Hothfield Heathlands in November

Fungi - Miles Brierley

Note from the warden: We do not allow collecting of mushrooms on the Hothfield Heathlands nature reserve, this is to protect the fungi and the species that rely on them and to allow all visitors to enjoy them in their natural surroundings.

Rich autumn colour holds strong on the Heathland as winter draws nearer, perfect for a stroll in the midday sun or a bracing walk wrapped up against the elements.

In October, yellow tormentil and cross-leaved heath were still flowering and the gorse had embarked on its new flowering season. In Autumn, one instinctively looks for mushrooms and toadstools, Hothfield Heathlands hosts a wide range of some of the 10,000 or more British species of fungi right through the year.  A flush of substantial fungi appeared in late July responding to the rain after the early summer drought, flourishing on through August. On a balmy 15 October with temperatures nudging 20C, a stroll through varied habitats in a small portion of the reserve revealed twenty-six different species in just two hours. These included tiny black and white fingers on a fallen log, fresh and fossilised bracket fungi on live trunks, stumps and fallen branches, various dainty parasols emerging from cow pats and horse dung, through heather or just in the grass, dots of orange slime on decaying birch boles, rows of tiny dots of something else running along bark fissures of a struggling willow, various bun types in the grass and leaf litter, and puffballs nestled in open grass. Some were in perfect condition, others already collapsing or liquefying, their role as fruiting bodies accomplished. One magnificent bracket had incorporated a bramble stem firmly in its flesh.  

Porelain Fungus

Porelain Fungus in Hothfield Heathland © Anne Rowe

They might be called ‘primitive’ plants but fungi are all fine-tuned to the conditions of their habitats and all occupy a particular niche in their food chain. With no chlorophyll to make food through photosynthesis, it’s the permanent and large underground network of mycelia that make food - energy - by breaking down living or dead organic matter. Yellow brain fungi are parasitic on the mycelium of other fungi. The oyster mushroom stuns nematode worms lurking in the host wood, using a powerful toxin before absorbing the worm’s juices. Some fungi survive being frozen solid, some only appear in spring or summer. This is a vital part of the natural process of decay and regeneration, not welcome of course when it involves honey fungus or dry rot fungus damaging valued plants or essential structures.  

common ink cap

Common Ink Cap at Hothfield Heathland © Anne Rowe

Do take away photos and memories, but please leave all the fungi for others to enjoy. The ‘others’ include organisms that depend on the fungi for food or habitat. Ian, the Area Manager, reports that the Oyster fungi beetle is severely threatened, primarily due to its food source (oyster fungi) being over collected. That will affect whatever feeds on the oyster fungi beetle higher up the food chain, and so on. Everything is interlinked. Leaving them alone also avoids the dilemma of which are edible and which poisonous. There are plenty of grow-your-own kits available now, using coffee grounds, soaked straw, fresh logs and even telephone directories (before they become endangered themselves) as the base for the spawn.

Click here to learn more about the incredible fungi you can find in Kent.

Bracket Fungus

Bracket Fungus at Hothfield Heathland © Anne Rowe

A friendly reminder from our Volunteers and Area Wardens and Area Manager: 

Everyone is welcome to visit Hothfield Heathlands but please remember this is first and foremost a haven for wildlife. Please keep dogs close to you at all times, do not let your dog run and play off the paths and through the areas of heather and gorse. Breeding and feeding birds are seriously impacted by this disturbance, causing them to abandon nests or preventing them from collecting the food they need.

Make sure anything you bring with you leaves the reserve with you. Remove litter, dog mess and place all dog bags in the bins. Hothfield Heathlands is one of the best spots of wildlife in the county, with your help we can keep it that way.