Category: Wildlife Blog

Fungus Fun at Parc Slip Nature Reserve

Specimen table
Specimen table

Specimen table by Fay Cosgrove

Fabulous Fungus Explorations on UK Fungus Day

Glamorgan Fungus Group held a special event on Sunday the 11th October to celebrate UK Fungus Day in collaboration with the UK Fungus Day Team at the British Mycological Society and the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales staff at Parc Slip Nature Reserve.

S cavipes

S cavipes by Mike Bright

Group Members organised a fungus specimen display to introduce eager members of the public to the wonderful variety of our native fungi that can be found in across the countryside at this time of year.

Adults and children alike marvelled at the spread of specimens that included the ever popular Fly Agaric, Scarlet Caterpillar Club and a wide selection of colourful waxcaps.

Mike Bright of Glamorgan Fungus Group led two special guided walks around the reserve explaining the importance of fungi to our ecosystems and highlighting the ways that we benefit from their unseen actions.

Over 70 members of the public were shown a wide variety of our commoner fungi and were treated to some close up views of some rare specimens in their natural environment including the boletes Suillus tridentinus and Suillus cavipes (Hollow Bolete – at its only Welsh Site).

eager people queue up at Parc Slip

Eager people queue up at Parc Slip

The long line of smiling fungi fans stretched through the reserves pathways like a strange woodland conga!

The walk ended with the opportunity for people to see the special Red Data List Spathularia flavida (Yellow Fan) which saw a queue of eager wildlife photographers lining up to grab a picture.

Thanks to the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales and the British Mycological Society whose help, assistance and support made the event possible.

Bridgend Nature Reserve Scoops Prestigious Award!


A South Wales nature reserve, Parc Slip, owned and managed by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, has fought off competition from across Britain to become the national winner of Biffa Award’s Rebuilding Biodiversity project of the year prize.

The Wildlife Trust has managed Parc Slip nature reserve in Tondu, near Bridgend, since 1989. Formerly an opencast coal mine, the site has been transformed back to a wildlife haven that supports one of the few remaining breeding populations of lapwing in south Wales, as well as locally important populations of reptiles, dragonflies and damselflies.

In 2012 The Wildlife Trust received funding to undertake wildlife conservation work at the site from Biffa Award.

Over the following three years Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers have undertaken habitat improvements for Lapwing, created new arable crops to provide winter food for birds like Goldfinches and Yellowhammers, and introduced three much loved highland cattle to the site which help manage the grasslands better for wildlife.

Rob Parry, Conservation Manager for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, who accepted the award on behalf of the Wildlife Trust at a national ceremony in Coventry this month, said

“we’re absolutely delighted that Parc Slip has been awarded this prize. Our staff and volunteers have worked incredibly hard to make the nature reserve the best place for wildlife it can be. We’ve had brilliant feedback from all our visitors who walk the reserve and who have seen the changes that we’ve made on the site. We’re incredibly grateful to Biffa Award for the difference their funding has made.”

He added,

“the prize money of £1500 will be invested back into Parc Slip. We intend to put it towards the costs of building a new bird hide so that visitors can enjoy the site even more, and help us monitor the wildlife that uses the nature reserve.”

Parc Slip nature reserve and visitor centre can be found by following white on brown tourism signs from junction 36 from the M4. The nature reserve is open seven days a week and the visitor centre open from Tuesday – Sunday (10:00am – 4:00pm).

Bringing Back Heathland at Llyn Fach


I like friendly wildlife or if you’re being pragmatic and probably more biologically accurate cold-blooded wildlife that can’t actually physically move.

I like to think my finger was the equivalent of a hot radiator on a cold day; she flew off a few minutes later. She is a Black Darter by the way and she and quite a few of her fellow Darters live at Llyn Fach, a natural lake SSSI where we’ve been working for the past few weeks thanks to a Biffa Award grant.

Our main task is the removal of non-native Conifer and other scrub regrowth from the regenerating upland heath habitat which surrounds the lake.

Being used to clearing Hawthorn from Taf Fechan for the past few years this Conifer lark was going to be easy or at least that happy thought was in the mind right up until grabbing the first tree. Oh wait no these are just as scratchy, pointy and deviously stabby as Hawthorn!

