Autumn delights

Gallery

This gallery contains 26 photos.

It’s UK Fungus Day today. There are many many different types of fungi – classifications and relationships are still being expounded by experts. Sometimes sparsity of knowledge can be intriguing but with fungi the more knowledge acquired the more fascination … Continue reading

Local communities

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

My job here at the National Park Authority means that I get the opportunity to be out and about in the North York Moors and get to places that most don’t get the opportunity to see. These hidden places are special for all sorts of reasons, in particular I get the chance to see some extraordinary woodlands – I admit I might be a little biased.

Recently we were out monitoring a woodland planting project near Castleton which meant we had to trek through a small existing woodland to get there. This was a combination of well-developed riparian (wet) flood plain woodland along river margins, wet marshy grassland filled with flowering plants and ancient woodland remnants creeping up the valley sides including oak, birch, hazel, alder and willow. Many of the woodland spring flowers were still in bloom and the woods were a lush green and bursting with insect and bird life.

Ancient Semi Natural Woodland site. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

As we approached the edge of this woodland I noticed something wriggling in the grass – it was a slow worm! Coming across this legless lizard species (Anguis fragilis) was a first time for me. Obviously I wouldn’t usually pick up/disturb wildlife but in this case I took the opportunity to move the slow worm to the cover of an old iron sheet as they are quite high up on the menu for many predatory species (birds, adders, badgers etc.).

Slow worm - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

On the way back as we ducked, scrambled and tramped back through the same woodland I almost tripped over what can only be described as a large mound of leaf litter on the edge of a clearing. As I looked a little closer I noticed that the surface of the mound was moving – it was alive with wood ants! I was surprised to see them here as. I previously worked in Scotland and had always associated wood ants with more northern forest habitats. But they were definitely wood ants and they are surely an indicator that this particular woodland is in good ecological health.

Close up of a Northern hairy wood ant. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Northern Hairy Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are a species of wood ant found in Scotland and in only two areas in England – the Peak District and the North York Moors. They are a fascinating species – I’m no expert yet but here are a few facts about our internationally important Northern Hairy Wood Ants:

  • The Northern Hairy Wood Ant currently has a near-threatened conservation status.
  • Northern Hairy Wood Ants ‘farm’ sap-sucking aphids (that favour oak and birch) for their honeydew. They gently stroke the backs of the aphids which then produce the sugar rich liquid in exchange for protection, and the ants use it to feed their young.
  • The ants take specific roles in the aphid farming process including; ‘shepherds’ who collect the honeydew, ‘transporters’ that move the honeydew to their nest, ‘guards’ that protect their aphids from competitors, and ‘scouts’ that search out new aphid colonies.
  • They employ a polydomous (many homes) nesting strategy whereby they have a number of nest mounds which operate as a single colony. The founding of additional nests allows for the expansion of the colony allowing it to grow and capitalise on new foraging and feeding opportunities spreading out through suitable habitat. If a smaller outlying nest is attacked or in danger then it will be abandoned and the inhabitants will return to the central nest.
  • Similar to other ants foraging workers leave pheromone trails, to good nectar sites or to groups of aphids, which direct other foragers to these valuable resources. The trails can persist for months.
  • The nest mounds of Northern Hairy Wood ants provide accomodating habitat for other invertebrates too. These include a variety of beetle species as well as the Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). This ant species lives within wood ant nesting colonies, accepting food from the host species and establishing its own discrete nests inside hollow twigs within the larger nest, raising its own brood. The Shining guest ant is a species of conservation interest, a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.

Northern hairy wood ant nest - if you look carefully you can just make out the well camouflaged orange/black coloured ants. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

The intricacies of woodland ecology are often complex and astounding. My job means I work on woodland planting and creation and by the very nature of the timespan of trees I know that I’m likely never to see these new woodlands in their future glory. Therefore it’s very important to me to keep a perspective, looking at woodlands at a landscape and spatial scale and considering woodlands over their likely lifetime. Woodland visits like this one are what inspire me to want to create new woodlands and plant more trees, to establish the woodlands of the future.

