Earth Tongues Clavariod fungi Clavariod fungi Waxcaps (Hygrocybe)

For Waxcap Survey reports the vice counties of Clare, West Cork, West Mayo, West Donegal, North Kerry and West Galway, click here

See also EHS Waxcap Survey results 2002-04

A website devoted to waxcaps in the UK has been set up by the University of Aberystwyth. Click here to see it. This website includes an extensive list of articles for download about waxcaps. 

Waxcaps have been described as the orchids of the world of fungi. They are often startling in colour from reds, oranges and yellows to whites and browns. They can smell of honey or less pleasantly rather nitrous. They are usually found in grasslands here in Ireland (although also in woods) and are one of the groups of grassland fungi that are now recognised as excellent indicators of ancient unfertilised grassland. Other grassland types (pass the mouse over the photo above, pausing over a fungus, to see what types are what - this will not work if you are using Netscape) are the Entolomas (pink spored gill fungi), the Clavarioids (coral fungi) and Geoglossums or Earth tongues. They can all be found in a range of grassland types from dunes to uplands, from lowlands to gardens. Indeed some of the best species like Hygrocybe calyptriformis (see photo below) are more often found in gardens than other grassland types. Hygrocybe calyptriformis is actually a Biodiversity Action Plan species so if you find this species in particular in your garden, please e-mail us - we want to know wherever you live whether it be Northern Ireland or not.

Hygrocybe calyptriformis Copyright Roy Anderson

Hygrocybe calyptriformis

These species are sensitive to the application of artificial fertilisers, especially those containing phosphorus. It may take a considerable time for fertilised sites to be rehabilitated even if managed positively for nature conservation arguably making grassland fungi better indicators of ancient unfertilised grasslands than higher plants.

The great unknown however is just what these species are actually doing in the soil. They seem linked with mosses, but, if that is right, how? A recent paper (Griffith, G.W., Easton, G.L. & Jones, A.W. (2002). Ecology and Diversity of Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.) Fungi. Bot.J.Scotl. 54(1), 7-22) points to some possible answers based on stable isotope analysis. Stable isotopes of Carbon (13C) and Nitrogen (13C) occur naturally and work looking at the patterns of 13C and 13C enrichment in ectomycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi have shown quite different enrichment patterns. When Waxcaps have been looked at, preliminary work by Griffith et al, has shown them to have very different patterns from both ectomycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi. They are more depleted in 13C and more enriched in 13N. Clavarioids and Geoglossaceae are even more different, but Entolomas are more typical of saprophytic fungi. This could mean that Hygrocybe spp., Clavarioids and Geoglossaceae could be deep humic decayers rather than normal surface litter decayers. The fact that Entolomas are more typical saprophytes supports the idea that sites good for Waxcaps are not necessarily good for Entolomas. 

Assessing site quality from fungal data

The British Mycological Society instigated a Waxcap survey in 1996 and this instigated a lot of interest in surveying waxcap sites. Sites can be ranked based on the number of species of Hygrocybe or additionally using a weighted scoring system, sites with few visits but good species can be highlighted for further survey. See also the paper  "The Fungi of Irish Grasslands and their value for nature conservation" by Roland McHugh, David Mitchel, Mark Wright and Roy Anderson in Biology and Environment, Vol 101B, No.3, 225-242 (2001). 

The article in Biology and Environment lists the sites known in Ireland at that time. These webpages will offer the most up to date site rankings and species lists of Irish grassland fungi.

See the Atlas for more details on the distribution of these species in Northern Ireland or the Photo Gallery for images of these species.

This is the most up to date ranking of Irish sites and distribution in Ireland per 10km square (last updated 09/12/2013).