Still, looking on the bright side your hands may well be ruined but at least they smell of Conifer resin.

So why don’t you wear gloves?

Yes we thought of that and we found that the best gloves for this particular job are welders gauntlets (big red ones) because your basic ordinary gardening glove just can’t hack it.

It’s probably not a use that the manufacturers of big red gauntlets thought they would be put but I think the phrase “also guaranteed to stop Sitka spruce needles continually stabbing you in that really painful spot between the fingers!” on the packaging could only improve sales.

Despite the niggly feeling we’re somehow declaring war on Christmas it’s nice to see the Heath appear as the Conifers are methodically removed patch by patch.

The Slime Mould

Slime-mould eating a fungus by Graham Watkeys
Slime-mould eating a fungus by Graham Watkeys

Slime-mould eating a fungus by Graham Watkeys

The Hazels at Taf Fechan destined for coppicing are usually marked with yellow line marking paint, so seeing a large blob of yellow on a tree wasn’t a surprise and I was only interested in the fungus at first, but this blob of yellow wasn’t paint.

Coppicing at Taf Fechan

Coppicing at Taf Fechan

The fungus is Wrinkled Crust. The fungus is doomed, it’s being slowly eaten alive by a slime-mould (a misnomer as it isn’t actually a mould or in fact a fungus they have a category all to themselves).

Usually existing as separate single cells, slime-moulds congregate at this time of year (nobody knows how they do this) creating a yellow gooey super-predator consuming everything in its path.

The slime-mould actively travels hunting for its food of bacteria, fungi and other organic matter (nobody knows how it does this), a mass of single cells without a nervous system or any kind of brain acting like a single entity (nobody knows how they do this).

Out of the chaos of the multitude order is created simulating purpose and direction where none exists beyond the relentless need for food.

When the food runs out this conglomeration decides it’s time to reproduce (nobody knows how it does this) the millions of identical cells spontaneously reorganise themselves into a wholly new configuration creating mushroom like structures, some become stems, some spores (nobody knows how it does this) the simple becoming complex, the uniform becoming specialised.

The spores are released into the wind and the Slime-mould becomes a disparate unicellular organism again.

The world has some extraordinary inhabitants.

Number 500 at Taf Fechan

Calliphora vomitoria at Taf Fechan
Calliphora vomitoria at Taf Fechan

Calliphora vomitoria at Taf Fechan

The day was beginning to look rather Spartan but having reached 499 the previous day with a Cream-spotted Ladybird I was as determined as Leonidas…. Ok so trying to unobtrusively crowbar references to Thermopylae (I really wanted to use the word phalanx) into an article fundamentally about a “Bluebottle” is more difficult than it seems and should probably go under the heading “It seemed like a good idea at the time” plus the fact I’ve just realised it was “The 300” not “The 500” (although most historians put the actual number at around 1400 which only goes to prove the saying “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” or that the Spartans had a really good communications officer) so let’s forget this ever happened and move on, anyway back to the point (breathe Graham, breathe – the editor).

Where was I? Ah yes, Number 500.

Despite some heroically intensive bimbling it was actually looking rather Spartan with not much about until a flash of blue caught my eye, this flash of blue landed on a nearby Birch leaf.

This flash of blue was quite happy to stay on the nearby birch leaf (which is quite a rare occurrence with flashes of blue on birch leaves). I admit I had to squash the thought “Oh it’s only a Bluebottle” and I nearly moved on but as this particular flash of blue was happy to sit as I poked my camera in its face I took its picture (side view, top view and front view).

Despite being common there are only 251 records of Calliphora vomitoria (which is what it turned out to be) across Wales and if I’m honest despite this low number I was hoping for a more glamorous species to sit as Number 500 on my list but there you are.

I subsequently found out that Calliphora vomitoria is one of several flies that go under the name “Bluebottle” and as they all have the same vitally important though, let’s face it, rather unpalatable life habit; my mind just refuses to consider what that black fluid its blowing bubbles with actually is.

So ladies and gentlemen Number 500 on my Taf Fechan species list, the Bluebottle!

Graham Watkeys – Taf Fechan Warden

UK Fungus Day 2015


FungiA day to celebrate fungi?

