November may not seem like the most promising time to visit Denmark farm. Even so, you can find real gems, as we did on Wednesday during our Phase 1 survey course. Whilst walking across pond field Corrine, one of the participants, spotted some bright orange fungi, almost shining in the glorious sunlight. She collected a small sample and took it back for identification and thinks that it is an Orange Waxcap (Hygrocybe aurantiosplendens) – a rather rare species, and one you will only see at this time of year.
Many waxcaps are indicators of ancient grasslands and only grow in meadows with low fertility that are either grazed and/or mown. They usually grow in association with mosses, although exactly how these two groups of species interact with each other is still being researched. What we do know is that the presence of waxcaps is clear evidence that our management is working. We know that, before the site was owned by the Shared Earth Trust, the fields at Denmark Farm were ‘improved’ (ploughed, reseeded and fertilised) and looked very much like the bright green ones that you can see in the surrounding countryside. Our careful management over the past 30 years has proved, however, that it is possible to convert such land to a species-rich wildlife haven. Since we started managing our fields to enhance diversity, they have been grazed periodically by cattle and ponies and some parts have been mown; we haven’t applied fertiliser in any form, but neither have we sown wildflower seeds. This means that what you see now is the result of natural ingress of wild plants. We have other species that indicate the high quality of our meadows, such as Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.) and Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), but it is particularly satisfying to see the waxcaps.
We cannot rest on our laurels, however: our wonderful meadows still need management. Despite the best efforts of our visiting Highland cattle, we are starting to see scrub encroachment in the fields Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Ash are all starting to grow in the grasslands and these need to be cut back if we are to preserve our beautiful meadows. If you would like to take an active part in this work, why not come along to one of our volunteer days and help out? The next one is Sunday 30 November – everybody welcome.