Rank Site County No of Species Irish Score No visits
1 The Curragh Kildare 31 83 25
2 Clare Island West Mayo 26 61 17
3 Slievenacloy ASSI Antrim 25 49 15
4 Crossmurrin NNR Fermanagh 23 51 7
5 Ballyprior Commonage Laois 22 55 5
5 Binevenagh NNR Londonderry 22 63 10
5 Garron Point Antrim 22 55 6
5 Kebble NNR Antrim 22 46 6
9 Achill Island: Keem Bay West Mayo 20 48 3
9 Divis Mountain Antrim 20 38 6
9 Dursey Island West Cork 20 43 3
9 Inishshark West Galway 20 40 1
9 Monawilkin ASSI Fermanagh 20 46 6
14 Aghadachor West Donegal 19 41 2
14 Arran More West Donegal 19 36 1
14 Brookfield Td., SW of Tullyhona Fermanagh 19 46 2
14 Murlough Bay Antrim 19 38 7
14 Roonivoolin Td., Rathlin Island Antrim 19 36 1
19 Barnett's Park Antrim 18 46 27
19 Hillsborough Parish Church Down 18 33 7
19 Longmore Hill Antrim 18 38 1
19 Mount Stewart Estate Down 18 33 10
19 Murrevagh Maghera West Mayo 18 36 5
24 Ballynacarriga West Cork 17 31 1
24 Bantry House West Cork 17 33 1
24 Gortnagory ASSI Antrim 17 25 2
24 Inishbofin West Galway 17 35 1
24 Tramore Dunes / Marfagh Head West Donegal 17 29 2
29 Agnew's Hill Antrim 16 38 3
29 Black Head Clare 16 30 2
29 Eyeries Coast West Cork 16 30 2
29 Killary Harbour: Foher West Galway 16 32 1
29 Knockmore Hill Fermanagh 16 26 5
29 Silent Valley, Mourne Mountains Down 16 32 7
35 Achill Island: Keel: St Finian's Well West Mayo 15 34 2
35 Bunduff Strand Sligo 15 27 1
35 Cummer West Galway 15 30 1
35 Cushleake Mountain North Td. Antrim 15 27 1
35 Drum Manor Forest Park Tyrone 15 28 7
35 East Torr Td, nr Torr Head Antrim 15 28 1
35 Glenbeg Lough West Cork 15 28 1
35 Glennahoo South Kerry 15 30 1
35 Harphall Td, Carnlough Antrim 15 24 2
35 Inis MeŠin Clare 15 29 1
35 Inishturk West Mayo 15 32 1
35 John McSparran Memorial Hill Farm Antrim 15 32 3
35 Knockninny ASSI Fermanagh 15 29 3
35 Murlough NNR Down 15 31 15
35 Sallagh Braes Antrim 15 25 2
35 Slemish Mountain Antrim 15 33 2
35 Teelin Point West Donegal 15 33 1
35 Tory Island West Donegal 15 22 2
53 Altnahinch Burn, Altnahinch Dam Antrim 14 29 1
53 Bere Island West West Cork 14 24 1
53 Castle Archdale Country Park Fermanagh 14 30 4
53 Crawfordsburn House, Crawfordsburn Down 14 24 13
53 Fanad: Pollet West Donegal 14 23 1
53 Galboly Lower Td., Garron Plateau Antrim 14 23 1
53 Guinness estate Wicklow 14 32 10
53 Knockiveagh Hill, 4km N of Rathfriland Down 14 28 1
53 Legland Mountain, SW of Knockmore Fermanagh 14 22 3
53 Lough Salt West Donegal 14 26 1
53 Melmore Head West Donegal 14 25 1
53 Muckros Head West Donegal 14 35 2
53 Portacloy West Mayo 14 26 1
53 Rashee Cemetary, Five Corners, Ballyclare Antrim 14 23 2
53 Tawnamartola West Mayo 14 25 2

 

Map last updated 09/12/2013 

Whilst a lot more data is needed before it can be said how many points would be required before a site is of national conservation importance in Irish terms, the top 7 sites on this list have 22 or more species of Hygrocybe. Boertmann suggests that any site with this number or more are internationally important. To get this data Environment & Heritage Service has let a contract to survey all of Northern Ireland's 10km squares for grassland fungi. The contract was let in 2002 and ran for 3 years. 2002 was not a good year for waxcaps and the best site found in 2002 (Agnew's Hill) only had 13 species of Hygrocybe. Click here to see the 2002-04 results.

But are Waxcaps always found in grasslands? In North America, they are considered to be woodland fungi and there is a thought that they have moved out from woods in Europe into grasslands (or the woods were felled and they adapted well to their new treeless habitat). However, in Ireland, unlike GB, we seem to find waxcaps commonly in woods as well as grasslands. Here is a list of Waxcaps found so far in woods in Ireland:

Hygrocybe berkeleyi
Hygrocybe calciphila
Hygrocybe cantharellus
Hygrocybe ceracea
Hygrocybe chlorophana
Hygrocybe coccinea
Hygrocybe conica
Hygrocybe glutinipes
Hygrocybe insipida
Hygrocybe irrigata
Hygrocybe miniata
Hygrocybe mucronella
Hygrocybe persistens
Hygrocybe pratensis
Hygrocybe psittacina
Hygrocybe punicea
Hygrocybe quieta
Hygrocybe reidii
Hygrocybe russocoriacea
Hygrocybe virginea
Hygrocybe vitellina

English Nature have produced a leaflet on managing grassland fungi. Click here to download the document.

Download the Somerset Grassland Fungi Survey report

For some more information on Hygrocybe vitellina, click here.

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