Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Rare fungus linked to soldiers

Wilfred Owen met Siegfried Sassoon at the Craiglockhart military hospital

A rare fungus discovered in Scotland for the first time may have been carried from Flanders Fields on the boots of First World War soldiers, experts say.

The species clavulinopsis cinereoides has been spotted in the grounds of Edinburgh's former Craiglockhart military hospital, famously the meeting place of renowned war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in 1917.

The pair, who formed a firm friendship, were among almost 2,000 officers treated at Craiglockhart for shell-shock after it was requisitioned by the military in 1916.

Ecological consultant Abbie Patterson discovered the fungus while cataloguing biodiversity at the site, now home to Edinburgh Napier University's Craiglockhart campus.

She said: "This really is a very exciting find and a first for Scotland. Within the UK and Europe there are very few records of this species and not a lot is known about it.

"Looking at an old photograph of First World War officers standing on the grass banking where I found the fungi, my thoughts turned to the question of how the species arrived here at all.

"I thought of the soldiers' boots trampling the devastated fields of Flanders and perhaps picking up spores of C cinereoides and then depositing them on that grassy bank below the old Hydropathic."

The biodiversity study was led by Edinburgh Napier's sustainability and environmental advisor Jamie Pearson, who said the discovery was "most unexpected".

"The fungus has now been accepted and entered into the records as a first for Scotland and the specimen is now with the Royal Edinburgh Botanic Garden Herbarium and is the only specimen they have of this species," he said.

"The potential link with the likes of Owen and Sassoon is particularly exciting."

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