If you might be interested in creating woodland in the North York Moors and would like more information about opportunities please contact me or call on 01439 772700.

Updating the landscape

This is a good example of the time and effort it can take to change a landscape for the better.

The Trennet Bank Project was initiated back in 2013 (although the wish to do something here had existed for much longer than that). We’ve now achieved the major part of the planned work with the removal of conifers and the start of the gradual restoration of the site to moorland and native woodland.

Trennet Bank is on the eastern edge of Bilsdale West Moor, just west of the village of Chop Gate. Set on the top of the bank was Trennet Plantation, a 20 hectare 20th century conifer plantation (Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine) planted on moorland in the late 70s/early 80s. Since then the plantation was identified as an inappropriate forestry development at this location in terms of landscape and environment. Because it was so high on the horizon it stood out on the skyline from a number of vantage points and because it was surrounded on three sides by important moorland (designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area, Special Ara of Conservation) it was isolated from other woodland. In fact it stuck out like a sore thumb.

In addition, there was no future as a working plantation (plant-grow-fell) as it had become uneconomic to manage and harvest the timber, because of its location. So the trees would eventually start to be blown over leaving very little ground vegetation and therefore this would lead to erosion.

From a National Park Authority point of view Trennet Bank Plantation provided an ideal example of where to put into practice the North York Moors Management Plan policy – The removal of plantations from inappropriate sites will be supported where this will deliver landscape enhancement or other environmental benefits.

What happened…

The first requirement was the creation of a temporary access route from the plantation on the hillside down to the farm below and then onto the main road. This was a more achievable alternative to trying to take the trees up over the designated moorland. It meant building up the existing track including the provision of a new bridge so that the route could be used by timber lorries, and by machinery accessing the site to fell the trees. Subsequently once the conifer removal was completed the track was reinstated to ensure it was suitable for continued farm use. During and after the work, farm stock had to continue to be managed with fencing and gates, to allow the farm to function.

To remove the conifers a felling licence was required from the Forestry Commission. A felling licence requires a commitment to replant so there is no net loss of woodland. As the idea for Trennet Bank was to remove the existing woodland, the subsequent native woodland and wood pasture planned for the site wouldn’t amount to the required 20 hectares. Mark Antcliff, Woodland Officer, undertook the challenge to establish enough alternative planting sites in the wider area to ensure there was no let loss. In all, nearly 36 hectares of new compensatory woodland was established including on the plantation site and also in other appropriate locations such as bracken dominated moor edge, thanks to willing landowners and land managers.

With the access route improved and the felling licence in place the removal of timber started in the summer of 2015, and was completed by November 2016. The timber was of reasonable quality because the trees were over 30 years old and so could be sold on with some of the money made covering some of the costs entailed. The work also created large amounts of brash, some of which remains on the site to decay naturally and some of which was removed to be used as biomass.

In the winter of 2016/17 part of the felled site was replanted with oak and hazel, leaving the remainder (80% of the site) to naturally revert to heath and mire. The planted trees will need to be managed over the next three years to ensure they become established.

Establishing wood pasture on Trennet Bank. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lessons learnt for other potential large scale projects…

  • This turned out to be a major project for one Woodland Officer, with occasional assistance. A project of this scale and complexity would be helped by having a project manager on the ground.
  • Unavoidably the project relies on the good will and co-operation of landowners and tenants. It just couldn’t have happened otherwise.
  • In all, because of the complexity of the project, seven different agreements were required to be brokered by the Authority.

In the end a lot of time and resource was spent over a number of years, and as a result the landscape and environment of this part of the North York Moors has been significantly enhanced.

Planting for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

I believe that most people like the idea of trees being planted – as long as they are in the ‘right place’. Small, negligible seeds unfurling to create little, delicate saplings growing on and upwards into woody giants that dominate a landscape.

