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A new method for translocating rare waxcap fungi developed by our Principal Ecologist Barry Wright could offer considerable cost savings for construction and development projects and has recently been featured in both British Wildlife and In Practice magazines.

Rather than moving whole turves in order to translocate the waxcap fungi affected by the construction of a link road, Barry used an ultra-low impact, low-cost method of spore translocation. This potentially represents a new, more efficient method of mitigating the impact of a range of developments on ecologically important grassland.

The translocation method developed by Barry had a significant cost saving over more traditional turf moving and achieved the client’s aim of attempting translocation while accommodating the landowner’s requirements.

Below is a summarised version of the full case study, versions of which featured in British Wildlife and In Practice.

Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)

Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)

The project

During the early stages of construction of the Heysham to M6 link road scheme near Lancaster by Lancashire County Council, the pink waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis; listed, at the time, as a British Red Data List species (Ing 1992)) was discovered on site. To mitigate the issue, it was proposed to translocate all waxcap species impacted by the development to a nearby mitigation area acquired by management agreement. Our Principal Ecologist Barry Wright, consulting ecologist for the project developer ADAS at the time, was tasked with translocating the waxcaps.

Waxcaps

Grasslands that support fungi are under threat nationally and internationally from agricultural improvements. Waxcap fungi (the genus Hygrocybe) are a colourful group of grassland fungi that are very noticeable in grasslands in the autumn when they fruit. Waxcaps are largely confined to growing in grassland, generally in pasture where the turf is kept short by grazing or areas that are mown such as golf courses and church burial grounds. Some UK waxcap species are regarded as rare and listed as Species of Principal Importance (formerly UK Biodiversity Action Plan (or BAP) species).

Simplified waxcap lifecycle and fungal mycelia diagram by Anne Wright

Simplified waxcap lifecycle and fungal mycelia diagram by Anne Wright

Although the pink waxcap was later removed from the Red List, Lancashire County Council honoured the translocation attempt. During a public inquiry in 2007, it had been agreed that waxcap-rich meadows were biologically important and worth protecting or mitigating for potential adverse impacts.

Challenges for waxcap translocation

The first challenge was to find a suitable translocation method for the landowners’ requirements, as the mitigation land was organically farmed and the owner reluctant to allow access to the potentially damaging machinery necessary for turve translocation. This led Barry to develop his unique translocation method using spores, which offered an ultra-low impact solution that satisfied both the council and the landowner.

The other challenge was that, to date, there was no proven track record of success even for the standard waxcap translocation method using turves containing waxcaps. As underground mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus) can take over twenty years to reappear after disturbances (Griffith et al 2004) to the extent that they can once again produce fruiting bodies (i.e. waxcaps), proving success of translocation can be difficult.

Barry proposed the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) testing to analyse soil samples from the area that received the translocation of spores and look for the presence of waxcap DNA in order to determine success of translocation prior to the production of fruiting bodies.

The translocation

Previous surveys had identified locations within the management agreement mitigation area with similar vegetation to the waxcap-rich site that would be lost, but where there had been no evidence of fruiting waxcaps found since surveys began in 2003. It was believed that these vacant areas potentially did not contain waxcaps due to wind dispersal being restricted by waxcaps’ tendency to nestle in the grass. Therefore, artificially moving fertile caps into these vacant areas and allowing spores to be shed directly into the receptor areas could theoretically have a good probability of creating new waxcap colonies, particularly given vegetation similarities between the sites.

Waxcaps develop caps mainly during the autumn, so collections were made between 19 September (before the first caps emerged) and 4 December (when the number of caps was very low due to the cold weather). This was timed to ensure that early species and specimens were not missed. The candidate donor areas were walked in a zig-zag pattern with each leg approximately five metres from the previous and repeated weekly using a GPS track back function.

The location of each donor cap or caps (often small colonies of five to twenty caps were found close together) was recorded as a waypoint on a GPS device and the number of caps and their species recorded. All sporulating (meaning those producing spores) fruiting caps of any waxcap species visible were collected and separated into species groups to allow representative numbers of each species collected to be apportioned to each receptor location.

