Refungarium – Creating Fungal Refugia

Over the past 4 years, here in this woodland, Coed Talylan, on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons, we have been carefully observing how this former spruce plantation is steadily regenerating into a diverse woodland. Twenty years ago the mature spruce was harvested, 50 years after the plantation was established by the Forestry Commission. There are areas that were replanted with sitka spruce, some of these second generation plantations have established better than others. We see the signs of other replanting efforts. Throughout the woodland we find old tree guards wrapped around struggling oak saplings and ash now dwarfed by birch, willow and alder. There are towering old oaks along the brook cut through by the Nant Carrefoelgam pouring from a spring on the hillside above. Out of all these ermerging habitats there is a small section no more than an acre or so where those who extracted the timber 20 years ago seemingly did not, or could not reach, either way large spruce trees still reside from the plantation days some have toppled over but continue to grow, their branches now reaching upwards as trees rooted to the former trunk. Willows that have found their way to the light have now sprawled and toppled onto the spruce. Moss covers everything. This area is a sheltered and lying low a haven to a diversity of damp dwelling plantlife, the mosses, ferns, liverworts and bryophytes echo an ancient landscape of a temperate rainforest form a pre historic age. It here we take the most pleasure in searching for fungi. Creeping careful through this soft mossy maze with all manner of mushrooms fruiting from the forest floor and decaying branches.

To a commercial forester this has little value but we feel that such a habitat is priceless. We want to protect this habitat but in such a way to nuture the speices of fungi we find here and encourage more fungal diversity. We began seeing it at as fungal “forest garden”, leaving the woodland to itself but adding substrates or habitats for fungi. Slowly we began introducing logs inoculated with a Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster Mushroom) strain cultured, using our lab at Coed Talylan, from a fruitbody found in this areaq growing on fallen rowan. Inspired my our readings of Paul Stamets we did the same with a different strain found growing on willow as well as Laetiporus sulphureus (Chicken-of-woods) on oak and an indigeous strain of Trametes Versicolor (Turkey Tail). In our enthusiasm, we then used other techniques and different species to make “log rafts”, nestled under the collapsing spruces inoculated with Pholiota nameko, Pleurotus eryngii (King Oyster), Cyclocybe aegerita (Black poplar). Log “totems” with Lentinula edodes (shiitake) and , log rounds with other Pleurotus species and Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi), buried rounds with Griffola Frondosa (Maitake).*

However, we didn’t want to just encourage these edible species but also increase the diversity of fungi we have observed elsewhere in the woodland and in woodlands nearby. In a very rudimentary way, we collected fruit bodies of rarer and absent species and placed them balanced on branches, clinging to the spruce needles to disperse their spores. A small chance of success but fungi know how to work with these probabilities producing millions of spores from their fruiting bodies.

Wanting to incease this potential and get a better understanding how others have approached this before we began to follow the work of Radical Mycologists who have developed low-tech ways of increasing fungal proliferation and so we have been making “spores slurries”, nutrified solutions of mychorrhizal fungi spores used to inoculate saplings of birch, oak, douglas fruch and spruce. We use “cardboard spawn” with some saprophytic species which is then used to inoculate prepared beds of suitable substrates.

We want to better test and evaluate these and other techniques of “myco-forestry” or “myco-restoration” as a foundational approach to biodiversity creation. If fungi are so pivotal in the creation of terrestrial habitats any agroecological approach to land management to increase the diversity of species and biological interactions between species should, at least, necessitate an understanding of fungal growth and development? We can then use this knowledge and insight as a basis for a planning framework of ecological adaptation in a changing climate.

As such, we now want to expand on this idea to a much larger area, half of the land here in fact, 35 acres, and create a fungal forest nature reserve, a refugium for fungi, a Refungium.

So, we invited members of our local fungi group in Carmarthenshire to visit and explore the woodland with this question of creating a fungal refugium.

This first meeting in December proved to be very fruitful and we are thankful for the thoughtful reflections offered by Bruce Landridge, Hywel Evans and Peter Williams. Bruce is Head of Interpretation at the Botanic Gardens of Wales and suggested how we could encourage visitors to enjoy such a nature reserve, and what consideration we would have to take in account in opening up the woodland to the public.

We also discussed how we could work with other bodies such as Natural Resources Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park in ways that could inform there own biodiversity plans and research projects. Thereby actively promoting the link between fungal diversity and ecological resilience.

One of the great contributions of local fungi groups to the retention and sharing of knowledge of mushrooms and fungi is the processes they use to record species of fungi. As such, with the recommendation of Hywel Evans, we are putting in place a process of formally recording the species we find in the woodland with our local biodiversity record centre the West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre. The WWBIC provides an app for recording wildlife here:

LERC Wales App

Only 56 speices have had their conservation status globally evaluated by the IUCN red list compared with 25,452 plants and 68,054 animal. Considering that it is an estmated to be somewhere bewtween 2.2 to 3.8 million speices (a number that far exceeds the diversity of the plant and animal kingdoms) of which we have only, as yet, identified approximately 150,000 it is likely that there a significantly more speices at risk. Habitat destruction, climate change, and environmental degradation are all contributing factors for the abmysmal loss of bio-diversity we are seeing today, we are causing a mass exiction event becasue of the way we choose to live and our ignorance of our interconnectedness with all living beings. We need to create more refugia that will serve as havens of biological preservation while we, hopefully, take action to prevent this catastrophy.

This is exactly what we want to achieve with the Refungium project, a living fungarium, with a the highest concentration of fungal diversity of any woodland in the UK. It requires a carefully planned long-term mangement plan that makes makes provisions for all the plant and animal fungal interactions that proliferate in a healthy bio-diverse ecosystem.

We are really excited about this project and we would like to encourage anyone who shares this enthusiasm to get involved and join us in this project.

We will hold the Second Refungium meeting on Saturday 18th April, if you would like to come along please get in touch. We can’t promise anything but we find some morels! Here a picture of a mystifying morel from last year:

*The strains of some of the species used for these early installations in this small fungal “forest garden” were non-native. However, this may not be appropriate for such a proposed regional Refugium.


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