But why would we purposefully plant trees?  Here are some of the benefits that tree planting/woodland creation can provide.

Habitat

Each individual tree provides a habitats. Wooded habitats are some of the most diverse habitats in England; with many birds, mammals, insects and plants specialising in woodland environments these habitats are critical for biodiversity. Creating even small areas of woodland has the potential to greatly increase the number of species in almost any landscape.
Lesser? redpoll (woodland/wetland bird). Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

Lesser? redpoll  – this RSPB Red status bird has suffered severe population declines in the UK. It relies on wet woodland species like birch and alder.

Connectivity

It is important to look at woodlands from a landscape scale. Connectivity is the word used to evaluate how connected/joined up otherwise isolated fragments of habitat are. It is always a big advantage for tree planting if it helps to connect existing woodland areas and so allows woodland species to move freely across the landscape.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods. Copyright NYMNPA.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods, Appleton le Moors. The word Hagg suggests the land here has long been wooded. This new planting is an extension of an existing native woodland, which should improve connectivity through the landscape.

Water quality and retention

It is now widely accepted that planting trees and woodlands has benefits for the management of water catchments. Woodland filters sediment and nutrient run off from the land if planted between the source and a watercourse, and so can greatly improve water quality. Also when trees are planted along a river catchment they can help to slow down the flooding effects of heavy rainfall events by increasing the porosity of the soil. Water is more readily absorbed into the soil, thanks to the roots of trees, before being released into water courses of the catchment.

Bank stabilisation

Just as trees can slow down the movement of water they can also minimise the movement of landforms. The roots of trees help bind and stabilise river banks and hill sides. Trees hold landforms together minimising erosion and the displacement of soil, the effects of which can in some cases be devastating.

Small scale riparian woodland planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Small scale riparian woodland planting in the Esk Catchment. The opposite bank is slumping and loosing soil resource into the water. 

Shelter

Trees and woodland copses carefully located on a holding can provide useful shelter for livestock and gamebirds. It has been demonstrated that shelter provided by trees has resulted in significant reductions in cold, wet and windy weather lamb losses.
Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate taking advantage of the the woodland cover on a hot day.

Climate Change

One of the causes of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) into the earth’s atmosphere trapping heat. Trees produce energy to live and grow by using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis; a process which produces oxygen. So trees are using up Carbon Dioxide, storing carbon and generating essential oxygen.

Amenity 

As well as providing a land management tool, the presence of trees and woodlands can have positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of people. Trees and woodland are intrinsic to many landscapes, particularly so in the North York Moors. Woodlands provide amenity value as local cultural assets that can last for generations if looked after properly. Imagine the feeling of personal achievement in planting a new woodland that will grow and mature into the future, making a living mark on an evolving landscape beyond the constraints of a human lifetime.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Copyright NYMNPA.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Trees in the right place can really compliment the landscape and add amenity value from notable viewpoints.

The National Park Authority is looking for landowners and partners to create new woodland across the North York Moors. Funding is available for deciduous woodland planting projects of 1 hectare (2.5 acres) and above; the funding can cover the total costs of planting and establishment. If you are interested and would like more information please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

Letter from Scotland

Sam Jones – previous River Esk Project Student

I still recall the morning as, fresh-faced and hopeful, I sat in the back of a bus trundling along country roads towards the North York Moors. As we turned a corner and crested a ridge I was gifted my first view of the National Park and I could feel butterflies in my stomach, this would be my first real job in conservation. This was the start of my life serving the environment as I saw it then (and still do now I suppose). That was about four years ago, things have moved on quite a bit since then.

I worked for the National Park Authority on a year in industry placement back in my third year of University assisting with the Esk Pearl Mussel Salmon Recovery Project lead by Simon Hirst aimed at conserving the remaining Freshwater pearl mussel population in the River Esk. It was a wonderful and varied experience.

