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Trust puts public on toadstool alert

By Linda McKee

Vivid pink toadstools have erupted across the lawn at the front of National Trust headquarters at Rowallane near Saintfield.

And the Trust is asking its visitors to stay alert for the colourful toadstools - one of the most noticeable signs of autumn - and report their findings as part of a national survey.

The brightly coloured waxcap fungus family are described as the " orchids of the fungus world" and at this time of year are enlivening lawns at National Trust properties across the UK.

Biodiversity officer Maurice Turley has appealed to visitors to watch out for the waxcap fungi - which can come in reds, oranges and a rainbow of other hues - and report sightings to the National Trust website as part of the first-ever UK Waxcap Watch.

"They don't need to be experts - all they have to do is come to the properties, report what colour they are and where they find them," he said.

"The main reason we are interested in waxcaps is that they are quite rare and are important from a nature conservation point of view. You get lots of bright orange, reds and yellows so they are very striking. Some people would say they are the orchids of the fungus world."

Pink waxcaps, or 'ballerinas', have already appeared at Rowallane and citrine waxcaps are fruiting in the sand dunes at Portstewart at the moment, he said. There are 40 species in the UK, coming in tones of yellow, green, white, red and brown, and they often appear all mixed up together.

There are also blackening waxcaps - which start off red and turn black - at sites along the North Coast.

However, the reason the survey is concentrating on National Trust properties is that many species are associated with ancient grassland that haven't had many nutrients added - which exactly describes the lawns at many of our stately homes.

The National Trust has a policy of not applying much fertiliser to its lawns and the short cut grass makes an ideal place to spot waxcaps, Mr Turley said.

The results will allow Trust staff to identify hotspots where waxcaps can be found across the UK, and a more detailed scientific survey will be carried out in autumn 2008. The information can also be used for the Trust staff to find places suitable for Fungus Forays, encouraging naturalists to learn more about the mystical world of toadstools.

"You don't have to be an expert to do this - we just want the public to get involved in surveys and nature conservation," Mr Turley said.

More information is available at the website at www.national .

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