Now you may think this is a crazy idea but hundreds of fungi fans across the UK are gearing up to celebrate UK Fungus Day on the 11th of October but why on earth would you want to celebrate fungi? The answer is simple, without fungi we wouldn’t exist! There’s much more to mushrooms than meets the eye.

Parc slip baby oysterling

Parc slip baby oysterling

Fungi are responsible for many parts of our life that we take for granted. Without fungi we would have no soil to grow our crops, they are nature’s perfect recycler’s breaking down organic matter and returning the goodness to our earth.

They provide us with a range of food and not just fried mushrooms to go with your cooked breakfast! Fungi play a part in the production of marmite, chocolate and bread. It’s not just food either, without fungi there would be no wine, beer or lager!

Many of our medicines have fungal origins and some fungi like mycoproteins may just be the answer to concerns about future food production.

Parc slip purple toadstool

Parc slip purple toadstool

With all this in mind they deserve a little more of our attention which is why Glamorgan Fungus Group and ourselves are inviting you to Parc Slip Nature Reserve (Tondu, Bridgend) on Sunday the 11th October to learn a bit more about our mushrooms.

We will be holding guided walks (at 11:00 and 14:00) where you can learn why a stink horn stinks, what the difference is between a toadstool and a mushroom, how some fungi can turn insects into zombies and what would happen if you ate a Deathcap!

Mail the Glamorgan Fungus Group to find out more.

An Orchid Revival

Orchid seed collected from Parc Slip
Orchid seed collected from Parc Slip

Orchid seed collected from Parc Slip

Over the past few months we have been collecting orchid seed from plants around Parc Slip in order to be able to sow our new wildflower meadows with orchid seeds and hopefully get a higher abundance of a variety of orchids in the meadows in the next few years.

To collect the seed we went out around the reserve with volunteers and the Widlife Watch group to spot the plants, which was not easy when they were no longer in flower!

But with plenty of keen eyes looking for them, we found lots of Orchid plants and were able to harvest the seed from them by gently rubbing the seed pods over a paper envelope and catching the tiny seeds that fell out.

We then put the seeds in open-top tubes and nestled the tubes inside sealed Kilner jars filled with dried rice. The rice drew the moisture out of the orchid seed, meaning that after 3 days the seeds were dry enough to seal in their tubes ready to be scattered in the wildflower meadows.

Orchid seed in Kilner jar

Orchid seed in Kilner jar

Orchid seeds are one of the smallest seeds of any plant and are so small that they do not even contain enough energy for the seed to germinate on its own.

Orchid seeds therefore require a mycorrhizal fungus in the soil to provide the nutrients they need to germinate and grow.

This starts as a parasitic relationship but may reduce in dependence or end once the germinated seed has developed enough to produce its own leaves to feed itself.

As the seeds are so small, there can be thousands per pod, and by weighing the dry seed mass that we gathered, we estimated that we might have collected as many as 8,750,000 seeds!

As the last of the orchids dry up and shed their final seeds we will be heading to the new wildflower meadows at Parc Slip to scatter the orchid seed that we collected from around the Nature Reserve.

Then we will have to simply wait until next summer to see if we get more orchids in the meadows than before.

Fingers crossed!

Smut at Pwll Waun Cynon

The fungal smut Microbotryum saponariae infecting the anthers Graham Watkeys
The fungal smut Microbotryum saponariae infecting the anthers Graham Watkeys

The fungal smut Microbotryum saponariae infecting the anthers Graham Watkeys

Ok let’s talk smut shall we?

It’s probably the only time I can genuinely write about smut without being severely edited (or blacklisted – the editor!).

I wasn’t looking for smut in fact I didn’t even know I had seen any smut until I got back and looked at the pictures (I had to enlarge many of them), but there it was, pure smut bold as brass!

Smuts are a kind of fungus, an internal parasite of plants, often invisible until they are mature and start to cause damage to the host plant, in this case Soapwort.

Soapwort by Graham Watkeys

Soapwort by Graham Watkeys

Now I was very happy finding the Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) as it was a new species recorded at Pwll Waun Cynon and an interesting plant in its own right.

An archaeophyte introduced to Britain by man in “ancient” times due to its usefulness as a soap (and I’d like to think because it’s a very pretty plant), it is now thoroughly naturalised and is still used by many as a natural soap.