At the end of my time I spent a week wading through ocherous becks in the very upper reaches of the Murk Esk. I was rather cheekily using my last few weeks working at the National Park to collect data for my upcoming final year project. I collected samples of upland invertebrates from becks through moorland and coniferous woodland to test the effects of acidification on aquatic life, and to see how the impacts of acidic moorland and plantation woodlands compare. My project has now been published although you need journal access to see the whole thing. Simon has asked me for a basic summary of my findings and conclusions – so here goes…

I used aquatic invertebrates as indicators of environmental degradation. It’s well recognised that moorlands and uplands can have acidification issues, and the North York Moors may well be one of the most extreme areas for it in the UK with its nearby zones of industry. Acid issues have been recorded in local becks in the past, including severe fish kills. However my results were a little surprising. Originally I thought that plantation woodland, being the newer and least natural habitat (compared to moorland which is also man-made habitat), and having less ability to slow down and buffer the incoming water, would have a much more degraded community. However, my results showed significantly more acid sensitive species living in the woodlands than the moorland. This was despite the fact that previous studies had recorded lower pH values (i.e. more acidic) in plantations than in moorlands. I think that the reason for this is the woodlands provide a more diverse and richer freshwater environment for the invertebrates to live in. This is a good sign as it shows that the conifer plantation woodland, that so much of our countryside is dominated by, may not have such a bad effect on aquatic life as once assumed. The aquatic communities were also generally healthier than would have been expected given the severe acidification. I think this shows that the species of invertebrates living in the uplands of the North York Moors are well adapted for highly acid conditions and that, despite the seemingly poor chemical results, life in the upland becks is thriving.

What happened next? After I graduated from the University of York I went on to work for Natural England, the Environment Agency and now I’m part of an ecological consultancy. I’ve come full circle, and recently I was lucky enough to get accepted for a PhD up in Inverness studying Freshwater pearl mussels. Apparently they needed someone with more waders and bucket experience than lab experience, and I fitted the bill.

Scotland is one the great bastions of the Freshwater pearl mussels with populations of tens of thousands in numerous rivers and multiple populations with favourable age structures and reproductive ability (unlike in the Esk sadly). As such, my PhD is to study these populations and monitor them using traditional methods. However the focus of the investigation is to allow comparison of conventional survey methods with new eDNA techniques. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a method of monitoring species or habitats using the DNA that is freely found in the environment. All organisms living in an environment discard DNA, whether through waste, dead cells, carcasses, etc. and this can be picked up in trace amounts in water, soil, and even air. With Freshwater pearl mussels the hope is that DNA markers and techniques can be designed to allow detection of small or isolated populations of pearl mussels in rivers simply from a scoop of river water downstream of these prospective populations. There is also potential that the techniques could be used to monitor the size, health and population structure of these populations and perhaps even help identify sub species or genetically distinct populations. Whether this is possible or not, the possibility of cheaper and easier monitoring of pearl mussels fundamentally helps with conservation efforts.

I’m hoping to be able to keep Simon and the Esk Project up to date with our findings and perhaps provide some new information and techniques that may help the Esk’s own struggling mussels over time.

Anyway, that’s my little summary of things. I hope you guys found this interesting.

Thanks for reading, and keep on supporting the National Park,

Sam

Two Turtle Doves, one Turtle Dove, and then there were none

We’re beginning a new three-year project (Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor) with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund* through their ‘Our Heritage’ grant. We want to try and help our local population of Turtle Doves. The species is declining dramatically in the UK and is considered vulnerable to global extinction. The North York Moors still has a small population of the birds which currently breed here over the summer before migrating back to Africa.

Turtle Doves - copyright RSPB.

We know that Turtle Doves have been recorded mainly around the forests on the southern fringe of the North York Moors. Through our project we want to establish what it is that the Turtle Doves favour in terms of farmland/forest edge habitat here and then provide informed advice and carry out conservation work to secure and enhance these habitats to maintain our local population. We’re aiming to assist the birds by ensuring there are suitable plants for seed to eat throughout the summer, and also by providing clean supplementary seed in spring. The spring seed will help the birds reach breeding condition quickly once they arrive back following migration and this should hopefully improve breeding success.

