and good to eat . Always use a good ID book or better still go on a walk with an expert.

So fungi  are very much a part of  life in the National Trust at the moment sometimes dangerous,  sometimes delicious , sometimes downright costly , but always interesting .

Paul Farrington - Area Ranger South Lakes


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