Like most species Soapwort has its own specialised set of parasites including its own smut called Microbotryum saponariae which infects the anthers in flowers causing them to darken and eventually split releasing the smuts spores rather than the plants pollen.

This particular genus has very recently been subjected to genetic analysis revealing several new species hidden within it that appear to be host specific Microbotryum saponariae is one of those newly defined species.

So not only can I write about smut I can write about a type of smut new to science.

Graham Watkeys – Taf Fechan warden

Rare Moth Found in Cadoxton Ponds

Anania perlucidalis by Vaughn Matthews

Rare moth species discovered at Dow Corning’s Cadoxton Ponds Nature Reserve

For the past few years we have been managing the Cadoxton Ponds Nature Reserve, in Barry, Wales on behalf of Dow Corning. The nature reserve is important for an array of wildlife due to the number of different habitats present, from grassland and scrub to ponds and reedbeds.

Anania perlucidalis by Vaughn Matthews

Anania perlucidalis by Vaughn Matthews

As part of the management, we have been carrying out a range of species surveys including birds, butterflies, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. These surveys have produced an already impressive species list for the site with a number of scarce or rare species having been recorded, including bittern, harvest mice, shrill carder bees and small blue butterflies.

One of the regular monitoring activities that we carry out is moth recording on the reserve. This involves putting out a powerful light overnight and visiting early in the morning to see what has been attracted in before releasing the moths unharmed.

The exciting part of moth trapping is that you never know what might turn up and this was certainly the case when the trap was checked on the morning of 24th of June this year. It had been a warm night which usually means good numbers of moths and we recorded over 50 species with one in particular being very noteworthy.

It may look fairly under-whelming compared to some of the spectacular moths around at this time of year but this species hadn’t been recorded in the UK until 1957 and wasn’t seen in Wales until 2009. This was only the 3rd record of Anania perlucidalis (it doesn’t have a common name) for Wales and the first for Glamorgan!

Marsh thistle

Marsh thistle

The species measures about 2cm from wingtip to wingtip and inhabits wetlands such as marshes and reedbeds where the caterpillars feed on Marsh Thistles. Cadoxton Ponds has extensive areas of such habitats so hopefully the moth can continue to flourish here and spread further across the county.

We manage the nature reserve to benefit wetland-loving species such as this as good marshy habitats are relatively scarce in the local area. We will be running the moth trap again soon and hoping that there will be something equally exciting to report!

Cadoxton Ponds is 30 acre nature reserve created by Dow Corning on land adjacent to the manufacturing site. The reserve hosts educational visits to support the sustainability curriculum.

Acceptance and 400

Agapeta hamana Graham Watkeys

It has taken me just over a year to reach it and it hasn’t been without frustrations, realisations and an acceptance of limits BUT on the 25th of June 2015 the 400th species went on my list at Taf Fechan.

Agapeta hamana Graham Watkeys

Agapeta hamana Graham Watkeys

The 400th wasn’t the first thing I saw that was a very small species of Bee buried deep in a Dandelion, not only beyond my cameras technological capabilities but also very small bees buried in Dandelions are inevitably unidentifiable without taking a specimen, killing it, popping it under a microscope and using keys with some very specialised language. I’m not against taking specimens I just don’t want to, thus my first acceptance of limits: some things are just not identifiable.

The 400th wasn’t the second thing I saw, that was what I thought must be a perfectly identifiable little moth with distinct markings sat happily on a bramble until I got my camera out focused on the thing then watched it fly away through the viewing screen knowing that because of the delay by the time I looked up I would never find it again, thus my second acceptance of limits: things escape.

The 400th wasn’t the third thing I saw which was exactly the same as the second thing I saw but every single photo was so completely out of focus you could barely make out it was a moth at all thus my third acceptance of limits: technology is not infallible.

The 400th wasn’t the fourth thing I saw because that was a fly and all flies (with a few exceptions) are a massive minefield of hideously complex similarities and impossible without genital dissection and a spot of amateur genital dissection on a Thursday night doesn’t appeal, thus my fourth acceptance of limits: you can’t do everything.

The 400th wasn’t the fifth, sixth seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth things I saw because I got distracted by hoverflies thus my fifth acceptance of limits: there will always be favourites.

