Tony Carter: A Mission to Ainsdale

Caloscypha fulgens (Tony Carter)

 

I received a request from Kew Herbarium to collect some specimens of the morels that can be found at the Ainsdale Sand Dunes Reserve. They are recorded as Morcella elata (Black Morel), an uncommon species.  A recent European molecular study has revealed some new species. There is a distinct possibility that the Ainsdale dune collections and British sand dune collections in general, belong to a species not previously recognised in Britain.

Having been informed by the Reserve Manager that morels had been sighted, a group of us went out to the dune slacks to get some samples. We found about twenty fruit bodies in an area where they have grown for years. Usually they are very black but this year looked much browner. They were duly photographed, carefully wrapped up and taken back to be dried and sent to Kew. We were also very fortunate to find another uncommon dune lover, Gyromitra ancilis (Pig’s Ears). There are only forty-seven previous records for this species nationally. It was the second time we had seen it in this area.

On our way back we passed a maintenance area that had been dug out of a sand bank. To our surprise we noticed an even rarer species, Caloscypha fulgens (Golden Cup). This is described as Red Data List Vulnerable with only twenty-one national records.However, we recorded this in February at Risley Moss, where we last saw it six years ago. Then it also appeared in great number at Mere Sands. I have since learned of two other sites.

It a species that does not fruit regularly and can disappear for years. One also has to take account of it fruiting so early in the year when few will be looking for fungi. It is not illustrated in any of the popular mushroom books. When young, it could easily be mistaken for the very common Aleuria aurantia (Orange Peel Fungus), another species that we recorded this winter. It might not be as unusual as the records imply.