Tag Archives: fungi

Dazzled by a Golden Shield

Golden Shield lichen

It can be pretty bleak at this time of year, waiting for the season to change and the buds to burst but look closely and there are still dazzling sights to be seen. This lichen caught my eye recently, clinging to a hawthorn. In fact, you will see this lichen on almost any hawthorn and many other trees and shrubs too. It is called Golden Shield, Xanthoria parietina, so named due to the golden, shield-like protrusions you can see in the photo.

Lichens are an incredible symbiosis between two separate organisms; a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria. The two organisms form a mutually beneficial association with the lichen fungus creating a stable structure and the algae or cyanobacteria producing simple sugars through photosynthesis with which to feed the fungus.

No one really knows who benefits the most from this relationship. Is the fungus farming the algae for its own benefit, or does the algae gain more by being able to colonise a far greater area with the help of the fungus it clings too? It is a fascinating question with which lichenologists are still grappling.

Equally as interesting, especially to ecologists and conservationists, is the fact that lichens are excellent environmental indicators; they tell of current conditions and also how an environment may have changed, or not, over time.

In areas affected by atmospheric pollution such as acid rain, the communities of lichens surviving are likely to be severely impoverished. Species that may have been typical in the past are no longer present because lichens are sensitive to atmospheric composition. This is one reason why the Golden Shield may be found in hedgerows all around the UK; it thrives in nitrogen-rich environments like heavily-fertilised farmland.

Similarly, lichens are excellent indicators of ecological continuity. The presence of certain or groups of lichen can be used to help grade the conservation status of woodlands; a woodland that has been clear-felled at any point in its history is likely to have lost the original lichen flora that inhabited it. On the other hand, the lichens in an ancient woodland receiving minimal human intervention may be vanishingly unique.

Whether common or not, lichens are there to be enjoyed if we just take the time to look. Their often bright colours and small forms make them jewels of nature but their fascinating biology make them even more amazing.

More information about lichens can be found on the website of the British Lichen Society.


Earsdon Churchyard

Earsdon Cemetery

The churchyard at Earsdon is an interesting place for wildlife, with the older parts having been well and truly left to their own devices. I spent a few hours here on both days this weekend, seeing what is around at this time of year.

Snowdrops (galanthus nivalis)

There were carpets of snowdrops, particularly in the older parts of the cemetery, so I got plenty of photos.

Snowdrops - galanthus nivalis

And the bird life was good too. Over the two days I caught up with flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch around the edges of the churchyard, as well as a mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare in a tree at the bottom of the cemetery.

Snowdrops - galanthus nivalis

A Song Thrush played its rich melody, perched high in a tree, not far from a singing Chaffinch. There are always plenty of Wrens and Robins in the churchyard and this weekend was no different.

Velvet Shank - flammulina velutipes

I stumbled upon these fungi, which I think are probably Velvet Shank (flammulina velutipes). Their fruiting season is September to March and they can withstand the hard frosts, plus they are apparently edible (though don’t take my word for it)!

Autumn Feeling

Holywell Pond Nature Reserve

Despite the mild weather, early Saturday morning felt chilly at Holywell Pond – autumn is definitely here. A fall of migrant Mistle Thrushes, Blackbirds and Starlings bustled about in the large Sycamore tree on the way to the reserve. The rustling was incredibly noisy, as if every possible branch was occupied, and now and again a few Blackbirds or Thrushes would dart out of the tree chasing one another.

There also seemed to be many Robins both in the Sycamore and in all the hedgerows nearby. No doubt many of these are migrant birds, if not from Scandinavia then at least from other parts.


The pond itself was busy with the usual flock of Greylag geese, Canada geese, many Teal and Lapwing and a sizeable group of Common and Black Headed Gulls. They were joined by a small party of Wigeon as well as good numbers of Mallard, a single Grey Heron and three Snipe, which I thought were more conspicuous than they normally are. There were plenty of Tufted Ducks further out on the water too, as well as Little Grebes and Coots.

Past the pond a pair of Jays flew over the bridle path a number of times and seemed to be harassing a charm of thirty or forty Goldfinch at one point. As I walked along the track I flushed what I think was a Sparrowhawk that had been perched in the burnt out patch of Gorse – d’oh!

Reed Bunting

This juvenile Reed Bunting was less bothered by my presence though and continued to feed on the track right in front of me. Its plumage is incredibly striking considering it is made up mainly of brown and beige.

In the reserve I managed to get an overhead view of another cracking bird – a lovely pair of Bullfinch. The male was more forthcoming and stopped for something to eat right above me. Although the females are less colourful, they are no less beautiful – what a sublime bird this is.


A bracket fungus growing on a Birch tree also caught my eye. It is a Birch Polypore or Razor Strop fungus (piptoporus betulinus) and it takes its name from the fact that it was once used by barbers to sharpen their cut throat razor blades. Early man used it for an entirely different purpose however – as a means to transport fire. The fungus was dried  and could then smoulder for hours whilst its bearer moved about.

Razor Strop Fungus (piptoporus betulinus)