Habitat in Focus; Waxcap Grasslands

pink ballerina waxcap grassland fungus conservation grazing pont cymruTake a walk across unimproved upland sheep pasture at this time of year and your eye may be caught by a splash of bright colour in the sward. Autumn is the time when the fruiting bodies of waxcap fungi (Hygrocybe) emerge and they are truly extraordinary.

In a variety of colours, including white, yellow, red, pink and bright green, these fungi are still a mystery to mycologists. The methods by which waxcaps survive are still unclear. They are thought to have a mutually beneficial relationship with plant roots, though how this may occur is still unknown!

Waxcaps need short swards and are intolerant to ploughing, seeding and fertiliser. Recent surveys have shown that waxcap grasslands are more extensive in the UK than other European countries and Wales in particular supports over half the number of waxcaps in the UK [1].

sheep grazing waxcap grasslands coity Wallia

Sheep grazing a waxcap grassland at Coity Wallia Commons

This is mainly due to our large areas of unimproved upland sheep pastures and lawns such as those in churchyards and country houses. A good example of this is on the embankments of Llanishen reservoir in Cardiff. Regular mowing and lack of nutrient input created the ideal conditions and which are now designated as a SSSI to protect the 29 species of waxcap that can be found here.

Management of waxcap grasslands requires maintenance of a short sward, and this is where grazing animals can come in handy! Research suggests that haycutting followed by aftermath grazing to maintain the short sward is also conducive to fruiting of macrofungi [2].

If you require grazing management of a waxcap grassland, please contact PONT Cymru.

[1] Plantlife

[2] Griffith, G.W. et al. Sward management influences fruiting of grassland basidiomycete fungi. Biological Conservation, Volume 145, Issue 1.

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