A typical mixed collection of caps in a trug

A typical mixed collection of caps in a trug

 

Translocation was carried out by moving sporulating waxcaps to receptor sites, where they were placed gill-side down to allow them to shed their spores naturally into the receptor turf. Only two caps of pink waxcap were found and both were translocated.

The future

This translocation was carried out in autumn 2014, so success cannot yet be determined. However, the site will be monitored for the next 20 years of the management plan and funding for future eDNA analysis is hoped for to enable assessment of whether soil in the receptor sites contains waxcap DNA. Waxcaps can form new colonies from spores and, as high concentrations of spores were deposited into comparable receptor areas, the probability of success is believed to be high.

Barry Wright says: “Going forwards our aim is to eDNA barcode the donor and receptor areas as well as the remaining vacant areas that did not receive the ripe caps to compare waxcap presence. We hope to answer questions such as: Are the vacant areas truly vacant or did they already contain the waxcap species that were translocated? Have the spores deposited from the donor site germinated in the receptor sites, in which case can they be detected yet?

“This analysis will allow us to detect success or failure in advance of any colonies becoming established enough to produce fruiting bodies. While it is still too early make conclusions regarding the future potential of this novel approach to waxcap translocation, it is hoped that this technique could become an accepted approach in the future.”

Read the full case study here.

Why Baker Consultants

Innovation in ecology survey methods is part of Baker Consultants’ DNA and we are experienced in mitigation and translocation methods for a wide range of species, including waxcaps, reptiles, marine mammals and butterflies. Contact a member of our team today to discuss your project or explore our website for more information. Read more about our expertise in eDNA here.

References

Ing, B. (1992). A provisional red data list of British Fungi. The Mycologist 6: 124-128.

Griffith, G. W., Bratton, J. H. and Easton, G. (2004). Charismatic megafungi – the conservation of waxcap grasslands. British Wildlife 16 (1), pp. 31-43. Rotherwick, Hampshire: British Wildlife Publishing.

We’re hitting the road again to exhibit at the Midlands Infrastructure and Regeneration Conference and Expo in Birmingham on 28th April. With the main terrestrial ecology season about to kick off, this will give Carlos Abrahams our Technical Director and Kelly Clark our Principal Ecologist an important opportunity to catch up with existing clients, meet new contacts and discuss future projects before the all-night bat surveys begin!

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director and Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

Carlos Abrahams, Technical Director and Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

As a company with a head office in Derbyshire, we’re delighted to be exhibiting at and attending this Midlands-focused event. Although our business has gone global in recent years, with projects throughout the UK, Europe and as far away as Brazil, the Midlands remains one of our key focuses, particularly in relation to our terrestrial ecology services.

Not only is this a great networking opportunity, we are also keen to hear from the speakers on topics such as the Midlands housing crisis, sustainable infrastructure for balanced and affordable energy, and rail electrification. We have a wealth of expertise in providing ecological surveys within the house building, renewable energy and railway sectors, so these sessions will be of particular relevance to us.

We’d love to meet as many existing and potential clients at the event as possible, so register now to book your place (if you haven’t already) and come and meet us at our stand. Alternatively, to discuss a potential or existing project with us directly, you can contact us now.

Image of Badger treat, laced with plastic pellets to help track badgers' range across a site.

Badger treat – laced with colourful plastic pellets that helps to find out how far particular badgers range over a site. Picture by Kelly Clark

Baker Consultants used a remote digital camera to monitor a potential sett.

A remote video recording technique has been cited as best practice by Network Rail after a project from Baker Consultants delivered significant savings on a rail infrastructure improvement project in Bedfordshire.

The camera, placed at the openings, recorded constantly for three weeks, only being triggered when movement around the entrance was detected.  All sorts of wildlife was recorded investigating the sett, including a young badger who stayed for three hours before moving on and not being seen again. The foxes, pole-cats, rabbits, cats and other animals all investigated the hole, but no-one took up residence.  We even picked up a tawny owl on site.

The information was discussed with Natural England who confirmed that a licence was not necessary to proceed with works at the site. The sett was closed using one-way gates and the camera used to monitor the site during the works.

Imaging is not the only technique used to remotely track badger activity, Kelly recently sent me some pictures of the lovely treacley mix of badger treat – laced with colourful plastic pellets that helps to find out how far particular badgers range over a site, that is, if you can find their poo!