13 Apr 2021

Ten species threatened with extinction – in one field on Waun Las National Nature Reserve

Bruce Langridge

Imagine a nature reserve with rare species equivalent to the European bison, Sumatran orangutan, snow leopard, polar bear, manatee, black colobus monkey, green sea turtle, giant armadillo, Masai giraffe and the dragon tree?

Surely one of the most important places on Earth. A place you’d pull out all the stops to conserve. One for the bucket list.

All of these species are listed to being vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. This is the list that governments and conservationists throughout the world consult to understand what species they have responsibility to care for and conserve. It’s a great triumph of international co-operation, one in which scientists across the globe work together to produce and update this list. It has led to all sorts of protection measures across the planet. It may literally have helped to save the whale.

I was recently contacted by one of Wales’ leading mycologists/lichenologists/botanists Ray Woods. Ray has done a lot of great work with us at the Botanic Garden and is a mine of information. Had I heard, he asked, that the fibrous waxcap, the beautiful orange grassland fungus that grows on our Waun Las NNR, had been added to the IUCN’s list of vulnerable species? It probably means you must have at least six of these world threatened waxcaps on Waun Las NNR he thought.

Eh? What? Hang on. What did he say? I’d better check.

And I have. But Ray wasn’t quite right. We don’t have six fungi that are threatened with extinction. We have ten fungi that are listed as vulnerable to extinction, each as vulnerable as the snow leopard, polar bear and the rest of the species I mentioned before. And they’ve all been recorded by expert mycologists on the same field over the past 22 years – the field we call Cae Waxcap. This is the very special list of ten fungi that have been recorded on Cae Waxcap.

Hygrocybe splendissima – Splendid Waxcap

Cuphophyllus flavipes – Yellow-foot Waxcap

Hygrocybe intermedia – Fibrous Waxcap

Porpolomopsis calyptriformis – Pink Waxcap

Hygrocybe punicea – Crimson Waxcap

Hygrocybe citrinovirens – Citrine Waxcap

Cuphophyllus colemannianus – Toasted Waxcap

Entoloma porphyrophaeum – Lilac Pinkgill

Neohygrocybe nitrata – Nitrous Waxcap

Trichoglossum walteri – Short-spored Earthtongue

Can you believe it? It’s certainly stunned me.

To people who are interested in mycology in Wales, this might seem a bit over the top. After all, with a bit of strategic planning, a good deal of effort, a lot of walking and eager eyesight, a Welsh fungi fan might come across all of these fungi in 2-3 years of searching the grasslands and cemeteries of Wales during their autumnal fruiting season. But Wales is a very special place for grassland fungi, just as the Indonesian tropical rainforests are special for orangutans or the pristine forests of Poland and Belarus are for bison. We need to understand and appreciate that Wales is blessed with being the custodian of some of these rarest fungi on Earth.

This news comes just as new young lambs of our Waun Las flock of Balwen sheep have been born within the past week. We graze our Cae Waxcap field with Balwen sheep to keep the grass down, choosing this breed because they are relatively light and don’t compress the soil like other heavier breeds, and because, as I’ve recently found out from our shepherdess Rebecca Thomas, the poo they produce doesn’t harm the soil like other sheep breeds. You can’t see these grassland fungi jewels until they start to fruit again in late summer but you will be able to see the cutest of lambs on Cae Waxcap in just a few weeks’ time – we have a footpath which takes you there, just fifteen minutes’ walk from the Great Glasshouse.

A final thought from Ray Woods. “I doubt any botanic garden in the world has such a collection of naturally occurring world threatened organisms in its grounds”. Hmmm. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might help us find this out.