We will be commissioning annual surveys and working with local volunteers on supplementary surveys, as well as asking the general public to submit sightings. The conclusions from the data collected will build up an understanding and help target and tailor advice to land managers whose land is, or could be, supporting the species though simple actions or help into an agri-environment scheme. The idea is that this will not only benefit Turtle Doves, but other declining farmland birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge and wider biodiversity interests such as cornfield flowers, wildflower grasslands and pollinating insects.

We’re looking to build on synergies developed with the Cornfield Flowers Project, a long term arable flora conservation initiative and its existing network of conservation-minded farmers which provides a model for engagement and a source of farmer champions. We want to expand this engagement and use farm and woodland managers as advocates to share knowledge and best practice.

We’ll also be involving other parts of local communities as well as visitors – through interpretation, events and talks – sharing how to identify the Turtle Dove, where it goes on its perilous cross continent migration, why it needs assistance and what that entails. The more people appreciate the species as part of their natural heritage, the better placed the species will be to get the active help it needs to survive. We will be working with Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils to manage public land for the benefit of the species e.g. roadside verges, village greens, churchyards, cemeteries; and we’ll be advising what people could do in their own gardens. Hopefully small actions will have beneficial consequences for the birds and for the people who then get to see and hear Turtle Doves in their own locality.

As well as the HLF and the National Park Authority, other project partners include the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, Scarborough Borough Council, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and crucially volunteers as well as the land managers and the local communities on the ground.

Turtle Dove - copyright THINKSTOCK.

We want to do what we can to prevent local extinction and to contribute as much as we can to the conservation of the species nationally so as many people as possible can get to hear the Turtle Dove’s evocative purring call first hand.

We’ll let you know what’s happening and how to get involved as the project develops.

* The project is part of the HLF’s campaign – Yorkshire’s Back Garden – to re-connect people to their natural heritage.

When is a woodland a wood?

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer

The National Park Authority has played a role in creating more than 600 hectares of new native woodland since the turn of the century, with something in excess of half a million trees established.

But when is a new woodland actually a wood and how do you measure the success of a habitat created?

In terms of tree growth the first milestone is when the young trees are fully established and have outgrown the competing vegetation and the attention of voles, rabbits, deer and livestock and their teeth. The second is when the branches of the new neighbouring trees meet – this is called “canopy closure” – from which point the ground flora will alter as shade tolerant and shade loving species will have better success, including our beloved bluebells. Perhaps a third is when the new trees reach a stage where they could be used to produce wood and timber through thinning or coppicing.

I was thoughtful of this question when revisiting a site that was planted about 16 years ago in Bilsdale. Here the area of an existing woodland had been extended by new planting, mainly young oak trees.Existing area of Ancient Woodland in Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contractors planting new woodland alongside the existing Ancient Woodland, back in 2001. Copyright NYMNPA.

There were some initial challenges caused by a faulty batch of plastic tree shelters that degraded faster than they should have leaving the new trees vulnerable. However the trees are now fully self-supporting and I can walk under them, which for me personally is a good moment as I can then consider myself in a wood rather than looking at it. The icing on the cake however is that some of the trees planted 16 years ago are now producing acorns, a sign that a true self-regenerating woodland has been created.

Part of the woodland planted approx. 16 years ago showing this year’s additional planting in the distance. Copyright NYMNPA.

Buoyed by such success we have, with the cooperation of the land owner and his agent, planted an additional area of 3 hectares this winter. I can’t wait to see how this new woodland extension looks in another 16 years’ time, alongside the ancient and post-millennial woods already in place.

As a Woodland Officer, I do tend to think in the long term.

Inside a coniferous forest

Dirge in Woods by George Meredith

A wind sways the pines,
And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so.

