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.
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.
This is the most up to date ranking of Irish sites and distribution in Ireland per 10km square (last updated 30/11/12).
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:
Download the Somerset Grassland Fungi Survey report
For some more information on Hygrocybe vitellina, click here.
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