The 400th was actually the 11th thing I saw which was rather ironically another micro-moth but this one behaved itself by sitting still, by being perfectly identifiable without reference to genitals and being in focus. So the official 400th species on my list is Agapeta hamana!

Graham Watkeys Taf Fechan Warden

Humphry Bogart Vs Japanese Knotweed

After at Pwll Waun Cynon

Japanese Knotweed removal is often a long drawn out fight but one that is ultimately winnable.

So a short history of Fallopia japonica: introduced to Britain by Victorian plant hunters the plant rapidly became a prize-winning, greatly desired and admired garden plant which every self-respecting horticulturalist had to have in their modern fashionable garden.

Unmanaged stand of Japanese Knotweed at Pwll Waun Cynon


Things like “you simple must come and see my Fallopia japonica!” were probably said with chest swelling pride and the pursuit of gardening one-upmanship.

I wonder how long it took for that to change to “For heaven’s sake man take some of my Fallopia japonica its taking over the whole ruddy garden!” to “I don’t know just dig it up and dump it somewhere!”? Anyway back to Pwll Waun Cynon (were we there Graham? – the editor).

This reserve has a busy railway line running right through the middle of it, now I’m mentioning this for two reasons firstly it allows the possibility of a bit of amateur train spotting (my particular favourite at the moment is the old EWS coal train 66531) and secondly gives me the excuse to legitimately use the “we were on the wrong side of the tracks” literary devise (all very Film Noir minus the melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia but with trains).

So being on the “wrong side of the tracks” our Knotweed battle began by removing the years of densely packed dead stems and detritus covering the actively growing clumps, blocking access and hiding the extent of the problem. This was quickly achieved by using the slash, drag and burn method (the dame was just stood there while exploding knotweed stems popped like muffled gunshots in the night, I removed my trench coat and gloom stained trilby…)

After at Pwll Waun Cynon


Having now cleared around half the stand of this old growth it is now open enough to allow the control of the Knotweed in this part of Pwll Waun Cynon to start.

As with the other side of the reserve the plan is to eventually return this long neglected field to grazing to create a diverse meadow habitat (perhaps with a couple of strategically positioned lamp posts to stand under looking all Noir-ish?).

Graham Watkeys – Taf Fechan Warden

If you are inspired by Graham’s writing to help us manage these problematic weeds then please consider contributing to our Non Native Invasive Species Appeal – yes we know the title is a little bit of a mouthful

Pine Martens: an ally for our mid Wales Red Squirrels?

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

The Vincent Wildlife Trust is hoping to boost mid Wales’ struggling pine marten population by bringing a small but significant number of martens from Scotland.

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Charismatic, elusive and running out of time; this native Welsh mammal, bele’r coed, has all but disappeared from the Welsh landscape.

Once widespread throughout Britain, the pine marten’s historical decline began with forest clearance, but was exacerbated by the rise in game shooting and associated predator control in the 19th century.

By 1900, the marten was effectively extinct over much of Britain, confined to the more remote upland areas that included Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains. Today, the marten is hanging on in the more isolated areas of rural Wales, but it is clear that the numbers are just too low for the population to survive without intervention, so intervention is planned.

The pine marten is chiefly a woodland animal and will avoid open countryside. Its preferred diet is small mammals and fruit, but it is an opportunist and will take whatever is locally abundant.

Pine martens will eat grey squirrels – which could be fantastic news for red squirrels. Red squirrels are agile and too quick for most pine martens who find the larger and much slower grey squirrel a far easier target. There is evidence of declining grey squirrel numbers in areas where the pine marten is recovering and a corresponding increase in numbers of red squirrels.

Now is a critical time for the pine marten in Wales as the species stands on a knife-edge. This project represents a chance to help ensure that this iconic species will once again be a symbol of our Welsh woodlands.

It will take time to re-establish a pine marten population in mid Wales and we risk losing our red squirrels if we stand by and wait for this natural order to be restored.

In the meantime, we need to maintain a sustained programme of grey squirrel control to strengthen the red squirrel population in mid Wales so that, a few years down the line, the reds will have become resilient enough to withstand some predation from pine martens whilst benefitting from a reduction in the grey population