North York Moors Forest

Last year’s top 5 posts

Whether by accident or design these were our top 5 posts in 2016, according to the number of views.

Woodland to be thinned - copyright NYMNPA

1.The aesthetics of trees

If you’re a land manager and you’re interested in grant to help you create, manage or improve your own woodland masterpiece – here’s a link to the national funding that’s available. Watch out for the set application windows because they’re often quite short.

The current adaptation of The Crown, Helmsley - copyright NYMNPA.

2.Historic Pub Culture

As part of the renovation of The Crown Hotel in Helmsley the building was subject to a re-assessment of the development of its historic fabric by Colin Briden, an Historic Buildings Archaeologist who reported in April 2016. His report concluded…

Although partly demolished in the 18th century to bring it ‘up to date’, and extensively refurbished in the 20th century to make it look ‘olde worlde’, the building retains considerable evidence for a high-status late mediaeval timber framed house of two jettied storeys (where upper storeys project beyond the lower storey) and attics in a prominent position. The house is of an unusually large scale. Other comparable size houses in the wider area are from much later dates.

Now that the building is free from the unfortunate results of the 20th century remodelling it is possible to see it as it really is – ‘the battered remnant of late mediaeval construction work on the grand scale carried out by an unusually wealthy owner’.

In 1478 Helmsley was sold to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III; it reverted to the de Roos family on his death. The name of the subsequent hotel is suggestive of a reference to this short lived but significant royal ownership.

In its latest adaptation, the building is now a shop.

capture

3.Face to face with the past

Raven - the Watcher by JestePhotography. http://jestephotography.deviantart.com/art/Raven-The-Watcher-532656250.

4.A ‘Gothic’ icon

Historic England survey of earthworks at Stoupe Brow alum works - copyright Historic England

5.Cliff edge archaeology

Following our work in 2014-15 (reported in early 2016), we were pleased that Historic England were able to remove one of the coastal alum working Scheduled Monuments from the Heritage at Risk register because we had fully recorded those parts of the monument which were under threat. However, four other Scheduled alum working sites remain on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register despite our efforts to record some of their most vulnerable features. So what next?

Working with Whitby Museum and specialists from Historic England, we held a seminar last spring bringing together a group of dedicated people with a strong interest or connection to the coastal alum working sites – landowners, archaeologists, academics and private researchers – to review what we know about the alum industry, to decide what we don’t understand and to look for a way forward to manage the risk to the sites under threat and ensure that we do not lose the valuable information held within them. One of the ideas emerging from the seminar was a further excavation project with an emphasis on engagement and interpretation as well as research.

Archaeological excavations take considerable planning and funds to ensure that they are carried out to a high standard and achieve objectives without causing accidental damage, so it can be a slow process getting started. We are now working towards setting up a project to investigate one of the sites which we didn’t include in the investigations in 2014-15 – the alum works at Stoupe Brow, near Ravenscar. An extensive system of reservoirs and water leats (dug channels) was revealed on the nearby Fylingdales Moor after the 2003 wildfire and we know that this water management system supplied the needs of the alum processing at Stoupe Brow, but other than that we currently know very little about this site. Historic England recently completed a topographic survey of the earthworks so we can now see how the site was laid out, but not how it operated. The site still includes its alum house (where the final processing to produce alum crystals was carried out) and there is still a general gap in knowledge when it comes to how alum houses functioned. As well as trying to discover more about the practical operations at the site the project will record the structures which are currently being gradually lost over the cliff edge. A big advantage of this particular site is that it is more accessible and less dangerous compared to some of the other coastal alum working sites – providing great opportunities for volunteers and visitors.

The first stage of the project is producing a project proposal which will outline what we want to do and how much it will cost, and this is expected by the end of this winter. The next step will be using the proposal to generate partnership support and seek funding. It is early days yet, but we hope this will develop into an exciting project – watch out for further posts as our plans progress.

