As autumn began, RSPB Loch of Strathbeg was delighted to host a fungi identification course in partnership with NESBREC (North East Scotland Biological Records Centre). Twenty keen fungi hunters joined forces on the day, led by the enormously knowledgeable Liz Holden. 

Liz leads the group into the wet fen, near Fen Hide where an infamous stinkhorn fungus is uncovered. (Photo: Sarah Bedford)

Ranging in skills from complete beginner to expert, the group visited four different habitats on the reserve to see what type of fungi we might find. We explored beech woodland, wet fen (alder and willow), grassland and dunes, and we weren’t disappointed! Fifty different species were found and some rarities too.

Throughout the day, Liz wowed us with amazing facts about fungi – we learned that:

  • There are over 3,000 different species of fungi in the UK (around 14 of which are toxic), and worldwide there are thought to be millions of different species.
  • The fungi that we often think of as ‘mushrooms’ are in fact the short-lived fruiting bodies of fungi preparing to release their spores.

The beautiful, delicate underside of a fungus found in the wet fen (Photo: Kim Grant)

  • Fungi either drop their spores directly into the wind, rely on animals and insects to transport their spores, or wait for rainwater to help them disperse.
  • Just one gram of woodland soil can contain one million microscopic fungi!

The inside of a “witches egg” fungus, which will grow into a stinkhorn (Photo: Sarah Bedford)

  • Unlike plants and trees, fungi do not photosynthesize. Like humans, they get their essential nutrients from other organic material, such as leaf litter or dead wood.

An alder bracket fungus found in the wet fen, which was thought to be many years old (Photo: Sarah Bedford)

  • Most of the fungus organism lives deep underground; fungi produce nutrient-absorbing threads called mycelium that extend through the soil like an intricate web. These underground fungi networks are essential for woodland life, helping to recycle and replenish essential nutrient stores.

Thanks to Liz’s enthusiasm and a variety of rich habitats on the reserve it was a fascinating and useful course, enjoyed by everyone who attended; we were all inspired to go and do more fungi hunting and even join our local fungus group! The Grampian Fungus group goes on regular outings to different local sites to identify fungi and can be found on Facebook at:

A selection of the fungi found on the reserve during the training day at Loch of Strathbeg (Photo: Sarah Bedford)

Sarah Bedford-Intern, North East Scotland Reserves