Grazer of the Week 11th October; Ellie Wellie the Balwen

waxcap grasslands conservation grazing waun las pont cymru Ellie Wellie, balwen sheep, 10-9-2019 photo Rebecca Thomas

Ellie Wellie. Photo Rebecca Thomas

Our Grazer of the Week is Ellie Wellie the Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep, who is providing vital conservation grazing on waxcap grasslands at Waun Las NNR. Waun Las is a National Nature Reserve and an economically-viable organic working farm at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Ellie Wellie is named for her ´wellie´markings on her legs and in honour of  Ellie, who runs the weekly Welly Wednesday club for pre-schoolers at the Botanic Gardens.

Occupying over 150 hectares of Carmarthenshire countryside, Waun Las has been managed as an organic farm since the late 1990s. It contains a wide range of valuable habitats including rhos pasture, wet woodland and lowland meadows – priorities for conservation in the UK and the rest of Europe. In 2014 the farm operation entered into a Glastir sustainable land management agreement with the Welsh Government.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales has a flock of 20 Balwen sheep, a local Tywi valley breed, managed by the farmer Huw Jones and Rebecca Thomas. On Waun Las there is a field known as Cae Waxcap, an extensive west-facing sloping pasture with around 2 acres of particularly high quality grassland fungi habitat.  

Grass length needs to be kept low for the waxcap fruiting season in September-November so the sheep have been in the field since early July. Grassland fungi cannot tolerate artificial fertiliser – it can take them decades to recover from just one application which is why grassland fungi have disappeared from large stretches of Welsh pasture over the past 70-80 years. Fertiliser application

Hygrocybe splendidissima on Cae Waxcap, with Great Glasshouse. Photo B Langridge

maps from the 1970s suggests this site avoided fertiliser application – adjacent fields which were fertilised still lack waxcaps fungi today.

26 waxcap fungi, and 14 other associated grassland fungi have been recorded on this field, making it one of the most important grassland fungi sites in Wales. The splendid waxcap is one of the most important species – it has recently been added to the international IUCN Red Data List of Threatened Species, so is of worldwide concern. A 6m wide splendid waxcap fairy ring on Cae Waxcap could be significantly old.

The site was discovered in the 1990s by Maurice Rotheroe, a mycologist who was most responsible for raising awareness of the need to conserve grassland fungi in the UK.

If you have a waxcap grassland that requires grazing, contact PONT Cymru.

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