Mags Waughman, Monument Management Scheme Officer

Fantastical fungi

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Fungi is found on every environment on the planet and plays a vital part in many ecosystems. They don’t actually belong to either the plant or animal kingdoms, they have their own. Fungi are key decomposers and so are crucial in terms of nutrient cycling. Because fungi don’t photosynthesise like plants (they don’t contain any chlorophyll) they instead rely on absorbing food from their environment to survive. This is why you will often see fungi growing on or around other plant material, living or dead. By decomposing organic plant material, particularly lignin and cellulose that make up the bodies of plants, the locked up carbon, nitrogen and minerals are released and used again by other plants and organisms.

Fungi often form important symbiotic relationships with other organisms. These can be antagonistic (injurious to the host e.g Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), mutualistic (mutually beneficial) or commensal (apparently neither injurious nor beneficial). One of the most well-known mutualistic relationships is that with mycorrhizal fungi. It is estimated that over 90% of all plant species are part of a mycorrhizal relationship and are dependent on it to thrive. Mycorrhizae are found between plant roots and the soil, and help other plants collect moisture and nutrients (such as nitrate and phosphate). In return the mycorrhizae are able to use the carbohydrates and sugars that the plants produce. It has been suggested that a single oak tree can have up to 19km of associated mycelium – these are the thread-like hyphae (filaments) that extend outwards from the mycorrhizal fungi.

For most fungi these hyphae are their main part. Even when these hyphae tangle together and are visible to the human eye we often don’t see them because they’re underground or within their food source e.g. a tree. Some fungi however produce fruiting bodies in order to release spores – these are the mushroom parts which appear when it’s warm and damp. The mushroom parts are short lived and die back within a season but fungi can live for years and years.

The North York Moors hosts a great variety of fungi types and their mushrooms, from waxcaps, inkcaps and milkcaps to chanterelles, boletes and russulas. Because of the amount of plant material available woodlands, particularly ancient woodlands, are an excellent place to see mushrooms in the late summer/autumn and some varieties in the spring. To encourage fungi on your own land leave deadwood where it is (either standing or on the ground) instead of clearing it away. Managed grasslands are also a good habitat to find mushrooms. Waxcaps in particular can be found on grassland around historic houses and churchyards, and also on grazed pastures. The best grassland fungi sites typically have a short turf, plenty of moss, are well drained, poor in nutrients and usually unfertilised. Many waxcaps form mutualistic relationships with mosses, so to encourage fungi in your own garden don’t remove the moss.

Over the centuries the hundreds of types of fungi in England have been given graphic common names like ‘Ashen Knight’, ‘Bitter Poisonpie’, ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’, ‘Dryad’s Saddle’, ‘Flaming Scalycap’, ‘Humpback Brittlegill’, ‘King Alfred’s Cakes’, ‘Mealy Bigfoot Webcap’, ‘Old Man of the Woods’, ‘Papillate Pinkgill’, ‘Plums and Custard’, ‘Powdercap Strangler’, ‘Scurfy Deceiver’, ‘Slippery Jack’, ‘Sordid Blewit’, ‘Witches Butter’ … I’ll stop there.

Fungi are an often underrated element of biodiversity; working away, mostly out of site, maintaining healthy ecosystems that are so important to the natural environment..

A few types of wild (uncultivated) mushrooms are edible, many taste of nothing, and others are toxic and quite often deadly. You always need to be absolutely sure which is which if you’re intending to eat one. Foraging in England and Wales is not illegal as long as what is collected is not intended for commercial use. However please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to range over private land.

Picking mushrooms won’t necessarily damage the fungi but the more that are picked the less chance the fungi has of reproducing.

Fungi in and around the North York Moors - mixture of fungi possibly including Candlesnuff - copyright Tom Stephenson, NYMNPA.

For more on fascinating fungi – have a look at The British Mycological Society and the Fungus Conservation Trust websites. Local Naturalist Societies are often great sources of local knowledge.